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4 Easy Steps to Blowing Your High Roller Status

Apr 1, 2014

high-roller-310314High Roller

While it’s not easy to gain high roller status in Macau or the Vegas Strip, it’s a lot easier to lose it. Here are a few ways.

Anyone who gambles regularly dreams of life as a casino high roller. Imagine James Bond sauntering up to the baccarat table: dressed in an impeccable black tuxedo and white shirt, impressing a beautiful woman with his style and charisma while betting and winning large amounts. Throw in the free hotel rooms, meals, transportation. We all want that to be us.

While it’s difficult to obtain high roller status, its surprisingly easy to lose it. There are numerous cases of big winners being disgraced or banned from casinos due to various missteps. This piece will tell you what not to do if you’ve become a casino high roller.

Don’t get caught counting cards

While not illegal, getting caught using a card counting system is a surefire way to earn a lifetime ban from any casino. Counting effectively allows the player to anticipate which cards will be dealt in subsequent hands, thereby reducing the casinos house edge. Some counters claim that using a system properly can reduce the house edge by as much as 2 percent, actually giving the player the overall advantage.

Here the catch: you have to do it discreetly, making yourself appear like an ordinary blackjack player. This means being able to count cards while interacting naturally with the croupier and other players. It also means refraining from making massive bets, which are bound to catch the attention of the croupier, who is trained to spot counters. These things require more skill than counting itself.

Blackjack superstar as well as counting and team play pioneer Ken Uston was banned from all Atlantic City casinos in 1979 after being caught running a large counting operation in several casinos. He sued the casinos and actually received a favorable Supreme Court ruling in 1982: counting was not a form of cheating so casinos couldn’t legally ban players for it. However, this ruling never applied to other jurisdictions and Atlantic City casinos just drum up other justifications to boot counters.

Winning too much money

Last year Pennsylvania businessman Don Johnson (no, not the famous actor) made gambling news when he took Atlantic City for $15 million dollars over the course of two separate weekends.

One 12 hour hot streak at the Tropicana netted him $6 million. The run wiped out the casino’s monthly profit and resulted in CEO Mark Giannantonio, who authorized Johnson to make $100,000 bets, being fired shortly after. This came after he won $5 million at the Borgata and $4 million during a run at Caesar’s, which resulted in him getting a lifetime ban from all Caesar’s casinos worldwide.

How did he do it? Tropicana casino managers first considered that he had netted such a successful run by counting. But video footage showed no evidence (counting often looks fairly obvious after the fact). Don Johnson does things the old fashioned way, using only impeccable knowledge of the game and flawless casino strategy. According to new Tropicana CEO Tony Rodio, “he plays perfect cards.” In Johnson’s case, being too good at blackjack has landed him a lifetime ban from Atlantic City’s casinos.

Refuse to pay your debts

By definition a high roller receives special treatment from the casino. Often this means being extended large lines of credit. The thinking is that one must be wealthy to be a high roller, so that they have the means to cover any major losses. In one of the most shocking high roller cases ever, American businessman Terry Watanabe lost $127 million at Harrah’s Las Vegas over the course of a few years.

Watanabe paid $112 million of that upfront. The other $14.7 million was extended to him on credit by the casino. He refused to pay it, claiming that the casino exploited his gambling addiction by supplying him with alcohol and pain medication and encouraging him to make large bets. That did not sit well with Harrah’s, who is suing him over the debt. According to the Wall Street Journal, Watanabe has been charged with “four felony counts in district court for intent to defraud and steal from Harrah’s, stemming from $14.7 million that the casino says it extended to him as credit.”

Considering that Watanabe has already put more than $100 million into Harrah’s coffers, the case against him looks like kicking him while he’s down. It just shows the price one pays for running afoul of a powerful casino.

Abusing the croupier

Nobody likes to deal with an asshole, and any business should have the right to boot customers behaving badly. This often means more than simple lack of casino table manners: swearing, acting drunk, being aggressive or confrontational, behaving sexually inappropriate towards the croupier. There is a certain amount of this that high rollers can get away with, because casinos are dependent on their money and are willing to coddle them to keep their business. Many croupiers anonymously complain about regular mistreatment from high rollers.

But in the modern era there are lines that are no longer allowed to be crossed. Physically confronting a croupier is rightfully going to get you the boot. Macau is even mulling a law that would protect croupiers from abusive gamblers, including making it more difficult for casinos to fire croupiers who refuse to accommodate the whims of high rollers.


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