Wishing Whale

It’s 2:15 AM and I’m just returning to my hotel room…so much for getting some rest. I’ve been coming to Vegas a lot the last few years but I’ve spent the last two hours witnessing a personal first.

I enjoy gambling. I hit a jackpot playing slots a few years ago and I have always enjoyed the camaraderie of a packed craps table. I also enjoy watching people gamble. There is something about seeing someone hit a nice streak or take a big risk and come out ahead. Tonight, I didn’t gamble—I actually haven’t gambled at all so far this trip—but I did witness my first whale (aka “high roller”) in action playing craps. It was disgustingly amazing to see how he rolled (both literally and figuratively) putting a very decent salary at risk with each toss of the dice.

I don’t know who the guy is (the dealers wouldn’t tell me for privacy reasons) but I will never forget his face. He showed no emotion whether up big or down big. He didn’t seem like he gambled for pleasure. He damn sure didn’t need the money. He obviously didn’t mind the attention of the small crowd watching him play since he was in the main casino and not the high roller room. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was watching a group of 8 people play craps at a $15 minimum table at the Venetian. It was a roller-coaster ride with no one ever getting up big and many people going bust. After about 30 minutes, I heard the stick man at the craps table over my shoulder say “new shooter coming out” so I turned around to see who was playing at a table that was deserted just moments before. There was a single man at the far end of the table with a decent rack of chips. He was playing craps alone. “How boring,” I thought. I walked around to see what the table limit was, only to discover there was no limit listed and the table was reserved. Now I was really curious. I watched the gentleman in his mid-50s roll a dozen or so times, crap out, roll a dozen or so times and crap out again. I was trying to understand his betting pattern since I am always on the lookout for clues to improve my game. This guy was obviously somebody since the table was reserved but I had no idea how much he was gambling with each roll of the dice, because, frankly, I’d never seen chips those colors in rotation before.

I watched for another 30 minutes before stretching my legs by walking down to the empty craps table behind him where the three shiftless dealers were craning their necks watching him in play. I asked the dealer at that table, “How much are the yellow chips?” “$1,000 each,” he said. “I notice he’s putting a lot of those on the hard ways,” I offered. “That guy is betting mostly with chocolate chips. Those are worth $5,000 each,” he replied. “With each roll he has between $120,000 and $130,000 on the table,” he continued. I looked at him like “yeah right,” walked back to my previous whale watching post, and started scanning the table to tally the chips he had in action. Sure enough, he had $60,000 on each number across the top ($10,000 each on 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10), $40,000 on the pass line including his odds and $12,000 each on the hard 4 and hard 10!

With each roll of the dice, he was risking $124,000! I watched him roll about 10 times per minute on average over a 2 hour period—he was like a machine. That’s 1,200 rolls of the dice. That’s over $148 million in action/exposure at the extreme end of putting things into perspective. He took one restroom break and paused for over a minute, during one long winning streak, to light up a big cigar. He was up $220,000 at one point with about $800,000 in the tray (I heard the dealer tell the pit boss) and he was down over $250,000 at the lowest point during my watch (he took out markers/loans from the casino at least two dozen times). I thought for sure he would either bust or go up at least a million and quit before I got tired of watching. Neither happened. That dude is still down there playing. When I left he was into the casino about $160,000.

My future craps outings just won’t be the same. However, I did learn how the big stakes players play and it’s true, with a big enough bankroll, you can play craps forever. Me? I would have walked away with that $220,000 but that’s probably private jet gas money for that guy considering he risked more than that with just two rolls.