944 Magazine – October 2007

“Firing it Up” with High Roller Super-Host Steve Cyr.

So you got drunk once and lost $100 in a minute at a slot machine. Or maybe you even won a few thousand bucks a few times at roulette. But have you ever heard of the “whales”? They belong to an elite group of players willing to risk a whopping $250,000 – or more – in a single visit. Dealing with the resulting highs and lows can be a real bitch.

So these highest of rollers require a special breed of casino host who knows how to cater to their huge appetites and lavish tastes. [Even “normal” – high rollers have casino hosts – burn through a green bundle, and your host can soothe the sting with extravagant V.I.P. treatment; win a bundle and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep you happily gambling, lest you walk out the door and lose it at another casino.]

The top “whale hunter” in the business is Steve Cyr, 43, who heads up the company H-Six with his wife Tanya. H-Six has deals in place with an array of major casinos that rely on Cyr to seek out and deliver major players. His client properties include Atlantis in the Bahamas; Barona in San Diego; Norwegian Cruise Lines; Mohegan Sun in Connecticut; and the Hard Rock, Red Tock Resort and Golden Nugget in Las Vegas.

“It’s one-stop shopping for high rollers,” Cyr says. “Wanna go on a cruise? Call me. Vegas is too hot, how ‘bout San Diego? It’s cold in New York, but you don’t want to come all the way West? OK, come down to Atlantis.

“I’m kind of like Jerry Maguire,” he says. “I negotiate with casino head: We can get this [player], but we have to do this. Then I negotiate for the player. I say ‘Listen, you wouldn’t go into a court of law without an attorney; you shouldn’t go into a casino without a good independent host. I’m on your side.”

Cyr lures some players by offering thousands of dollars just for showing up. For others, he’ll negotiate for the casino to give them back a percentage of their losses.

Once the player is on property, Cyr ensures they receive the red carpet treatment. He’ll arrange everything, from the private jet to the limo, to the comped mega-suites, gourmet meals and trips to nightclubs. Of course, he’ll also make sure their casino credit line is arranged for when they’re ready to “fire it up” (his parlance for serious gambling).

Paying His Dues

Raised in a small town in Kansas, where his father operated a local Howard Johnson hotel, Cyr moved to Las Vegas in 1983 to attend UNLV’s hotel management program. His first casino gig was at Barbary Coast, where he toiled in the sport book for $50 a shift. Next, he took a slot host position at Caesars Palace, and then it was on to the Hilton, where he began hauling in new players at an unprecedented pace. In his nine years with the Park Place Entertainment (now called Caesars Entertainment), Cyr says he was the company’s top-producing host every single month. In his last two years with PPE, he won the company $32 million – a record, he says, that “will never be broken.”

In the early days, Cyr says he would “fish leads out of the garbage, literally.” He developed a network of moles throughout Las Vegas – from hotel clerks to bartenders and strippers – who would tip him off when a major player was in town. Cyr would then research the player to find out about his finances, where he gambled and his games of choice. Once he got the player on the phone or tracked him down at his hotel, Cyr would launch into his high-octane sales pitch and explain all the benefits od staying and playing at this casino instead. His brash, aggressive style made him the scourge of his hosts at rival properties, whose top players were frequently snatched out from under them.

Earning from their losses

Now that he’s gone independent, Cyr’s financial arrangement with the casinos he works with depends on the jurisdiction. In California, the laws permit him to get a percentage of his players’ losses. In Nevada, only casino owners are entitled to these losses, so Cyr is paid instead in theoretical losses – based on a mathematical formula that predicts how much a player will lose over a given period of time.

“A high roller, to me, is a guy that will risk $50,000 to $250,000,” he says. “A whale is a $250,000 and more,” he says. Maybe a guy only has a $100,000 [credit] line, but he lives in California, and I see him once a month. To me, that’s better than a million-dollar guy from Asia who maybe come once, twice a year, and you’re going to be a competing with Bellagio and the other places. If he wins, you don’t see him for six months to a year.”

When he’s not courting new prospects (there are several hundred whales who play in the U.S.), he’s maintaining relationships with his players and continuing to dish out the perks, whether it’s Super Bowl tickets or taking them on luxury trips. He notes with particular pride that he’s been lecturing at Cornell University recently, where a book that was written about him, Whale Hunt In The Desert, is now required reading for Cornell hotel management students.

Given the high-stakes nature of the business, Cyr sees a fair amount of turnover. “I’m losing 10-15 percent of my players every year because they’re sick of gambling, they’re out of money, or they’re sick of Steve Cyr,” he smiles, “The third one doesn’t happen too often, but it happens.”