Are Casino Perks for Losers Only?

One of the many lures of Las Vegas, Florida and Atlantic City is the fact that you can feel like a VIP for a few days or weeks. The casinos like to keep their players well lubricated, which often means that drinks are free, certainly in the bigger and “better” casinos. This VIP treatment makes sense when you think about it: if the alcohol is free, then you’re more likely to drink more of it, and the more you drink, the more inhibitions you lose, the more stupid mistakes you make and the more of your kids’ college funds you hand over to the casino. It only costs the casino a few dollars in alcohol to get you nicely intoxicated, but the money that they make as a result of that intoxication could be several hundred or several thousand percent more.

Still, the VIP treatment is always welcome, and in many casinos it also extends to food, particularly for those playing the big games at the poker or blackjack tables. Most gamblers will experience this, even those who only have a few dollars to bet, but what only a select few will experience are the perks of free hotel rooms, lavish suites and 3-course meals. These services are reserved for the “whales”, people who can afford to lose a few million without batting an eyelid. The casino treats them like superstars because without them, their profits would suffer. The casinos like people to believe that they’re happy to give this treatment to anyone who bets big, but are free suites and (V)VIP services really only reserved for those who lose a lot of money? Would a “whale” get the same treatment if he/she won, rather than lost, several million on a regular basis? The answer seems to be a resounding no.

A good example is of this Don Johnson, a professional blackjack player who made the news a few years ago after scooping some huge wins at a few casinos in Atlantic City. Johnson was a typical whale to begin with, a man who regularly gambled and lost so much money that he secured a deal with the Tropicana to give him a 20% rebate on his losses. The Tropicana, along with the other big casinos in the city, also gave him all of the other perks you would expect.

But Johnson had an ace up his sleeve, a plan, because he wasn’t a whale but a card shark in disguise. Johnson began playing blackjack 15 years before his stint in Atlantic City and developed a taste for the game. He stresses that he never counted cards, and just had a knack for the game. Whatever the reason, Johnson made close to $6 million in the Tropicana in just a couple of months. And as soon as he did so, they cut him off. No more perks, no more VIP treatment. He was gambling the same amount of money, if not more, but he was winning and therefore not considered an asset to the casino. And we’re not talking about consistent wins, which might make more sense, but as soon as Johnson pushed himself out of the red, they took away the silver platters.

Johnson’s skills led him to accumulate winnings of over $15 million in just five months, hitting Borgata and Caesar’s, alongside the Tropicana. For Johnson, of course, it doesn’t really matter. He can afford all the lavish suites, champagne and 3-course meals that he wants, but it goes to show that as soon as you start winning, you stop being a VIP in the eyes of the casino.