High Roller Radio
Nicholas Colon Interview
Professional Card Counter & Casino Gaming Consultant
Full audio of this Q&A HERE
Q: I know you’re always busy, it’s been a while since we’ve spoken, and I’m wondering how you’re doing in the wake of that tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas. How is the city coping?
NC: The city is recovering slowly. That first week was definitely a haze and nobody really knew what was happening. Even now, stories keep on changing and there’s a lot of confusion. People really
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don’t understand how the story is changing from day to day, sometime from hour to hour. So a lot of people I know are under the impression that something just doesn’t quite add up with this whole thing.
Q: I’m in Canada and have been following it online. You hear the conspiracy theories, you see the cell phone video, and there is a lot of confusion. The official story doesn’t quite jive in my mind but what a tragic event for a city that is known as a party town. You mentioned to be me before this interview that a documentary has been pulled from Vegas theatres because of this shooting?
NC: I don’t know if it was because of the shooting directl but it was released shortly before the shooting. It’s a documentary film called ‘What Happened in Vegas?’ It focusses on the corruption within the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and collusion with the local politicians and casinos. How they conspire to suppress a lot of incidents that happen within the casinos and basically downplay a lot of the negative aspects. Because it's such a service based economy and people come here to have a good time, they want to give the impression it’s an up and up town, which from the days of Las Vegas’ conception, with the mafia and mobsters, it just seems to be the gangs that used to run the casinos are more or less now the ones with the badges and guns.
Q: This happened a month ago. Where were you the night it happened, that Sunday night?
NC: I was at home at about 11 o’clock and my sister was visiting that weekend. She was at the airport and scheduled to take off about 11 o’clock and they were on the plane but they pulled everybody off. She called me and asked, ‘Where are you?’ I said, ‘I’m at home.’ She said, ‘Turn on the TV,’ and I asked what channel. ‘Any Goddamn channel,‘ she said. So I turned it on. Holy cow! When something like this happens I always turn on the radio and all the TV’s in the house because you only really get and the real information in the first cople of minutes. If there is a cover-up of some sort, the orders haven’t gone out until they see what’s out there. I heard on the TV, the news personality reported they had two confirmed shooters and that was from a police dispatcher. You can find that video on the web as well. It was all kind of surreal and, of course, many people didn’t get that much sleep that night.
Q: Many people, not just gamblers but many people, have such a great love affair with Las Vegas, so this news really affected a many. Vegas is known as a party town and this was the downer of all downers.
NC: It kind of had a 9/11 feel to it. Even Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday night, when we went down on the strip, usually there’s a very palpable electricity in the air of Las Vegas, but it was so quiet and sombre. That was the week of the World Gaming Expo, where all the world’s gaming companies come together, and going down the Las Vegas strip to the convention centre, I have never seen the strip that bare. No cars. Almost ghostly. No people on the street walking. It was very, very unusual.
Q: Where is Las Vegas as a city right now? You’re a card counter, in the gambling industry, and you’ve seen a lot. What about all this corruption inside casinos?
NC: In my opinion, casinos are hurting and this just emphasizes how much they’re hurting. They will go to extraordinary lengths to get as much money from the consumer as many ways as possible. It seems to me though the casino industry focus, at least in Las Vegas, is more on the conventioneer, the Monday through Thursday crowd, more so than the Friday, Saturday, Sunday crowd, those who drive in from Los Angeles or San Diego. The casinos are going to charge as much as they can in every other aspect, other than gaming. They’ll charge for parking, reduce comps, make the house edge is extraordinary high. You’ve got 6-to-5 blackjack, which is about a 1.7 per cent house advantage. There’s a very unusual gaming trend happening. The Venetian and the Palazzo, which is owned by Sheldon Adelson, have introduced what is essentially triple zero roulette, which gives the house an edge of about 7 1/2 per cent.
Q: They’ve added an extra green spot?
NC: They have, it’s called Sands Roulette and, believe it or not, people play it. I can do one better than that. A lot of the casinos now are adding functionality to their slot machines where you have to be playing a certain amount at a certain speed in order for a light to go on, on top of the machine, that indicates you are eligible for a free drink. And, when they do come by, they usually take about 25 or 30 minutes to come back with your drink to make sure you play. You even have to pay for drinks at the bar regardless of whether you’re playing or not.
Q: Gone is the hey day right?
NC: Oh, absolutely. It’s definitely not the Vegas of your parents.
Q: Speaking of a new era in Vegas, how do you think the hockey team, the Golden Knights, are going to do?
NC: They’re going to bring in people, no doubt, and even more so when the Raiders come to town in a couple of years. That will definitely increase the occupancy rate at hotel rooms. Ironically, the way they’re paying for the stadium is by adding another surcharge, a tax, on top of your 'resort fees.’ So, visitors are paying for the new stadium, unbeknownst to them. Sure you can get a room for $39 a night but, by the time the resort fee kicks in, the taxes, you’re up to $99 a night at the Rio. I’ve been to the Rio, stayed there and, believe me when I tell you, it is hardly a resort. The city is still prominent when it comes to entertainment it’s just the entertainment is no longer gambling. Vegas has always been a place where adults go to have recess, to play and try to get away from it all. Now it seems to be a place where people go to pretend they’re rich. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t pay $500 for a bottle of Absolute to sit a table at a nightclub. The reality is they don’t have that money. It's not uncommon to see 8 to 10 people in a room nowadays. Younger kids, they split the cost of the room and they save themselves $800 in room charges for the four or five days. You’re only supposed to have four people in a room, maximum. That’s what’s happening nowadays.
Q: I have always wondered why I pay so much for a room in Vegas when I’m rarely in the room? I spend all my time in the poker room.
NC: They used to comp you the rooms because that’s what they want. They want you playing. They don’t want you sitting in the rooms. When the 2008 crash happened every department in the casino resort industry, all of the companies, they were forced to become profitable. Food and beverage was always a loser for the casino but now they have to be profitable. They’re charging $16 for a buffet or $34.95 for a buffet. They’re charging the eight hours for the room service. They used to give that stuff away. Casinos aren’t even allowing those who do have comps to jump the line, go and eat, and get back playing. They have eliminated everything.
Q: Las Vegas feels more and more like a giant corporation everyday. They get you coming and going and it’s getting more and more expensive.
NC: It’s pretty intense. Casinos are also making the move toward eliminating dealers from the casino floor. A lot of these games are automated, like automated blackjack, automated roulette, and automated craps, the casinos want nothing more than to eliminate the dealer component. They would’t have to pay their salary, their sick leave, their vacation, health care. They want to get those people out of there and there’s just no turning back. Once they get a taste of dollars, all they do is look at the bottom line. The general rule is 80% of your income, as a business, comes from 20% of your customer base. That is shifting dramatically. I see some jurisdictions where 90% of the revenue is coming from 10% of the casino customer base. They can do that because, when all these conventions come into town, they adhere to the ‘turn and burn’ philosophy; get as much money from the customer as quickly as you possibly can and give them nothing in return. So that’s what they do. For whatever reason people keep coming back. But, keep in mind, casino revenues have been decreasing steadily over the past few years.
Q: I have played electronic poker where it’s all automated, no dealer, and it loses the ambience but at least you’re still playing against other ‘live’ people? These automated dealer games are almost like arcade games and I would assume the trust factor goes way down as a player?
NC: It’s funny you say arcade games because casinos are real big on skill-based gaming. They just released a casino version of Pac Man. They’re doing that with all the retro games like Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Centipede, and things of that nature. They want that millennial market but millennial’s just don’t have the money.
Q: Before we let you go, I want to ask you about the Phil Ivey case. Just came out that he lost his case against Crockford’s Casino in that highly publicized ‘edge sorting’ case. You’re a card counter. What do you think? Was he cheating or was it advantage play?
NC: Utter nonsense and absolutely ridiculous. He should have kept that money. He did nothing wrong. He said, ‘I want this dealer. I want these cards. I want to use this machine.’ And the casino said, ‘Okay, well you have to put $10 million in our cage. You have to have an average wager of $100,000. You have to play for 8 hours a day.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ This was an applicable agreement but they don’t like being made a fool of. The casino saw an opportunity fto make money rom Phil Ivey. Phil Ivey saw an opportunity to make money from the casino. Any competition, any game, by definition, is a battle of wits. He outsmarted them. He won. They don’t like losing, especially to the tune of $11 million or $12 million. To me, that’s a conflict of interest when the government gets involved because the government relies on taxes. The government gets taxes from the casinos and that shouldn’t even be an issue. He should have kept that money. It’s just absurd. Now, he’s still got that case at Borgata in Atlantic City. We’ll see how that goes.
Nicholas Colon Thank-you!