June 2, 2007

Fall of the Roman Empire

In an overreaction of thermonuclear proportions to my recent good luck, Harrah’s has barred me from playing in the World Series of Poker, and in fact from even setting foot in any of their hotels.

When Harrah’s Entertainment bought Caesars Palace, many industry pundits predicted they would have trouble managing the high-roller business. Harrah’s was built on the high-margin, low-volume player. They produce a predictable win, cost little in comps, and there are many, many of them. High rollers demand games with a slim house advantage, generous comps, and the possibility of actually walking away with a win once in a while.

Harrah’s doesn’t like that.

For 40 years, Caesars Palace had a reputation for welcoming big action. At one point they were the biggest place in town. They loved big players and didn’t sweat if somebody won. They wanted to keep him coming back. Eventually the house edge would kick in, but for now they’d let the player enjoy his good fortune.

That reputation is gone.

On May 10, Harrah’s sent certified letters to several high rollers informing them that their business was no longer wanted at Caesars Palace or any of the other Harrah’s properties in Nevada, California, and Arizona. I was one of them. I called the office of Tom Jenkins, regional vice president, and got a call back from Terry Byrnes, the VP of customer service. He told me I was being 86ed because they couldn't figure out how to make a profit off me.

Now understand, the only games I play are poker and video poker. In poker, the house makes a 100% guaranteed profit straight off the top. In video poker, the house controls every aspect of the game: the paytables, the amount of the house edge, and the promotions and incentives they offer. There is no way to use skill – or even cheat – to beat video poker. You can’t count cards. You can’t peek at the dealer’s hole card. It’s a machine. The best you could possibly hope for is to play computer-perfect, which I don’t, and even if that were possible the machine still has a maximum theoretical payout chosen by the casino. The only thing the casino can’t control is luck. One reason I like video poker is because you can get lucky and win. You hit a royal flush every 40,000 hands or so. If you’re lucky enough to hit two, you’re ahead! If you hit three, you’re ahead for a long time!

Boy, have I been lucky at Harrah’s.

I hit four huge royal flushes in the last year at three of the Las Vegas Harrah’s properties. Not surprisingly, I’m ahead, although I’ve put 80% of it back. This seems to rub them the wrong way. But I have trouble imagining the thought process that would cause someone to decide that kicking out one of your most loyal customers is an appropriate solution to the problem of him having extremely good luck. If they think the machines are too loose, make them tighter. If they think they are giving me too much in comps, give less. They control every aspect of the game. Except luck. And kicking out players who have been lucky makes about as much sense as banning people from playing the lottery because they win it.

Reactions to lucky streaks in video poker are not unique to Harrah's, but the usual response is to cut down on the promotional offers to players who aren't losing as much as they hoped. Even that is potentially unsound business: lucky players get unlucky and you want them to be at your place when that happens.

If it weren’t for the WSOP, I’d laugh about this rather than cry. I don’t think they’re trying to punish me, I just think they don’t understand their business and are compounding one costly mistake – offering way too much in comps and incentives to video-poker players – with another. My friends, if you can’t figure out how to make money from people who only play games with a built-in house edge, you may as well give up on the casino business and close your doors.

In the meantime, know that the winner of the main event this year cannot be considered a true world champion.

Not when the Quiet Lion isn’t allowed to play.


Gene said...

I just checked my calendar and it isn't April 1st. This is for real??? Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

This is one reason I do not like Harrah's.... This years WSOP started off far worse than last years with very long lines, terrible playing card designs that had all the decks removed from tourney, and cash game play, and of course Harrah's did not have their staff working on site until the starting bell of the first event...

Terrence said...

Shocking. Positively appalling. I don't even have the words.

We (Bill, Jerrod, Patti Beadles, Dave Orr, numerous others) were talking at dinner about the possibility that the players would boycott the WSOP based on the massive clusterfuck that is this year's WSOP. Of course we came to the standard conclusion that really it would only be good players participating in the boycott, which would lead to the games being more profitable for every one else, which would lead to the tough players returning, etc.

My sincerest sympathies. I wish that were enough.

KenP said...

Well, that takes the cake.

But, frankly, Richard you probably deserve it.

Not because you are a nice guy but because you gave them your custom knowing their reputation for screwing poker player.

I've blogged about your situation today at pokerworks.com and we all share your blame.

Irongirl01 said...

What a bunch of Friggin Assclowns.

Long Lines, cards you cant read and now the Quiet Lion banished.

Mike May said...

I think you're going to have to explain this more because I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. Obviously I understand good players being "backed off" from blackjack because the casino considers them positive EV players. But to not be allowed on property is strange. I've heard of it at Foxwoods, but that is a whole other country. How can you be banned from the Rio convention center? Are you saying that you will be escorted off property if you try to buy a $10 hot dog from the Rio. If I'm missing something here, help me out.

Anonymous said...

I was quite literally about to send you an email seeing if you'd like to get dinner in LV on 6/29 when I ran across Terrence ("Johnny") Chan's livejournal post telling us about your ban. This is one of the dumbest corporate decisions I've ever heard -- and I've spent most of my career cleaning up after dumb corporate decisions.

I suppose this absolutely ridiculous event means that you aren't likely to be in town, but if you will be, let me know.

Deep-sixing PaulP for ragging on Becky in the press was bad. But deep-sixing you for PLAYING VIDEO POKER TOO WELL is so senseless on so many levels that I don't even know where to start.

Anonymous said...

I'm still trying to process this whole thing, but I'm shocked and saddened to hear this news. Is it possible Harrah's is even worse than Becky was? Shudder at the thought.

I can't understand why they would bar you from playing poker. It's easy enough to bar you from playing VP alone. Why don't they just leave it at that? Ridiculous. (Not that I think they should bar you from anything, but barring you entirely is just completely absurd.) Did you ask them about the possibility of playing just poker at their site?

Still wondering how to react to this...

Devo said...

OMG this is so freaking retarded. I'm sorry Richard... Harrah's sucks.

Bryan Devonshire

Wil Wheaton said...

Wow. What a fucking load.

Richard, whenever I've been around you, you've been a complete gentleman, treating everyone around you with dignity and respect.

I've been in casinos -- and in the Amazon room during last year's WSOP -- where I've been surrounded by ignorant, obnoxious, childish boors who make the entire place miserable for everyone there.

Clearly Harrah's only cares about squeezing every last bit of money that they can out of their players, but barring someone such as yourself for being too lucky at video poker is in-fucking-sane.

It almost makes you wish the mob was running things again, doesn't it?

I'm sure there are plenty of other properties in Las Vegas who will welcome you and your lucky streak with open arms, and I wish you the best of luck wherever you choose to play your poker tournaments.

Anonymous said...

This is absurd. Has Harrah's never heard of lucky streaks? Whoever is responsible for these letters should be fired ASAP.

Anonymous said...

"shocked and saddened" "retarded" "dumbest corporate decisions" "friggin assclowns"....

You guys clearly haven't run a business before. As a shareholder, I applaud, endorse, embrace and salute the decision to bar customers that Harrah's isn't smart enough to learn to earn from.

Clearly, they didn't want to alter their comp program that advantage players can, well - use to their advantage. So they chose to "trespass" these unbeatable players instead.

Furthermore, I am proud to live in a country that endorses the right of business owners to deny whomever they choose service.

Your sense of entitlement to the perks, privileges and prestige that comes with the balla lifestyle financed by a company (no matter how negligent in making sure their comps/cards/VP is +EV for the house) "saddens me". Especially as a shareholder. For once, Harrahs did something right at this years WSOP.

You sucked at Harrah's teat and fed at the Caesar's trough for too long now. I don't expect you will be missed.

js said...

That "making a profit" thing makes no sense whatsoever when applied to the WSOP, doesn't it? Do they think you have some occult power over video machines? That skill in real poker provides some unbeatable advantage in video poker?

Incidentally, in reference to that picture in the post showing that pseudo-Roman statue - if you put those narrow square glasses on those girls, they'd look like underdressed emo-girl Starbucks barista-ettes.

I'm just sayin'

Anonymous said...

OMG, this is final proof, that Harrah's executives lost their mind...

Unknown said...

You guys clearly haven't run a business before. As a shareholder, I applaud, endorse, embrace and salute the decision to bar customers that Harrah's isn't smart enough to learn to earn from.

And you clearly don't understand the term "fair gamble". You're not selling anything but -EV games in casinos, and a REAL business would accept that people like Richard MIGHT overcome the short-term odds and win once in a while. This should be accounted for while figuring profit forecasts.

Crawling behind the "we choose not to serve you" banner just because they (high rollers) are ahead at the moment sets a horrible precedent for the industry.

What's next, banning grandma from the penny slots because she won enough for a free buffet and hotel keychain?

Very sick.

rakethetable said...

So lame on them.

Good luck elsewhere.

I am sure The Donald will take you in.

Anonymous said...


I guess this means that I won't be sitting next to you in the CP high limit slot room anymore. Where will you switch your play to? Next time I see you in Vegas the cigars are on me.

Costa Rica Dave

Anonymous said...

Not being allowed to play something that makes them money without any risk? Smart guys over at harrah's.

Anonymous said...

Something similar happened in Detroit a few years ago. WHile these weren't even high rollers, Greektown Casino barred several players from playing VP in their casino because the players were winning. They even barred a few blackjack players who were winning a lot. Eventually they allowed the players back in and reinstated their comps. Today Greektown has the best VP paytables in the Detroit market.

The problem is that these large corporations aren't content to just make a profit. Each year it has to be bigger and better than the year before. The greed factor is unending. They don't want winners or advantage players playing in their casinos. Just people too stupid to realize that losing is not a form of entertainment. Reminds me of the wild west where most saloon casinos had games that their patrons never had a chance of winning.
Today though Harrah's can do it legally.

Anonymous said...


As you implied, no problem at all if Harrah's said "no more comps for you." But to 86 you? Crazy.

Anonymous said...

It seems there is a misubderstanding about Harrah's making decisions in the best interest of their business and making arbitrary decisions that will not improve their bottom line. I can see reducing or eliminating perks for those players where they don't show a positive long term expectation. But banning players - except for cheating or other illegal activities - makes no sense from a business perspective.

joepro said...

I want to fire off an email to harrah's and espn to complain, and to try to get you reinstated. Would you still go this year if reinstated?


Anonymous said...

hate to say it but harrahs to me has always been chickensh*t, this is just another of their idiotic things the do. I am not surprised with their actions which is why I don't play in their places...

Anonymous said...

I for one, will boycott all Harrahs properties until I hear they let you back in, this is totally ridiculous! You should get with Full Tilt and have all the Pros there join in a published boycott, I bet they'd change their tune real fast!

Unknown said...

This is quite surprising.

I'm fine with casinos adjusting their comp rates in line with the skill of my play, or even a request not to play a specific game. (I find that one a bit silly, but if they don't want my blackjack action, that's probably for the best.)

But a complete and total ban, simply because you've had some good fortune at a mathematically unbeatable game is absurd.

The anonymous pro-harrah's poster is either a great fool or a troll. This being the internet, it's difficult to guess which.

CarmenSinCity said...

Holy freakin crap Richard! I cannot believe those Harrahs rat bastards. They are such complete and utter fools. I knew I hated them. Funny that I'm actually sitting in the media room on my laptop using the free wireless internet at the Rio right now. Whatever - I still hate em!

Anonymous said...

i may be in the minority here.... but harrah's has every right to refuse richard's business. may not be the smartest thing..but hey....

Now, the thing is -- it seems like a very STUPID thing to do. Somebody has to hit the jackpot... I'm surprised they're not happy it's a regular customer like you so that you can put the money back into the Casino.

Anonymous said...

Tough luck there, Richard, but you know, to have been trespassed over just playing machines is really strong. This move is usually reserved for those who really have pissed off the casino, and finding a FPDW game (100.76% payout) and getting lucky on it, by itself, shouldn't be cause for trespass.

There is something more to this story which we're not being told. Quite frankly, a lot of this stinks, but even then, they don't want your poker business when they let real crooks play?

We'll be writing more about this in the days to come on our website. I may actually have to write it because of the legal issues inherent in such an article.

Anonymous said...

mad dog writes:

So stupid. So predictable. So HET.

I guess this means all future winners of the WSOP are 86'd also?

One bracelet and you are out.

Oh, the Humanity!

Anonymous said...

Was the machine full pay deuces wild?

Anonymous said...

Was the machine a full pay 100.7% deuces wild?

Anonymous said...

I'm not shocked at all. I once predicted you would win the grand prize drawing at the Peppermill casino. I even wagered with friends that you would too. I'm just saying money seems to go to money so barring you is no shock at all.

Anonymous said...

Wow ! Full pay deuces at $300 a hand. Must be nice to have the 'pull' to convince a casino to put those in for you. Assuming perfect play at a moderate speed of 500 hands an hour with a .7% edge and a bankroll to withstand the deviation...hmmmm...comes out to about a 1k per hour win. I'm surprised the machine was still there after your first Royal.
Harrah's has no business to ban you for playing the machine. They were the fools that put the machine on the floor to begin with. Yes, they have the right to change the pay scale to a negative game. Yes, they have the right to reduce or eliminate your 'comps' if they feel you're not going to lose enough to make up for the perks. But there's no way they should have the right to tell you that you can not play their machines or participate in the WSOP.
They have the ability to set all the payouts on video poker, the rules at all table games, the rate and what types of comps and promotions are offered. There is absolutely no way a properly managed gaming company should ever have to ban a legitimate player from it's properties. Barring players from gaming at a property or participating in an event like the WSOP is simply an indictment of Harrah's inability to efficiently manage it's gaming operations. They should be embarrassed and ashamed.

Anonymous said...

This is outrageous. It is a symptom of the prevalent attitude within casino management that the players are marks and not customers.

Frankly, I do think that they probaly over-comp many players in their games with low house edges but the remedy for that is lowering the comps, not banning people.

Also, one would think that the first thing they would do would be to destroy the machine you were playing. It is clearly in collusion with the customers, I mean the marks.

I sometimes play in the Seniors event at the WSOP. I wasn't planning on it this year, so I can't claim that I am boycotting it. But I would if I had been planning to enter.

Will in New Haven

Anonymous said...

No surprise here.. Harrahs has been quite successfully ruining all of the old Caesars Entertainment properties for all but the worst ploppies since it took over, even if it doesn't make financial sense to do so. Ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

fyi Harrah's very recently retained McKinsey consulting to review their customer service and find ways to cut costs.

Anonymous said...

I play video poker too, and I am LONG overdue (via the 40,000 hand rule) for my first EVER royal flush, in comparison I have about 10 quad 2's on duece's wild machines.

Harrah's management is wacko, they apparently haven't heard of word of mouth disease, this should give them a nice dose of cancer for a while.

Great PR Move.... /s


Anonymous said...

How do you recognize an FPDW game?

Anonymous said...

I held a four day conference at Caesar's last year. It was small -- just one large unpartitioned room with ~95 people. This doesn't make me want to select them again.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps they need to just fire the managers who took witchcraft 101 instead of statistics?

Anonymous said...

If someone won the lottery three times in a row, the lottery agency would be calling in the press and publicizing it.

Anonymous said...

I was once thrown out of the sahara (a total dump) for winning $3,000 at single deck blackjack.

Bossman: Are you counting cards?

Andy: No.

Bossman: The cameras are saying you're making some lucky hits.

Andy: Its single deck, that's not impossible with a little bit of strategy is it?

Bossman: We're going to ask you to leave after this hand.

Andy: For Winning? Where were you last night when I lost 8 times in a row?

Bossman: Be a gentleman and play somewhere else please.

Anonymous said...

I think the few commenters that are supporting Harrah's on this are missing the point- they're saying they support Harrah's right to turn down customers - yeah, but Richard never said they didn't have a right to turn him down. He just said it made him sad, and he didn't think they made the right decision. Clearly, they have every right to make terrible business decisions. That's not the point. The point is that it's dumb to kick out someone while they're ahead, since the odds are if they keep playing they'll eventually be behind. The only reason to kick someone out is for cheating or card-counting, something that stacks the odds in the player's favor, rather than the house. Sorry about the WSOP though.

Anonymous said...

Only people who don't know any better play at Harrah’s - just google up the cases where when somebody finally wins they try to weasel out of paying them - AFTER taking their picture and calling them a winner in front of the public.

Anonymous said...

How awful! Winning at video poker is similar to winning at a slot machine (virtually impossible to cheat)! How incredibly rude (and short sighted) of Harrah's not to ply you with comps to encourage their "big winner" to stick around! I wonder if you would go after them to return som of the "investment" that you have made into the machines? It seems positively unconstitutional!

Where to next Richard?? Wynn's? Planet Hollywood?

Anonymous said...

Harrahs, where if you win you get banned. A catch phrase like this should do wonders for their business. Let's run with it.

Anonymous said...

I would love the honor of being kicked out of a casino for winning!

The Spewing of Fish said...

I used to work for these idiots - I was there for about two days before the attacks from my gold-digging supervisor started. Worked in the sports book, loved it, did a good job. I lasted a month. This entire town was/is built on hookers and schemers.

All you have to do is buy a fake ID like the illegal immigrants do and play all you like. Plus you get free Government cheese!!

You are an awesome man!



The Spewing of Fish said...

See, your mistake is not winning, it's gambling in the first place. Casinos really aren't into gambling anymore. They have their prostitution rings going to stay competitive to Indian gaming.

The casinos in Las Vegas have clubs such as Pure that they delve millions of dollars into and then have V.I.P hosts who are nothing more than pimps.

Gaming is such a nasty distraction for the casinos.

I would say start your own casino but Harrah's has bought most of this town already. I have decided I'm going to share your story with others just to get those bastards. I'm sick of this shithole of a town (posing as a city).




Tom said...

Harrahs should get a spreadsheet and remodel their comp program, put some cap on it if they need to.

As for barring players that have been lucky, it is as smart as telling the guy who won 4 pots by calling a preflop raise with 38o that he is no longer welcome in the game.

Anonymous said...

Somebody that is willing to wager $300 on one hand of video poker should be comped and comped very well regardless of the outcome of play. The casino probably had a an advantage on the bets if you have an advantage and a big enough bankroll you have already won it is just a matter of time before you see the money. In gambling there is no such thing as "luck" there is only short term varinace!
Which can allow a disadvantage gambler to go home a winner for the day. But if that same lucky gambler comes in day after day no matter how lucky he is he will end up a loser and the casino will end up a big winner. In the end only have a mathimatical advantage will make you a winner in a casino!

Anonymous said...

I just got terminated from Caesars. I am a poker dealer, and at the companys request, I helped them in the poker cage.
I took a poker chip, card protector, without obvious permission would have been granted. It had no property, and no cash value. It was just there. I was terminated for stealing! Also on my termination slip, it was noted as dishonest, and theft. When I got terminated out, I gave the useless, no value chip back, and it was discarded. Now I can't deal the WSOP, and after 30 years in the business, i'm labeled as a thief!
But to you brodie, believe me, if anyone is a 7 star player, and goes busted, they will not receive any more mailers.in closing, and i do apologize for language...Fuck you Harrah's.

Anonymous said...

I work in a casino in Vegas, and this isn't surprising. Harrah's is an evil corporation. They are cultish and expect employees to be doting, faithful servants of their brainwashed flock. It's a creepy "hive-mind" mentality there. This is a company that would prefer it if there were no such thing as "table games". They would install slots in the showers if they could.

Anonymous said...

This is what Harrah's New Orleans did to me and they will do the same to you as well...
My name is Louis Smith and I live about 100 mile north of New Orleans, in a city called Hattiesburg, MS. I'm a PLATINUM Card Holder and my brother is a GOLD card Holder. We both booked a room on Harrash's New Orleans for a Sat night stary in July 2008 using both of you players cards. If I were to use just my Platinum card I would have paid $129 for the room and by using a guest players card the room would be comp at no cost. My brother and I book a room using both of you players cards two week before arriveing into New Orleans. Harrah's even emailed me comfermations the the room reservation would be comp at no cost.

Well, when my brother and I arrived by train Sat morning we check into the room at the front desk and later got a phone call from VIP services. A Harrah's Guest Service Agent told me that all of my Room Reservation that were book using my brothers players card would be cancel. I told the Agent to the reservation was booked online and there was a place to add another guest and their players card and the room rate charnged. She tried to make like my brother did even come with me. What a bunch of crack heads. My broher is in the same room with me and sign into the room with me. They went as far as getting the front desk to check our bags in our room. Which is really against the law. Okay, they cancel all my reservation that I make though Dec and plus charged my visa $115 deposit on some of the room reservations.

When I got back to Hattiesburg I call Jim the GM of Harrahs Casino in New Orleans and told him to check into it. He is rude to me on the phone and said that I should go back to Mississippi and play at the Grand Casino. He also told me that I've already used up all my comp for New Orleans. So why did the online Reservations let me book with using my brother as a guest. If they dont want people to add another guest then they should take that feature off their website.

The GM at the Harrahs Casino in New Orleans was a Jerk and would do nothing to help me. He even told me that the Slot Tournment that was book months ago would even be taken away from me. Now, that takes the cake. These people DO NOT give a cracks ass about their guest. I've alway gave high raves on this casino but not anymore after being treated like I'm a dirt under their feet. I've spent lot of money at this casino and have never win one red cent!!! I will never spend another dime at this casino and will find another casino that will treat me better.

Beware of Harrah's Entertainment they are not all they are cracked up to be!!!!


Anonymous said...

"...In gambling there is no such thing as "luck" there is only short term varinace!..."

True. Yet the Harrah's executives are looking at the short term too. They see a player who is costing them money so they are booting him out. That he won fair and square means nothing to them. Its simply the fact that he won that is upsetting to them. Players are not supposed to win at Harrahs!

Anonymous said...

I just got wrongly terminated from this asswipe company.You Diamond/Seven Star players cant even begin to know the lies and deception that is now happening with this Texas Group/Apollo company. Harrahs of old is dead and these morons don't care about employees and they damn sure don't care about all you players except for how to screw you all out of your last gaming dollar. How nice have your promotional gifts been here lately?, I can tell you these sweat factory Chinese made garbage items are not worth taking. I also believe some of it is possibly dangerous due to horrible quality. All of the rumors about this company's dire financial condition are true, Jesus they are taking orange juice from employee dining rooms because they cant afford to give it away..."no that is merely one item out of many I assure you". The food in the restaurants has been reduced to the cheapest and lowest quality that can be found. That`s why your dinner and lunch has tasted so terrible over the past year and when directors are questioned about why we are doing this to our guests by employees they are told the guests are too stupid to know the difference. If your favorite cook, dealer,or cocktail server is not working there anymore you can bet they were terminated for making too much money and have been replaced by a "picked cherry". Who gives a shit if they know your name of can even do the job, their saving money! Do yourselves a favor and stay away form all of Harrahs brand locations. They only want your money...not like the company from a year or 2 ago. They really believed in treating the guests better than other casinos. Harrahs and all their brands are dying a swift death from greedy idiots and piss poor management, all the way down the line.

Juliette said...

Reading your article and your experiences, I have a reason more not to gamble. What they did to you is not fair at all, but if they can behave like that, they will behave like that.

usb people said...

reading all these experiences, this place should be shut down for treating people like this or start some massive online petition so ppl never give them custom and they go under