#146 – Playing With Fire

When I spoke to my friend Jimmy this morning, he told me his boss just returned from a week in Vegas. The guy had flown first class, stayed in a suite at one of the fanciest hotels, and wined and dined at the best restaurants, all courtesy of the casino where he gambled. Of course, he’d dropped $30,000 at the tables in return for the five-star treatment. As I informed Jimmy, there was a time when a gambler could get comp’d without losing his shirt. I know, because my father managed it for years.

In the 60’s and early 70’s, the casinos didn’t monitor their high rollers as closely as they do in the modern era of 24/7 video surveillance. Dad saw a loophole in the system during the first trip he and mom took to Vegas. On day one, he obtained credit at the casino and withdrew $20,000 in chips. He stored most of those chips in the hotel room safe and played his game of choice, craps, with the $50 maximum he’d allotted per day. Critically, he gambled solely at night when the casino was packed with customers, and even then only at the cheapest tables. And last but not least, he introduced himself to the pit boss, greeting the man at the beginning of each evening and tipping him $10 at the end of each night. Consequently, the casino believed it’d found another gambling superstar. That opinion didn’t change at the end of my parents’ stay either, when dad cashed in over $19,500 worth of chips, tipped the pit boss a final $10, and headed home.

Every year after, my father received a call from the hotel offering him an all-expense paid trip to Vegas. He received the same VIP treatment as Jimmy’s boss, but never spent more than five hundred dollars for those luxuries. His reputation grew to the extent that, one year, he obtained the same first class accommodations for a friend, simply by recommending the man as “another high roller, like me.” Alas, that recommendation proved his downfall.

My father’s friend, Stan Silverstein, wasn’t a heavy gambler either. To the contrary, his gaming predilections made my father look like an addict in comparison. But dad told Stan how to impersonate a high roller, and Stan promised to follow all instructions to a tee. Only, something got lost in translation, and Stan disobeyed the most critical step in the foolproof process.

Dad didn’t discover Stan’s gaff until late in the week. One morning, while venturing through the near-empty casino for a walk along the Strip, dad spotted his pal … sitting alone playing blackjack at a $2 table, in plain sight of the pit boss! When my dismayed father asked him what the hell he was doing, Stan admitted that he’d played blackjack every morning at the same table. When dad expressed concern over the unacceptable breach of the gameplan, Stan confidently exclaimed: “Don’t worry about it. I’ve already lost thirty bucks this week!”

Needless to say, that was the last time a Vegas casino would comp my father. He received the bad news when he and Stan checked out of the hotel. Poetically, his old buddy the pit boss personally delivered the notice, along with the strong suggestion that dad not show his face in the casino again.

 
 
Back in the day, a guy could get comp’d there without losing his shirt … if he was careful.

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