Confessions of a casino manager – fun facts about super high limit gambling

On my recent press trip to the Planet Hollywood casino and resort, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Bill Zimmer. Mr. Zimmer is the VP of casino operations for Harrah’s Entertainment in the Las Vegas area. This means he oversees all gaming activities at hotels like Bally’s, Paris, Caesars Palace and Planet Hollywood.

Mr. Zimmer has been in this business since the 70’s, and has been a casino manager for over 30 years – which gives him a very impressive amount of knowledge about what goes on inside his casinos.

During our chat, I learned a lot about high limit gambling, and how hotels treat their high rollers. If you believe what you see in James Bond movies, you’ll think can walk into a casino, drop $500,000 on the table and put it all on black. In reality, it really isn’t that simple.

When a very high limit player picks a casino, it is actually up to the casino to decide whether they want to take the risk. If a gambler has a million dollars to spend, he or she will contact the casino, and draw up a contract. In the contract, all the amenities the hotel provides to the gambler will be outlined, and the gambler will commit to a certain amount of gaming.

Amenities for a high roller include flights on private jets, the largest suite available, dining options at any restaurant with the best available table, free VIP show tickets and even things like free spending money if said gambler is accompanied by his wife (or someone else special). In some cases, his special lady friend can take a limo to the Caesars Palace Forum Shops with a $10,000 check, courtesy of the casino.

The chip tray at a high limit table will be stocked with as much as $1.5 million on a weekend. On this weekday there was a mere $690,820 in chips. This is also the closest I’ve ever been to this much money. The only thing standing between me and this $690,820 is a plastic panel, lots of cameras and an unknown number of security guards.

On the topic of theft and fraud, Mr. Zimmer showed his experience in the industry – he had plenty of stories to tell, but only a few details he was willing to share. He acknowledged that theft is of course an issue, and that people do indeed try to walk out of the property with chips belonging to the casino, but even just looking at him, you can tell he’s already checked you out long before you even shake his hand. This is a man who is paid to know what is going on at his tables.

The quickest way to get rich is to mess around with chips, or to do a grab in the chip tray. But he assured us that the people watching the tables know every single trick in the book, and that anyone stupid enough to try and grab their fortune would not make it past the exit door. Technology also plays a roll in the casino, and he can always tell exactly where chips are.

His final story was by far the most interesting – at the end of last year, a high roller visited Vegas with $5 million in gambling money, and started to find a casino willing to host him at their tables. Most of the properties politely refused, including the casinos Mr. Zimmer runs. Eventually the gambler found a casino (which I won’t name here), and several hours later, he left the building with $25 million of their money, wiping out a large part of their profit for the quarter. Apparently, when it comes to very high limit gaming, both parties are gambling with their money.

When asked how well he knows the major players, he told us that if the player is in a position to play the high limit tables, he’ll know who they are, what they play, how well they play and some other handy nuggets of information. If a new player shows up, the information is shared between all Vegas casino managers, and anything interesting worth telling other local casino managers is just a speed-dial away.

Many thanks to Mr. Zimmer for his fascinating insights into this world, and to Harrah’s Entertainment for hosting the event.

My trip to Planet Hollywood was part of a Harrah’s Entertainment press trip. All opinions and photos are my own.