Now, normally I didn’t play at The Venetian, but since I was shooting there anyway, I found my way to the blackjack tables the night before we were set to tape our first episode. I didn’t even have a line of credit set up at The Venetian, but what I did have was a ton of cash on me just in case a big poker game broke out while I was there. I was carrying around close to $300,000 in this ridiculous Dolce & Gabanna satchel which, despite its small size, was able to comfortably fit six $50,000 bricks with enough room left over for a pack of lifesavers.
My first night in town, even though I knew better, I made a beeline for the high-limit tables and bought in for $30,000. Half an hour later, when the dealer was done counting all the money and all of the railbirds had come and gone, I placed a beautiful white flag on the table for my first $5,000 bet of the night.
I was delighted when the dealer dealt me a blackjack on my first hand, which was immediately followed by me splitting two eights against a six, catching a trey on the first hand and a deuce on the second. So of course, I doubled down on both hands, putting a total of $20,000 at risk. The dealer went monkey, monkey for a bust and I was elated. If only I had gotten up right then and there and spent the night partying my ass off at a club, the hangover would have been much less painful than what the casino had in store for me.
Normally I would have reserved a table and celebrated my win, but like I said earlier, The Venetian wasn’t my usual stomping ground. I had no RFB comp status where I’d be receiving my usual over-the-top Vegas experience complete with butler service and an endless supply of casino hosts stopping by to say, ‘hello.’ Hell, I didn’t even have a marker there.
And even though I would be the first to point out that someone else’s bets don’t actually alter your chances of winning, when the guy next to me decided to make three min-bets, I still saw it as a sign of bad luck. It was especially bad because I had just pressed my $5,000 bet to $10,000.
Sure enough, like a sign from the gambling gods telling me to run, the dealer dealt himself a blackjack. Determined to quit ahead, I still found myself sitting there like a degenerate when the sun came up.
As I saw my staff heading to work on the show we were taping that day, I decided to play one more shuffle and then call it quits. Of course, I lost every single hand of that shuffle, putting me $275,000 in the hole! My Dolce & Gabanna satchel had been almost entirely drained.
That night, eager to get it back, I decided to play smart and went to The Golden Nugget where I had a marker and pre-negotiated terms in their high-limit room that gave me two private tables all to myself.
I took out $20,000 on my marker and quickly ran it up to a net profit of $150,000 in less than 45 minutes. When I cashed out, I had every intention of heading back to The Venetian and going to bed. That is, until I decided to sit down for just a few hands on the way up to my room.
I made my way over to the same high-limit area as before, running high from my win. Except this time, I was greeted by a host who let me know he would like to take me to dinner during my stay, even asking me if I needed tickets to any of the shows. After some polite chit chat, I dove in head first, flat betting $5,000 a hand as if I had just won the lottery.
In another 45 minutes, the $130,000 was gone! I won $130,000 back, and then proceeded to dump it all back to The Venetian!
After another day of taping, I headed straight for The Nugget, this time calling them to have my tables roped off and ready. I took them for another $110,000 before cashing out, making my way back to The Venetian where I had vowed to get some sleep.
I didn’t even make it to the elevators before I had dumped it all back again.
After another grueling day of production, my mind clearly on the six-figure hole in my pocket, I went back to The Nugget to dig myself out once again. This time I managed to book a $114,000 win. You can probably guess what happened next. Like an absolute, sick, degenerate asshole, I went straight back to The Venetian and gave it all back!
But this time I didn’t go to sleep. I was wide awake and furious with myself. I needed to play, but the venue I was playing in clearly seemed to matter. I headed back to The Nugget, but this time when I asked for my usual royal treatment, there was a long pause, followed by lots of whispering.
All of a sudden the CFO of Golden Nugget walked up, and he informed me that I was no longer welcome to play at the property. I was quite frustrated with this development, but still itching to play. I decided to switch it up and play craps, but when I asked for my marker the man said, “I don’t think you understand Mr. Curtis. You are no longer welcome to play any game in this casino.”
To which I replied, “Even the slots?” Turns out that I had apparently won 1.7 million over the past few years and had somehow never booked a loss. I became one of only two guys at the time to ever be banned for excessive winning!
Knowing there was no way this guy was going to give me access to my marker, I started hounding him for a free meal. I had a friend with me, and I wasn’t about to be ran out of a casino without proving I could get something from them. Sure enough, they comped us at the buffet under the caveat that I leave The Nugget immediately after I was done eating.
I got back to The Venetian on a full stomach, but as you can guess, I was far from satisfied. I put my last $100 into a video poker machine for a few spins while I talked to my buddy and tried to figure out where I was going to get ahold of more cash after midnight on a Sunday.
And that’s when things changed!
I hit a royal flush at video poker for $7,500. As I was waiting to fill out the W9 (which was really irritating given the small amounts I had been gambling for), I turned to my buddy and said, “It’s Custer’s last stand, let’s run it up!” He begged me to reconsider by reminding me The Venetian had been nothing but bad luck for me on that trip. This time I agreed and we moved the action over to Caesars Palace.
I raced over to Caesars with my $7,500 still warm and sat down at the first high-limit blackjack table I could find. Like magic, I ran the $7,500 up to $250,000 in less than an hour! I was saved! Then, on my way out of town my luck got even better as I dropped by the host desk at The Venetian. Apparently, I was such a degenerate donkey that they decided to give me back $15,000 in cash as a thank you. I had somehow managed to win six figures at the blackjack tables four nights in a row, but needed a lucky spin on the slot machine to save my entire bankroll.
I was truly living life on the edge and this became a high roller moment I will never forget. But if you want to head to Vegas and get treated like a high roller, don’t do what I did. There are much smarter ways to get tons of perks out of Sin City than bringing a $300,000 bankroll and playing like you’ve lost your damn mind!
Instead, check out this week’s video supplement with special guest, casino host Steve Cyr. He’s the man behind the best-selling book, Whale Hunt In The Desert: Secrets Of A Vegas Superhost from Huntington Press. Steve was an entertaining and insightful guest who talked about everything from John Elway being a stiff, to one-upping me with a story even crazier than the one I just shared. He also gives his top tips for getting treated like a high roller in Vegas, and how to take advantage of the city during COVID-19.
As always, thanks for reading, and next time you go to Vegas, remember to stay sharp! Stay Kardsharp!
Houston Curtis, founder of KardSharp.com and author of Billion Dollar Hollywood Heist has lived a successful double life as both a producer and high stakes poker player for nearly 30 years. His credits include executive producing gambling-related TV shows such as The Ultimate Blackjack Tour on CBS, The Aruba Poker Classic on GSN and pioneering the poker instructional DVD genre with titles featuring poker legend Phil Hellmuth.
Barred for life from Las Vegas Golden Nugget for “excessive winning” at blackjack, Houston is one of the world’s most successful card mechanics and sleight-of-hand artists of the modern era. Curtis, who rarely plays in tournaments, won a 2004 Legends of Poker no-limit hold’em championship event besting Scotty Nguyen heads-up at the final table before going on to co-found the elite Hollywood poker ring that inspired Aaron Sorkin’s Academy Award-nominated film Molly’s Game.
Curtis now resides in Columbia, Missouri while maintaining offices in Los Angeles, and Phoenix, Arizona. In addition to running a production company and independent record label, Curtis also consults as a poker protection expert to clients across the globe seeking insight into master level card cheating tactics via advanced sleight-of-hand technique. In addition, Houston is now available for in-person and online speaking engagements, private sleight-of-hand instruction, and a variety of media creation/production services. Houston can be contacted directly at [email protected]