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.

Living the high roller Diamond Life at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino

Last week, I spent a couple of days at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Now, I’ve been to this hotel quite a bit, but on this visit, I had been invited to enjoy the life of a “high roller” Diamond card member of the Harrah’s Total Rewards program.

The “Diamond Life” starts at the airport, where a limo driver is waiting to pick you up and drop you off at the hotel. To check in, I was able to completely skip the long lines, and walk into the diamond registration lounge.
About the Total Rewards program

Total Rewards is the Harrah’s loyalty program for their casino properties. Any time you spend money on entertainment, slots or tables, you present your loyalty card, and computers behind the scenes calculate how much of your money you are handing over to the casino. The program starts with gold, and grows through platinum to diamond and Seven Stars. Obviously, the more you spend, the higher your status will be. The program currently has over half a million elite tier members.

Gratuitous photo of the 24 layer cake at Striphouse – because nothing says luxury like 24 layers of cake.

The perks of the Diamond Program are quite generous – access to a dedicated diamond lounge with complimentary food and beverages, room comps and upgrades, gift shop discounts, free exclusive tournaments, bonus tier points and priority check-in.

The best part of the Total Rewards program is that it works between all Harrahs’s properties. In Vegas, this means you’ll be recognized at Caesers Palace, Bally’s, Rio, Paris, Planet Hollywood, Imperial Palace, Harrah’s, Flamingo and Bills Gamblin hall.

Indeed – Harrah’s went on a very impressive spending spree in Las Vegas, and ended up owning a large portion of the strip. Outside Vegas, there are 24 other properties where the card will work.

To earn the Diamond tier, you need to generate 11,000 “tier credits” in a year. You earn 1 credit for every $5 spent on the slots, but earnings at tables depend on how long you play, your average bet and the type of game. At tables, one of the hosts will monitor your play, and award points for your gaming.

Living the Diamond Life

Every part of the Diamond perks package is designed to make your life a little easier when you are at the casino. With your card, you don’t wait in long lines for the restaurant, you don’t wait for a cab and in many cases, you don’t pay for food.

Now, the card is not a complete free for all, but if you earned it the hard way (by gambling), you will end up with a substantial amount of free credits, which can be spent at many of the on-property restaurants. Depending on your spending pattern, your casino host can add all kinds of freebies, including free rooms, free meals and other perks. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to how much you spend with them. During my stay, I visited several of the Planet Hollywood restaurants, and my card covered all the expenses.

Of all the basic perks, the queue skipping one is probably the most valuable. During the 100 degree weather, there were at least 50 people in line for a cab, but as soon as I showed my diamond card, a cab pulled up and I was whisked away. Did I feel bad about all those people in the heat? Sure, but if I had spent enough money at the casino to earn Diamond status, I would have felt that I earned that perk – just like I don’t mind pre-boarding at the airport or checking in at the Platinum desk at my favorite hotel chain.

Comparisons with the airline industry

It is obvious that a lot of the marketing behind the Total Rewards loyalty program borrowed inspiration from the airline industry. When you are loyal to one airline, they’ll reward you with a couple of free miles and a shiny card. Once you fly a lot, you’ll board first, find yourself in a premium class cabin, get free drinks in the lounge, and get other basic perks that make the experience more enjoyable.

In the casino it is the same – the whole idea is to keep you happy with the program you picked, and to make sure nothing happens that would make you consider switching to a different property. The more you spend, the more love you’ll get back.

Are the perks worth it?

This one is impossible to answer – I’m not an active gambler, unless you count spending a couple of hundred on the slots. But I did speak to several of my friends who are Diamond members at Harrah’s, and they were quite clear – the perks of being able to use their status at more than just a handful of properties makes being loyal to this chain a worthy investment.

Bottom line is simple – if the perks and treatment make you feel worthwhile, the investment is worth it. Just like at the airlines, as long as your usual airline treats you well, you won’t ever consider switching to a different carrier.

Disclaimer: Harrah’s Entertainment paid for this trip and provided four days of Diamond status for the story. The opinions are entirely my own.

Fourteen things you didn’t know about Las Vegas

The creative minds at Renters Insurance have created a fantastic infographic for us – with 14 things you (probably) didn’t know about Las Vegas.

For example, did you know that you can rent a hotel room in Las Vegas that comes with its own basketball court? Or a bowling alley? Or that the Bellagio uses 1,650 cameras to keep an eye on its guests (and track cheaters)?

Check out these 14 fascinating facts, and amaze your friends next time the topic of Las Vegas comes up at the dinner table.


[SOURCE: Renters Insurance]

Richard Branson celebrates ten years of Virgin Atlantic flights to Las Vegas

Super entrepreneur Richard Branson just celebrated ten years of his airline flying to Las Vegas. And when Richard Branson celebrates, he does it the only way he knows how – with a hot model, a plane full of VIP’s and the mayor of Las Vegas.

Virgin Atlantic started flying to Las Vegas in June 2000, and since then, they have flown two million passengers to Las Vegas. Next year, the airline will add non-stop flights from Manchester airport, flying an additional 40,000 people a year to the local hotels and casinos.

To mark this major milestone, Virgin unveiled a one-off Las Vegas “Flying Lady” on one of their aircraft – inspired by Dita Von Teese (being held by Branson in the photo you see above). Von Teese commented on the artwork:

“It’s fantastic to be invited to mark this occasion. The pinup girl as aircraft “nose art” is a classic part of aviation history, so it is amazing for me to see myself depicted on an aircraft! I hope passengers around the world who fly onboard this plane enjoy seeing me as Virgin’s flying lady pinup!”

Full size versions of the photos are in the gallery below.


Take the Vegas buffet to the next level with the Planet Hollywood buffet of buffets pass

Do you really like to feast on a Vegas buffet? I mean really, really love the buffet? How about spending three nights at the Planet Hollywood resort and casino along with a couple of all-access buffet passes for seven different buffets?

The deal is being offered by Harrah’s for guests who book 3 nights at Planet Hollywood. Rates start at just $122/night and the buffet passes offer 24 hours of unlimited access to Caesars Palace, Flamingo, Harrah’s, Imperial Palace, Paris, Planet Hollywood, and Rio.

Just imagine the insane amount of food you could tackle in a 24 hour period – breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon snack, tea time, dinner time and midnight snack. 24 hours, 7 buffet locations.

Of course, nobody would force you to visit all seven locations, but if you have the pass, why not turn it into a challenge? This isn’t the first “all day buffet pass” being offered, but it is the first I’ve ever heard of that offers food between all properties within the same chain.

Interested in a couple of days of food and gambling? Check out the deal over at the Planet Hollywood booking site.