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New Comp City

The Paiza Club is a club in the truest sense of the word: if you're not invited, you're not welcome.
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Tiger Woods, May/June 2008

The Paiza Club is a club in the truest sense of the word: if you're not invited, you're not welcome. Nestled on the 36th floor of The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, it functions as a hotel within the hotel, designed specifically for the highest of high rollers. Only someone who blows into town with a six-figure or higher credit line will even know that the wood-paneled enclave exists.

Like its Sands Macau counterpart, the Paiza at The Venetian has its own casino, its own 8,000-square-foot suites and its own staff. The private restaurant within its walls is a round-the-clock operation, serving sublime dim sum, Peking duck and shark fin soup, thus allowing players from around the world to remain in their local time zones as they put small fortunes at risk. Waiters discreetly push silver serving carts, loaded with delicacies that appear to have time-traveled straight from a gourmet room in Hong Kong to this skyscraping sprawl in Vegas. The wine list boasts bottles of 1982 Château Lafite, 1982 Château Pétrus and 1999 Harlan. A glass-fronted humidor showcases Davidoffs, Fuentes and Ashtons. As is the custom in Macau —and this floor most assuredly caters to Asian players —private dining rooms are outfitted with large, flat-screen TVs. Patrons enjoy their elaborate banquets with programming from the homeland blaring away.

Best of all: your money is no good here. The Paiza, which was built at a cost of $30 million, is strictly for players who have been given the run of the house. Everything within its walls is comped and the place illustrates the degree to which Vegas casinos must now go to land highly coveted, free-spending whales. From one end of the Strip to the other, VIP hosts grapple in an environment that has become increasingly competitive and mind-numbingly luxe. In a world in which outre suites (the Palms has one that boasts full-size bowling lanes), famous eateries (Le Cirque's Sirio Maccioni just announced plans to open an eponymous eatery at the MGM Grand) and cool nightclubs (Vegas arguably has the largest concentration of happening spots in the world) are de rigueur, this form of exclusivity is what's required to stand out from the crowd.

Nevertheless, the Paiza is not completely unique —at the MGM Grand, for example, the ultra-exclusive Mansion provides discreet luxuries that rival those of any four-star resort in the world —but it is indicative of an increasing de-emphasis on attracting the mid-level guys who were once bread-and-butter moneymakers for Vegas casinos. "Traditionally, a $100-per-hand bettor could always get a free room and dinner," says Max Rubin, author of Comp City: A Guide to Free Casino Vacations, the handbook to snagging casino freebies. "Now it might not even get you a discounted room rate. With what they are charging for rooms, it makes no sense to give anything away to the smaller players."

That's because rooms and amenities currently account for more profits in Vegas than gambling. With accommodations routinely going for $300 per night and dinner entrées selling at Manhattan prices (in restaurants that are increasingly owned by outside entities, which means that casinos need to pay full freight for the most delectable meals that they comp), the bar has been raised dramatically. "Vegas has gotten a little arrogant," admits Steve Cyr, the high-roller host at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and coauthor of the book Whale Hunt in the Desert. "It's hard for me to do something for a $5,000 guy [that is, a player who puts $5,000 on deposit or takes out the same amount in markers]. At $10,000, we're starting. And if you put up $25,000 and bet an average of $250 a hand for three hours a day, then the world starts to become your oyster. Your wife goes to the spa and we give you limos to go wherever you want."

In the heart of what might be called New Comp City —the leaner, meaner, dizzyingly upscale Vegas —I am enjoying the Paiza's impossibly tender Kobe beef alongside my dining companion, Marshall Sylver. If you've spent any time in Las Vegas, you've probably seen Sylver's smiling face on those light-up ads that top taxis around town. He's famous for producing a hypnosis show at Harrah's and for leading self-improvement seminars across the country.

Among the town's VIP hosts and casino managers, however, Sylver is known for something beyond his act. He is regarded as a major player, a guy who'll wager $3,000 to $4,000 per hand at blackjack. Blinged out, meticulously groomed, armed tonight with a half-dozen Fuente Fuente OpusXs, Sylver is indicative of Vegas's new generation of big players. Acknowledging that casino games are unbeatable in the long term, he recognizes his value in a sophisticated way and works hard to leverage it. He may lose money at the table, but he knows he'll get some of it back through comps. Not content with what the casino happily offers him in exchange for gambling against daunting odds, he goes after what he wants in an organized manner that was once extremely rare.

For starters, Sylver understands the math. "If a casino is attempting to lure me in, they say that they'll comp me for 40 percent of my theoretical loss; for me, for three hours of play, it comes to $9,600 that they have to give me in comps regardless of whether I win or lose," says Sylver, who has been affectionately dubbed Mr. Cristal Whore by one host. "Plus, I negotiate a rebate on losses, and then there's the walking-in money. Some players can get five percent of their bankroll just for entering a place. Ask for cash, though, or else they give you a one-play chip, and the odds are that you'll lose."

Sylver's host at the Hard Rock, aggressively operating Cyr, acknowledges that the Rolls Royce-driving hypnotist has worked out a seemingly nifty deal for himself in terms of rebates, which have become the norm for high-flying gamblers. "If he loses six figures in 24 hours, we give him back 10 percent of his losses as opposed to working it out on a per-trip basis," explains Cyr, breaking it down to show that the casino is not exactly taking the worst of it. "Most people think that's not such a good deal, but here's how it works. Let's say he wins 100 grand on Monday. No problem. Then, if he comes back on Wednesday and loses 100 grand, we give him $10,000. By doing this, he comes in here all the time and we'll be ahead in the long run. I did this because I was pissed about guys winning and then going to play someplace else where they can get rebates on losses [since they'd be starting from zero at the next place]. There's nothing worse than getting a call from a competing casino that's about to cash your check."

Cyr can do all this —and Sylver can benefit from it —because new technology allows him to be intimate with the play of his clients and their patterns. In the old days, Vegas was such a discreet destination that last names were dispensed with —pit bosses would have called me Mr. K back then. Today, however, they ask to see your driver's license (so you can get a plalyer's card) before you make your first bet and require a Social Security number —often written out on a government document to insure that you're not lying —if you want to buy in for more than $10,000. Little is left to chance and management quickly figures out exactly how much you win or lose. The era of being a good guy, using a winning personality and gifting hosts to enhance your comps is pretty much over.

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