Three-Day Vacation, Day Two Dept.: Time to get off the beach for a while and try our luck at getting the most important information about a Bahamian casino, viz. how much must you gamble to get a free room for the night?
BEYOND THE PULSING LIGHTS and the kik-kik-kik of the slot machines is the Salon Prive, a dignified little room of green-topped tables. The gambling within is also dignified – more dignified than the whooping and “Awwriiight!” you hear on the main floor.
Here, in the casino part of the Paradise Island Resort & Casino, the high rollers gather to place their bets.
Between them and the tourists who yank the slots is an economic gulf wider than the social one that separates peon and king. This is the aristocracy of casino gambling, a select club with only two requirements:
A lot of money.
An indifference toward losing it.
The second is the tougher of the two. This is a men’s tradition, harkening to a time when the satisfaction of a gambling debt could become a gentleman’s ultimate challenge.
The high roller is treated like royalty, often receiving his food and accommodations free of charge. How stratospherically must you gamble in order to get such perks? Dino Spychalla, casino manager of the Paradise Island Resort & Casino, is reluctant to come right out and say it. “I don’t want to draw lines,” he says. “I don’t want to offend anybody.”
Spychalla is a tasteful man, one who handles people with the refined grace of an English butler and dresses with the understated flourish of Saville Row. He is well-groomed, well-modulated, tactful. Alert.
It’s a casino tradition to offer complimentary services to the high roller, but the Bahamas requires a more rarefied level. “We can’t do what they do in Las Vegas or Atlantic City for economic reasons,” Spychalla explains. “We pay the Bahamian government a gaming tax of 30 percent, taken right off the top. When you compare that to New Jersey, which pays eight percent, and Nevada, which just pays a straight corporate tax, you can understand why.”
In Las Vegas, he observes, someone who makes an average bet of $100 at the blackjack table will build up perk credits of $50 an hour. “Here it’s very complex. We try to work it out on the basis of average bet and the average number of hours played. But the formula changes as our rates change. A full room-food-and-board comp customer is playing and betting quite a bit. He’s not your $25 player.”
At any given time there are likely to be about a hundred high rollers enjoying comp-customer status. Spychalla is quick to point out that, having earned this status, they only are required to play at the expected betting level for the required time. “Win or lose, it makes no difference.”
Casinos compete for high rollers, so the business of attracting them is a full-time job for a special staff. “We have aggressive casino marketing teams on this property and in Miami. Here they’re led by the director of player development; in Miami it’s the vice president of casino marketing. We don’t go to the other casinos to find them: we try to go to the source, so we’ll arrange parties for casino-oriented people in areas we believe to be important.”
Parties are given all over the world, with Mexico and South America among the choice high-roller territories.
Direct mail also is used to entice the big bettors. Lists are developed from profiles of guests, from information offered by transplanted casino managers – even from the records generated by those get-cash-from-your-credit-card machines located throughout the casino.
What do you have to bet to begin earning high-roller status? “Let’s put it this way. We’re talking about people with credit lines of fifty to a hundred thousand dollars, people we see here two or three times a year.”
If that’s more than you tend to drop on the dice, you could take advantage of the packages available for the not-so-high rollers. Tour agencies like Casino Caravans in New York and Bobby D’s in Boston offer a “Gambler’s Spree” that earns a certain amount of comp status.
Spychalla suggests one of these programs for the gambler who wants to test the waters of high roller-dom. “Basically, that kind of deal asks you to give us eight hours total time at the tables over the course of a four-day stay. Minimum bet is $5 during the day, $10 after 7. You’re allowed $100 in cash, $100 in match-play coupons, and you get $109 in food credits. We find the average bet on that kind of program is $20. It’s a very good source of incremental business, and the guests feel that they’re getting something a little special.”
There’s an irony lurking behind this subject, of course, one that you’ve thought about already. The gambler who approaches a Bahamian casino with enough money to drop at the tables to earn complimentary status is the person all too well-heeled enough to afford to pay for it. It doesn’t matter whether Luck smiles over the tables. The rest of us can only wish to be so lucky.
– Schenectady Gazette, Feb. 24, 1990