The Whale Hunter
Steve Cyr entices the biggest gamblers to risk millions at casino games in return for over-the-top freebies and service.
From the Print Edition:
Cuban Models, May/June 03
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Monster? "My 360 horsepower Trans Am. It was a toke from two customers. I hooked them up on a million-dollar stock deal. They wanted to give me a Porsche, but I told them that I'm stuck on American cars."
By Saturday night, the Barona's private gaming room is crowded, with most of Cyr's customers putting in their time at the tables, making the kinds of bets that would have them coveted by any casino. Mr. G-3 is still averaging $38,000 per hand of blackjack and showing no signs of slowing down. He's going so strong that he turns to the NFL Hall of Famer alongside him -- a guy betting "only" $500 per hand -- and starts slipping him $5,000 chips. "If you win this hand," says Mr. G-3, "you give me back the five. If you lose, don't worry about it. How's that sound?" The retired pro smiles and replies, "I'll take that deal all night long."
Mr. G-3, who's on a monster run but giving the casino every opportunity to win back its money, declares that he wants a Mercedes-Benz before he'll continue playing. Everybody laughs this off, and he keeps on betting. But, Cyr tells me, "He's half joking. And if he were losing as much as he's winning, the casino would give him a car. Wouldn't you give somebody a $50,000 car in exchange for a million dollars in losses?" Cyr lets this hang in the air for a moment, then he adds, "But we wouldn't ship the car to him. We'd make him come here and pick it up."
The next morning, Cyr juggles tickets and transportation and determines who should sit in the 12th-row seats and who should be in the skybox, who needs to go by limo and who needs to be part of a large, raucous group in one of the casino's luxury SUVs. Mr. G-3 strolls in and seems extraordinarily happy. He's practically singing as he leads his group of 12 into one of the SUVs. "He's ahead $2.1 million," Cyr says, acknowledging that he still stands to make plenty of money (his pay is based on the performance of each player rather than cumulative wins and losses). "What [the casino] doesn't think about is that he also could have lost $6 million. When somebody complains about a guy like Mr. G-3 winning, I tell them to sit down for five hours and play $38,000-per-hand blackjack and they can see how they do."
The Super Bowl is a blowout and plenty of Cyr's gamblers make big wagers on the wrong side, but nobody seems to mind. The field-level seats are fabulous, and in the skybox a waitress keeps the room stocked with food and drink. Anyone who gets sick of sitting outside and watching the game can come in to view it on one of the monitors while fixing a platter of food.
Back at the Barona that night, the gamblers shower, shave and pile into the casino's steak house before settling down for a final night of gambling. Satisfied with his $2.1 million in winnings, Mr. G-3 cashes out (despite an earlier prediction, Cyr does not throw up into a trash can). Other guys bet their limits, but don't lose prodigiously enough for Cyr to come anywhere close to his rainbow of $300,000. In the end, only four of his 16 players are losers. This rare bit of luck (good for them, bad for him) is salved by the fact that Cyr now owns these guys at the Barona. For the next year, he will receive a percentage of their losses there, and he is confident that they will return and lose.
Considering that he's leaving San Diego with an $18,000 take, Cyr admits that he's a little disappointed. Then he shrugs and says, "Hey, it ain't $300,000. But it ain't bad, either. And I got to go to the Super Bowl."
Michael Kaplan is CIGAR AFICIONADO's gambling columnist.
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