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Best of John Grochowski

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Hunting Whales and Making Millions Playing Slots

30 November 2004

When publishers send me copies of gambling books by other authors, I at least page through every one. I don't review them all. Last year, I received a blackjack book that was so full of bad advice that I ripped it to pieces before recycling, just so there would be no danger of that copy ever misleading an unsuspecting player.

Still, I try to bring the good ones to your attention, and in that duty

I've been sadly remiss. My bookshelf is straining under the weight of worthy tomes that have stacked up since I last wrote a column of reviews -- books ranging in topic from slot machines to poker and high rollers to mob lawyers turned politicians. So over the next few weeks, I'm going to share some of the best of my recent reading list.

Whale Hunt in the Desert: The Secret Las Vegas of Superhost Steve Cyr, by Deke Castleman (Huntington Press, $24.95, hardcover, 310 pages)

The care and feeding of whales is a high priority in the casino world, and Steve Cyr has raised that to an art form.

These "whales" are big players, the high-stakes gamblers with credit lines in the hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars who are willing to wager thousands or more on a single hand. At the Las Vegas Hilton, Cyr revolutionized the casino host trade, using telemarketing techniques, show-up money and discounts on losses to land the Moby Dicks of high-stakes baccarat, craps and blackjack.

Before Cyr, hosts were mostly a passive lot, waiting for high rollers to come to their casinos before offering them perks and services to keep them coming back. Cyr changed all that as he and his specially selected team of hosts took a more aggressive approach. They paid limousine drivers for information on high rollers at other casinos. They pretended a competing casino had messed up a premium player's reservations for a Hilton show so that Cyr could play the hero and entice the customer to change casinos. And the success enabled Cyr to spur the Hilton to build its premium Sky Villas, such as the 15,400-square-foot Verona, with 30-foot-high hand-painted ceilings, gold furnishings, three bedrooms, a media room, an $85,000 grand piano and ... well, you get the idea. All the better to lure the guys who'll drop millions on a shuffle of the cards.

Castleman, a senior editor at Huntington Press who has edited more than 40 books on gambling, written the well-respected Compass Guide to Las Vegas and co-written and edited the Las Vegas Advisor newsletter with publisher Anthony Curtis, gives a fascinating and entertaining behind-the-scenes look at the lengths casinos will go to harpoon the big ones.

Whale Hunt in the Desert doesn't shy away from the conflicts in the host-high roller relationship. The host has to be a glad-hander, the player's best friend, but at the same time is rooting for player losses -- the bigger the better come bonus time. Is it better to rein in a losing player on tilt, hoping for long-term business, or to burn through his bankroll now? Can the host even do anything when a problem gambler has present and future on the line?

Few of us live in the world of Cyr's clients. The only time I've ever seen a Sky Villa was at a party for several dozen gambling writers. But the glimpse Castleman gives us of that world, with all its ups and downs, makes Whale Hunt in the Desert one of the best gambling books I've seen in a long time.

How to Win Millions Playing Slot Machines! ... Or Lose Trying, by Frank Legato (Bonus Books, $14.95, paperback, 158 pages)

Those who have seen Frank Legato's column in Strictly Slots magazine know he is a very funny writer, finding humor in slot machines, the casinos in which they're found and the players who keep the reels spinning.

How did Bally's Money Honey game revolutionize slots? "It was all lit up," writes Legato. "It made sounds that actually went beyond ding. It had lots of paying combinations. It danced around the floor and sang 'Shortnin' Bread' in five languages."

What's the appropriate bankroll for a night on the slots? "I use the 'kin and cain't method.' I play as long as I kin, and when my pocket's empty, I cain't."

It's all very Dave-Barry-meets-the-slots, but in between the jokes, Legato packs in the serious information on how slots evolved, how they work, the differences between reel-spinning and video games, bankroll requirements and common slot myths.

There are a few annoying little glitches. Legato's "Tales From the Road" section on different regions works best in the gaming markets he knows best -- Atlantic City first, then Las Vegas. When it comes to Midwest, he shows mostly that he doesn't know us very well. There have been nine, and sometimes 10, riverboats in operation in Illinois since 1993, not four as this book would have it. And then there's the statement, "Even when states have relaxed the requirement that boats actually cruise, they haven't changed the rules about cruising schedules, so casinos still must have 'boarding times' for 'virtual cruises.'" Ummmm ... no.

Still, this is a fun, breezy read with lots of good information when Legato sticks to the slots.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski