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The Whale Hunter

Steve Cyr entices the biggest gamblers to risk millions at casino games in return for over-the-top freebies and service.
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Cuban Models, May/June 03

(continued from page 2)

While Cyr is less than thrilled -- although you'd never know it from the enthusiasm he shows during his player's upswing -- he tries to look at things philosophically. "Mr. G-3 is here from Thursday through Sunday. When do I want him to win half a million? Tonight. If this guy is gonna have a run, I'm glad it happened now." What if it's still going strong on Sunday? "Then," Cyr deadpans, "I throw up in a trash can."

By Friday afternoon, most of Cyr's players are in town or at least on their way. He's in constant touch with limo drivers and the players themselves, checking on the progress of the trip, making sure everything is fine (i.e. that they haven't been hijacked by competing casinos, which is always a possibility), keeping them charged up for the weekend. Because of its private gaming room, the Barona has a Bat Caveñstyle entry system: limos with high rollers pull into a marble covered garage and players walk a few feet from the car to the casino, coming in no contact with the low rollers. A special concierge from the private room checks in the high rollers and guys can start gambling before their bags are unpacked.

On Friday night, following a buffet dinner with a group of National Football League legends (Dick Butkus and John Elway among them), players proceed to the private gaming room. Most of them are having a blast and all are wagering anywhere from $500 to $50,000 per hand, though Cyr has some wrinkles to work out. One player insists that he has to "play on the rim" -- i.e., that he wants to receive chips without signing markers and with the verbal promise that he will settle up after each session -- but the casino isn't crazy about this. Cyr convinces management to let it go.

Mr. G-3 wants to split aces four times, a casino no-no. Cyr has a tense conversation with his bosses, and the Barona relents. "That thing with splitting the aces could have turned ugly and pissed off the whole world," Cyr says as the action goes on, unabated, behind him. "Once, at the Hilton, Mr. G-3 got mad at me. He immediately packed up his bags and left. If he got mad at me now, he could call the MGM, tell them to pick him up, and they'd have a car here in 20 minutes."

A half hour or so later, Cyr notices a few of his players spacing out at the blackjack table and making smallish bets to a matronly dealer. Cyr momentarily disappears behind closed doors and the old lady is suddenly replaced by a stunning, leggy blonde. "Who would you rather have dealing to you?" he asks rhetorically upon his return.

The next morning, on the fringe of the Barona's award-winning golf course, alfresco breakfast is served to the high rollers in attendance. The foursomes get finalized (each group comprises three gamblers and a former professional football player) and the players practice their golf swings. Cyr circulates, too busy schmoozing to eat, chatting up his players, checking on everyone's progress in the casino, making sure they're satisfied with their golfing partners and accommodations. Before heading to the practice green, a big player from Vegas checks on Cyr's progress. He's well aware that $300,000 is Cyr's dream for this weekend, and he wants to know how the other gamblers are doing. "They're doing great," says Cyr, sounding a little down. "Everyone's winning. I don't stand to make a penny off of this whole thing."

The Vegas player tells Cyr he's sorry to hear that. I'm shocked to find out that the impossible is happening. "It was total bullshit," Cyr tells me once his Vegas buddy is out of earshot. "My customers are losing six figures, so I'm ahead $13,000. But Mr. G-3 had another winning night. Now he's up $1.4 million."

While the gamblers golf, Cyr and his girlfriend hang around the hotel lobby, working out details. He slips a bellhop a couple hundred bucks and tells him to pick up more big bottles of booze, thinks about his indebted gambler in Las Vegas ("He never got back to me; that means he never paid the Venetian like he said he would), and works hard to untangle a problem for a player with a $100,000 line of credit who now wants to wager $15,000 per hand. "But we're not gonna let him bet 15 percent of what the Barona might win," Cyr says. "You can bet five percent of your credit line, so he needs a $300,000 line of credit. He doesn't really qualify at that level, but I'm going to get him up to $10,000 a hand. He'll bet higher than usual, he'll steam and he'll get snapped. He thinks I'm doing him a favor."

Cyr's finally gets some down time and he's contemplating spending the afternoon at the beach with Chiodina. While considering what to do, he acknowledges that there is absolutely nothing spur-of-the-moment about the way in which things here have been scheduled. The casino has invested more than $1 million to woo its players this weekend, spending money on everything from mingling NFL stars to Super Bowl tickets to the G-3, and very little is left to chance. "Today the guys' wives will be at a spa until 6 p.m.," explains Cyr. "Golf ends in the afternoon, so that leaves a good-sized window of time for the guys to fire things up before dinner. Then they have to come down to the casino at around 9 p.m. tonight to pick up their Super Bowl tickets. Think anybody won't want to do that? By then it's too late to go barhopping in San Diego and too early to go to bed. There's nothing for them to do but gamble."

A bellhop walks by and acts like Cyr's new best friend -- Cyr reveals that he gave the guy a $60 tip for picking up liquor last night. Then Cyr catches the eye of a parking valet. "Hey, buddy," he calls out. "I'm ready for you to bring up the monster."

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