Venetian Hotel Las Vegas
For Your Life Magazine, 2002
Behind The Scenes at... The Venetian Hotel Las Vegas
“At the airport now. Negative – 10 minutes, repeat 10 minutes away. Do you copy?” Mario Papasavvas the head butler of the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, is standing in the corridor of the VIP lounge talking to a hidden mike in his sleeve, the one hooked up to the hidden wire in his ear. He rolls his eyes and whispers “it’s been a busy morning, we’ve just heard that two whales are coming in at the same time.” Seems reasonable. In 10 minutes there will be two enormous aquatic mammals flapping around the foyer demanding a suite with a view, a game of high stakes blackjack and a tonne of plankton.
But a ‘whale’ is not a whale in the casino game – it’s Vegas jargon for a high roller, someone who will gladly gamble upwards of half a million dollars a day. It’s less a case of thar she blows, as thar she blows $5 million on the poker tables. “I saw someone lose $7 million over four days, once,” says Mario. “That’s why I call this place Lost Wages.”
It’s Mario’s business to know these whales by name, their wants and needs, because for a casino, happy gambling whales make the world go round. There are 200 whales in the USA alone and Mario has met most of them by now. Not to mention the foreign whales, who come largely from the Orient or from the Middle East. And typically, the hotel will pay for a whale’s room charge, all bills, limousines, show tickets, everything - depending on the level of play of course. That’s how casinos work - the more you gamble, the more free stuff you get. At the regular end of the wedge, you get free drinks for playing the slot machines. At the whale end, things get ridiculous.
“They can be very demanding,” says Mario. “I’ve had to go out and do their shopping for them, the wife’s swimsuits, toys for the kids, that sort of thing. The most outrageous request was one guy who asked for two bottles of Cristal Rose champagne at 8 in the morning. They go for about $1300 a bottle. He told me to pour it over his cornflakes. He was serious, too, he didn’t flinch.”
Mario loves his job and who can blame him? He started out in drizzly Barnet, north London, and now he’s bought a 3 bedroom house with a pool and a jacuzzi for $350,000, and what with dealing with multi-millionaires all day, he’s liable to make a year’s mortgage in a single tip. Don’t tell anyone, but he’s been tipped $12,000 in the past. The whale, of course, must remain nameless.
On the gaming floor at the casino, tips are everything. When players win they throw their money around and typically the dealers, the cocktail waitresses and the bar staff get the first spray. But then it depends where you work – how far up the whale scale your work takes you. Everyone wants to work with generous whales, but not everyone can, all the time. So a kind of collective capitalism operates among the ground troops.
Take Jenny, a buxom, sunny cocktail waitress who gets dipped in glitter before work each day. She is assigned a work station, according to her point score – the points are calculated according to her experience and record – and what do points make? Tips! All in, Jenny makes about $80,000 a year, she’s blasé about $1,000, $2,000 tips. But she’ll give 15% of that to the barmen, because “it’s only fair. The girls get the tips not the guys and 15% is like an unspoken rule.” Then there are times when a high-roller may request a particular waitress from another station, so depriving the existing girl of what might be some handsome tipping. In that case, Jenny would split the tips with the girl. It’s all very democratic.
“The girls who get the biggest money are the Baccarat girls [Baccarat is a high stakes gaming room]. But it can be boring, some days, they won’t get anyone at all. Mind you, one girl got $20,000 for delivering a bottle of water. He was a George.” A George? “Georges just give money to everyone. Hey you, you’re nice, here’s $1,000, that kind of thing. Some Georges are whales, sure, but not all whales are Georges.”
Inevitably the job of ‘cocktail server’, as it is now known, isn’t the easiest job to land - there are plenty of girls out there who’d be quite happy earning $80,000 a year. Andrew BILLANY [CHECK SPELLING], a Hull-raised Hilton-trained hotel man, is in charge of all things catering at the Venetian. And he makes the girls jump through all kinds of hoops before they can squeeze into one of those garish outfits. “It’s an extensive interview process,” he says. “We have a special profiling test the girls have to do. It’s quite fun, you know, what kind of car would you be, that sort of thing. And what we’re looking for is a personality profile called ‘altruistic service’. It helps to be gorgeous too.”
The ‘gorgeous’ thing, however, is double-edged. Bold with their success at the table, players will often try their luck with the more delectable servers. Jenny gets marriage proposals all the time. Geriatric oilmen, buff young dot-commers, they have all offered to buy her Jaguars, pay for her house, take her shopping. “It happens all the time. I just tell them I’m married, which I am. But sometimes guys will follow us, they grab us – they think we’re strippers or hookers because of how we dress. We’re always getting offered money to go to their rooms. I’ve had to have people thrown off property before.”
Throwing people off property is Joe Rosado’s job, senior security coordinator. An ex-fire fighter, Joe has seen some action in his time. Careful to exonerate the Venetian – not at this hotel, he says, but in other casinos – he’s seen numerous suicides, hopeless assaults on the money bank (known as the Cage), brawls, $4 million in cash heaped on a bed… One time he and his men were commended for detaining a Canadian group who were wanted for several murders. Guns were drawn, blows exchanged.
On a happier note, Black Entertainment Television recently celebrated their annual awards in Las Vegas and decided to hold their afterparty at the Venetian. Rosado got 10 minutes warning that Shaq, Roy Jones Jr and a cavalcade of rappers he’d never heard of were arriving with a mob of hysterical fans. Any VIPs or celebrities need shielding from the public - that’s Rosado’s detail. Within minutes he had his men positioned, barricades set up, crowd control in place.
Yet of all the physical and spiritual ruin that Las Vegas can visit on a man, in Rosado’s experience the most common is diabetes. “I call it Las Vegas syndrome,” says Joe. “Diabetics get into the casino, start playing the machines, forget they need their insulin shots and then pass out. It happens about 300 times a month. That’s my main responsibility. As well as handling the cheats.” And cheats come in all shapes and sizes. Purse thieves, stackers, bucket thieves – so called because they’ll drop a dollar by your feet by way of distraction and make off with your bucket of tokens as you stoop.
“We get bungling burglars too, they make me laugh. We’ve got 180 security officers here, 25 undercover staff, 700 cameras. You don’t get away with anything here. But still we get guys who’ll jump into the cage steal a bag of money and then run for it. Straight into our security guys and straight into our holding cell!”
Meanwhile, down in the bowels of Venetian, the man whose investment Rosado is protecting, is lunching with his team in the war room, a low and simple affair with heaped files in the corner. No gilt edged splendour for Sheldon Adelson, he’s the anti-Trump, the antithesis of ostentation. As he eats, his financial officer draws up a chart of figures, long hand with a ruler. It seems curiously archaic.
Adelson is a remarkable man. A small and formidable entrepreneur from a desperately poor Jewish immigrant background, he has built an empire worth billions in all manner of businesses. The Venetian is his first major casino venture and already it has changed the paradigm of Las Vegas, as the first hotel/casino to have a minibar, fax machine and two televisions in every room. The first hotel/casino to rely less on the casino for its income as on the hotel. Now, he’s working on phase two – a second hotel on the lot with a further 3,000 rooms, making 6,000 in total, which would make his the biggest hotel in Las Vegas.
Clearly Adelson is in the whale category - were he so inclined Adelson could easily burn millions on the poker table without losing any sleep. The reason he doesn’t is the reason he’s so rich.
“From my standpoint as a businessman,” he says, “money is the measuring stick of accomplishment. But never judge me by what I have, judge me by what I am. It’s only money. Remember: wealthy people put their pants on one leg at a time, just like the poor guy.”