Las Vegas Life – March 2004

Showtime is on in 86 million homes. So even if we suck, six million people will watch us.” This has become Steve Cyr’s mantra. It’s as though he’s trying to convince everyone, perhaps even himself, that his venture into the world of reality television can’t fail. It’s a rare, and unconscious, display of insecurity from a guy who, without a tinge of humility, refers to himself as “The Man.”

But two things about Cyr’s immense ego: It never reaches the point where you’d pay somebody to come along and knock him down a few pegs; and secondly, he just may indeed be The Man when it comes to Vegas casino hosts, having earned a reputation as a guy who will employ any tactic necessary to land and retain high-stakes gamblers. That’s undoubtedly the reason Cyr has come as far as he has as fast as he has–from son of a Howard Johnson’s hotel owner in small-town Kansas to caretaker of some of the richest gamblers in the world. It’s also undoubtedly the reason Hollywood producers, looking to capitalize on the sizzling combination of Vegas and reality television, came to Cyr, and why the premium cable network Showtime bought the rights to the show. Says Ben Samek of Brass Ring Entertainment, the production company hired to film the show, “After meeting him, I knew right away that this was a guy I wanted to follow around and see what happens.”

GENERALLY, CASINO HOSTS ARE A private lot. The last thing they’d want to do is expose themselves–and especially their players–to the spotlight, for fear of turning off clients, both current and potential. Steve Cyr’s not like most casino hosts. He’s been profiled in such national magazines as Details and Cigar Aficionado, as well as on ABC’s 20/20, the Travel Channel and Discovery Channel. In addition, he’s spent the past four years working on a book about his and his high-rolling players’ exploits. Written by Deke Castleman, Whale Hunt in the Desert (Huntington Press) is finally expected to hit bookstores in May.

But right now, Cyr’s sole focus is the reality show. Conceived by veteran Hollywood producer Chris Abrego, the show was originally to be a cross between American Idol and Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, with Cyr serving the Trump role: firing an aspiring casino host each week until one was left standing with a $100,000, one-year contract from the Hard Rock. (A free-lance host, Cyr operates a company called H-Six, and the Hard Rock is one of his six affiliates and his main Vegas property.)

However, after a meeting in early December with Showtime executives, the idea was reconfigured into a series about Cyr’s life as The Man among Vegas casino hosts who also juggles family life. (Cyr, who turns 40 this month, shares custody of his six-year-old daughter, Savanna, and lives in southwest Las Vegas with his fiancee, Tanya Chiodini, and her two children, Chelcee and Nick.) The agreement calls for an eight-episode series–tentatively titled The Whale Hunter–with Cyr getting paid five figures for each one that’s filmed. The one caveat: There’s no guarantee Showtime will ever air a thing. No wonder The Man is anxious.

Sitting on a low wall outside a restaurant at the Palms in early January, Cyr scribbles notes on his legal pad, pre- paring for the pilot episode, which will be filmed over five days surrounding the Super Bowl, one of his biggest weekends each year. “We’re going to be all over the place–the airport to pick up my players, getting them situated at the Hard Rock, taking them out to strip clubs in the party bus, betting $5,000 on the coin toss of the Super Bowl,” Cyr says in a single breath. “On Friday, we’re going to set up a scene where I go steal a high roller from another casino. And then I was thinking, we could be doing all this stuff and you call me and I go, ‘Hang on, I gotta do this interview with Las Vegas Life.’”

Constant motion. That’s Cyr–mind, mouth, body. When he’s especially pumped about something, well, there isn’t enough Ritalin in the world to slow him down. And by the time the cameras arrive at the Cyr home in three weeks to begin chronicling his every move, his energy level will be through the roof.

HERE’S THE CLIFFS NOTES on Cyr: Arrived in Las Vegas from Salina, Kansas, in 1983 to attend UNLV’s hotel college, the idea being to learn the trade and return home to take over the family business. During his senior year, he interned at the Barbary Coast, where Michael Gaughan took a liking to him, and Cyr immediately got addicted to casino life. Upon graduating, he turned down an offer to enter a Marriott Hotels training program to go to work in the Barbary Coast sports book for $50 a shift. “I called my parents,” Cyr says, “and told them, ‘I don’t think I’m coming back.’”

To make ends meet, Cyr accepted a side job as a telemarketer, selling vitamins. A loathsome gig by anyone’s standards, Cyr embraced it because it helped him hone his sales skills. Soon, he was working at Caesars Palace as a slot host–a plum job for a 22-year-old, yet not nearly enough of a challenge when you’re The Man. “I kept telling my bosses, ‘Can I get a list of players who haven’t been here in a year? I bet I can get them in.’ Finally, [casino executive] Jimmy Newman gave me that list, and I started smoking. I won like $140,000 [for the casino] in my first month. I won $1.3 million net profit my first year. I won $33 million my last two years [with Park Place Entertainment], and that record will never be broken.”

Cyr’s brought in big-time business–including Larry Flynt–for every property he’s worked for (Caesars, Desert Inn, Las Vegas Hilton). He’s also been fired from each of them. “My attitude’s hurt me,” he admits. But the way he views it, his former bosses suffered much more than he did. “I know when I walked out of the Hilton, millions walked out with me–not just of my existing players, but ones that I would’ve gotten.”

Ones like Dan the (other) Man.

IT’S AN HOUR BEFORE KICKOFF ON Super Bowl Sunday, and 40 of Cyr’s high rollers, their guests and his friends have gathered inside The Joint at the Hard Rock for a private party. On the invite list are 1,000 of the Hard Rock’s biggest customers, but it’s Cyr who procured front-row seats near a few gaming tables and a satellite sports book.

Cyr, though, has disappeared–as have the cameras. After leading his crew to its seats, Cyr went on a mad scramble to get approval for his biggest high roller–a 30-something guy who goes by Dan the Man–to access $10,000 of his credit line so he could bet on the game. With about 15 minutes to spare, Cyr returns with good news: His client can make his bet. “Usually, you’re not allowed to use your credit line for sports betting,” Dan the Man says. “But Steve worked it out and got me my 10 G’s.”

Just as Cyr figured, the cameras have taken a liking to Dan the Man this weekend. Partly because he’s a colorful character with a mini harem that follows him virtually around the clock. Partly because he wagers big money at the tables (he’s down $7,000 –”not bad,” he says–by the time the Super Bowl kicks off, and will lose another $15,000 on the game, before rallying Monday and walking out $38,000 ahead). And partly because he’s staying–gratis, of course–in the Hard Rock’s high-roller suite, a 5,000-square-foot, three-bedroom pleasure palace that even has a bowling lane.

By all accounts, Samek, the producer overseeing the 14-person film crew, is getting everything he wants: the on-the-go host tending to his boys, as well as the family man, including an afternoon racing go-karts with the kids at a local track. However, as halftime nears and the crowd erupts following the game’s first touchdown, Cyr looks spent. The pressure to be “on” for four days has clearly taken its toll, and as he sits at a table with his fiancee sipping a beer, Cyr’s simply relieved that the cameras are off him for the moment.

There’s one thing that can lift Cyr’s spirits, and it’s in an envelope in his front pocket. Each year, one of his clients, John Aspinwall, makes a large Super Bowl parlay bet for Cyr, places the ticket in an envelope and instructs him not to open it until the start of the fourth quarter. “John,” Cyr shouts at halftime, “I’ll give you back half the winnings if you let me open this f—er now!”

As the fourth quarter begins, the New England Patriots are leading the Carolina Panthers 14-10, and Cyr unseals the envelope. He has the Panthers plus-seven points and over 38. Seconds later, the Patriots score a touchdown to go up 21-10. Cyr looks at Aspinwall and shrugs–and then the roller-coaster ride begins, with both teams going up and down the field. When the Patriots kick a field goal in the final seconds to win 32-29, Cyr grabs Aspinwall in a bear hug. How much did he win? “A lot,” he says. “A lot.”

The entire weekend proved to be a boon to The Man’s wallet. He set out hoping to earn enough money through his gamblers’ play to cover the cost of a new swimming pool. With the parlay tacked on to his commissions, he’ll be able to get a waterfall, too.

“IN REALITY [TV], WE ALWAYS TALK about peeling back the onion,” Samek says two days after wrapping up filming. “There are people who are interesting, you can sit down and have a good conversation with them, but are they going to make a good reality contestant? You have to peel back the layers. Steve fits that. And being that core family guy as well as being a guy who’s up till 4 in the morning keeping his gamblers happy and taking them to the strip clubs and juggling 10 balls at the same time, that’s interesting. … I feel very confident that we’re going to be able to give Showtime something they’re going to get excited about.”

Cyr does, too. Then again, he always knew he’d give a good show. “Even if they don’t like the footage and they never air it,” he says, “I came through. We were really in the high-roller suite. My guys are really orangutans; they really bet $5,000 on the coin toss. We really went to strip clubs. I really had kids and we went to Chuck E. Cheese–everything I said I could do, I delivered. My part’s done now.”

And it just might be for good. “I guess I am more of a private guy than I thought. When I got up in the morning, I was pissed that they were there. So I don’t know if we’ll do another one.” He pauses for a beat, then adds: “But [the show] would be great publicity for my book, and you know what, that’s my focus right now.”

That, and keeping his current whales happy, fishing for new ones, planning his wedding, making time for his daughter and soon-to-be stepchildren, building his casino-host consulting business and fulfilling his ultimate dream of owning his own casino. Hey, nobody said being The Man was easy.