Interview – Andrew Wainstein, CEO Fantasy League

Andrew

Fantasy League interview – Andrew Wainstein

Paul Sculpher recently travelled to the riverside Camden offices of Fantasy League (www.fantasyleague.com) to speak to their CEO and founder, Andrew Wainstein.

PS : Andrew, can you tell us some of the history as to where your organisation came from?

AW : I have a background in computing and am also a football fan, so when I first heard of fantasy sports in the USA, I began to think about putting the two together. Our fantasy setup started back around  1991 and was effectively a postal game. Things really began to take off when we did a deal with the Daily Telegraph to run their fantasy football game, which of course ran through updates in the paper, with information stored on our computer. From there, things took off right away and three or four papers began running their own competitions in the same season.
There was quite an explosion of interest, with a Fantasy Football radio show on Radio Five which became a TV show loosely based around the fantasy game. This became something of a cult hit, with David Baddiel and Frank Skinner hosting.

And how does the organisation look now?

We have around 30 employees, roughly split into one third on the technical side, one third sales and account managemet, and one third effectively the games people, responsible for updating all the statistics in real time to keep the players’ teams scores correct. Our football people input goals and assists during the games, so players can see how they’re doing at all times.

And how big is the market?

We think in the UK that there are about 3.5 million regular fantasy players. The USA is the monster market – we think they are about 5 years ahead of us, and have 20-25 million total players. The American sports tend to lend themselves to fantasy very well indeed, and it’s much more a part of popular culture over there [possibly as sports betting is so limited in legal terms, everyone wants an extra interest on the games].

How does your business model function?

We have a variety of differing products. The best known are the leagues we run for major newspapers, the best known of all probably being the one we run for the Sun. In that case it is just a straight service fee that we’re paid.
We also run our own leagues, for which there is a subscription fee and a prize, and also we run smaller leagues where people can get together with a few friends and have their own personal league. A key difference in these types of leagues are that they usually run on an auction basis, where each footballer can only be owned by one team manager, and at the start of the season everyone bids for each player. In those types of leagues we charge a fee too.

What are your plans for expanding the business? Are you aiming at new geographical sectors?

Definitely. The USA is a pretty mature market, so we are looking further afield. Australia is a very promising market, with a sport obsessed audience and a very internet-literate population. Their sports are also fairly heavily statistically based and on regular schedules, both of which help to make a solid fantasy product. We are also looking at some huge untapped markets such as India, with both Premier League football and cricket in mind. We’re looking at mobile-based solutions in that case – internet penetration might not always be at a high level, and mobile-based subscription can help us with payment methods as well.

And how about new markets at home?

We’re very happy with our association with William Hill, the bookmakers. They have their own fantasy product, a white label solution provided by us, but they have really moved the offer on, for example by offering bets on first goalscorer in a match tailored to whoever the player has in their fantasy team. They also have set things up so that the potential player must have a William Hill betting login to play, to attempt to leverage their fantasy database into betting customers. We’re looking to expand our offer into other bookmakers.
It works two ways for betting providers – they can run their own fantasy products and convert one type of player into another, and they can also partner up with an existing fantasy operator such as a newspaper, and advertise to their fantasy players. There seems to be a clear correlation between potential betting customers and fantasy players.
We are also constantly looking at other options to complement our sporting offers. One of the more interesting ones we have recently become involved in is Finance games. We offer, for example, a fantasy fund trading product for IFAs (Independent Financial Advisers) where they trade with a virtual portfolio and can make or lose money, and no doubt point to the results to show potential customers their skills.

Or possibly not, depending how their trading goes! Anything else in the pipeline?
Yes, we’re not the only ones paying attention to sites like “FanDuel”, which are like a type of social betting mixed with fantasy sports only shrunk into a much smaller period of time than a whole season. There’s only a limited amount of revenue available though, until the operator scales up to a huge degree, and it’s a question of finding the right moment, as fantasy sports catch up with our American counterparts, before rolling out a product of that kind.

August 2nd, 2011

Writing : Vegas People, Andrew the Cab Driver

Las-vegas-taxi

This month, Paul Sculpher meets a man who’s part of a key industry in Las Vegas. There are plenty of hard working people without whom a trip to Sin City wouldn’t quite be the same, but all the fun and frolics available around town aren’t much use unless you can get to them – and walking isn’t a great idea, with searing temperatures and deceptive distances. Your friendly cab driver comes to the rescue.

PS : Hi Andrew, so can you tell us a little about life as a cabbie in Vegas ?

A : Sure! All the cabbies in Vegas work for one of around 17 cab companies, so they provide the cars and we work shifts – I tend to work night shifts, but they adjust the number of cabs on the road during the days of the week and times of the day so that they have the right levels. Different companies have different deals, but I get to split the amount of money on the meter with the company – as well as the gas bills – and I get to keep any tips I make.

And how is business these days ?

Not as good as it used to be! It’s a very competitive marketplace, and we’re constantly under pressure to deliver enough income to the company – they track every driver to make sure no-one drops too far below the average, and it’s not unusual for people to get fired. Believe it or not, there aren’t any independent cab operators in the city, and the existing companies like it that way, so we don’t expect anything to change. The trouble is, under this kind of pressure there’s a temptation to cut corners, for example working during your breaks, which isn’t good for driver safety. Then there’s long hauling …

Uh-oh.  What’s the story with that ?

It’s when drivers take passengers a longer route than they should – and it’s very common. Lots of customers either don’t know the city too well, or aren’t really paying attention, so it’s pretty easy for drivers to blame construction, or traffic, and add five dollars or more to the fare. In Vegas there’s a big highway just to the west of the Strip, so that’s a popular way to boost the fare. It’s almost never the cheapest way, certainly to any Strip hotel from the airport, but it’s a good excuse to use, as it looks to a first timer in Vegas like it make sense.

There’s no simple way to avoid getting long-hauled without possibly offending the driver, but some people will get in to the cab and ask for the cheapest route, and maybe say something like “and I’ll take care of you” – implying a tip, which is better for the driver than long hauling, as it doesn’t get split or taxed. If you’ve been really abused – and there are tales around of some pretty low behaviour – mentioning the “T.A.” will get the driver’s attention, that’s the taxicab authority, and they are the people who issue tickets and sanctions for drivers.

And are tips a large part of your income ?  We Brits don’t seem to have much of a tipping culture.

We couldn’t possibly survive without tips. Most people understand, and maybe round things up by a couple of dollars for a regular fare, but some people still don’t get it. Actually, generalising, the Brits aren’t the best but certainly aren’t the worst either. I do sometimes get really good tips – a few times a shift, people might leave a twenty for an $11 fare and tell me to keep the change, which always goes down great. The biggest tip I ever got was quite recently, when a lady jumped in my cab and told me she wanted to go to the Excalibur from the Luxor, which is about 200 yards. I told her this, but she’d left her phone in the previous cab and wanted to get back to it in a hurry. I suggested that she just call her phone, and of course the driver picked up and waited for her. The lady made a special trip to an ATM to hand over $140 to me as a thank you – I think she was  some kind of executive here for a convention, and not having her phone would have caused her major problems.

Hmm, if she was that senior maybe she could have thought of dialling her phone herself! So now the standard question, who’ve you had in the back of your cab in the way of celebrities?

Ok, so have you heard of Eva Longoria?

Of course!

Well, I hadn’t! I don’t watch a lot of prime time TV, with the hours I work, so when I picked up three very attractive ladies, I was just pretty pleased to have a nice vista in the rear-view mirror. When one of them asked if I knew who I had in the cab, I said no, and that seemed to amuse them – I didn’t think much about it until I happened to see a snippet of Desperate Housewives on TV – then it all started to make sense!  I’ve had a few US sports stars and so on in the cab too.

I also have a bit of an avid follower of my tweets (@LVCabChronicles) and blog (lvcabbiechronicles.blogspot.com) in Holly Madison, ex Playmate and star of Peep Show right here on the Strip. I’ve never met her yet, though.

Is it true that you get kickbacks for taking customers to preferred places?

Yes, mostly the gentleman’s clubs – they all pay us anything around $20 per customer we bring them. Other places do the same kind of deal from time to time, like clubs or shows, and even car hire companies, but that’s not such a big deal. We also have deals with the brothels out in Nye county, which can be great if we get customers who want that kind of action – the fare is over $350 return, and we can get hundreds on top of that from the house.

And do you hear tales of drivers with other sidelines?

Oh, sure, some have deals with the working girls on the Strip – which is illegal. Some drivers also will supply drugs, or connect passengers with people who sell drugs, we read about drivers getting caught sometimes.

And you must have been in some interesting situations, given the state that some people in Vegas get into?

There have been a few sticky situations – I’ve been on vomit duty more than once – and there’s been at least one time I figured I was going to be robbed. The last time that happened, I had my suspicions the moment the guy got into the cab, and I was even more suspicious when he slid into the seat directly behind me, so I couldn’t see him. Through a kind of code system that we have at despatch, I was able to get them to say over the radio that another of our cars was going to meet us at our destination for a spurious follow-on job, which I guess convinced the guy to pick someone else to rob. I figure he knew what was going on, though – when he stepped out of the cab, he raised the back of his shirt to show me the gun he had in his waistband.

I’ve also had a couple having sex in the back of the car, which proved amusing when the driver of the car next to me at a traffic light saw and raised an eyebrow, to say the least.  

And what does the future hold for you?

Well, it’s probably fair to say I’m way overqualified for this job – I studied music at University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV). I’m becoming better known through the blog, though, and there’s a chapter in a new book by Steve Dublanica, the guy who wrote “Waiter Rant” about me. He’s becoming the guy that the media turn to for questions about the food service industry – he’s been on the Oprah show – and I’d love to fill the same role on behalf of the taxi industry.

With that, Andrew had to get to work, so we finished up our breakfast and got rolling. He’s clearly a very articulate and thoughtful guy, and his blog makes a great read for any Vegas regular.

As it happens, two days later, I was the victim of an epic long-haul, with a fare using the freeway of $26 that should have cost about $15. By using Andrew’s method of naming the TA, the end result was the lower payment and a very shamefaced cabbie. Winner!

July 18th, 2011

Writing : Carolyn, Stage Manager, Cirque du Soleil Viva Elvis show

Nog

Vegas People – Carolyn, Cirque du Soleil stage manager

This month Gambling magazine’s Paul Sculpher went behind the scenes at one of the newest and biggest shows in Las Vegas. Viva ELVIS, a Cirque du Soleil production playing in a purpose built theatre in the brand new ARIA Resort & Casino, is a tribute to the King of Rock n Roll himself, who was of course a Vegas regular. Carolyn Wyld, also known as “Nog” (as in Noggin the Nog, from the Oliver Postgate animated series) is the General Stage Manager for the show, and took time out to tell us about the job.

PS : Hi Carolyn, can you tell me how you got into this line of work?

CW : Yes, it’s really specific for me – back in my teens I went to a performance of Starlight Express, and was totally blown away by it. When you bear in mind my family had a background in the performing arts – as a kid I would be in studios and would be told very clearly not to touch anything – once I saw the finished show I knew right away that I wanted to be in stage management. I studied, and worked my way through a number of jobs, including working on Jesus Christ Superstar, Beauty and the Beast and the show in the Millenium Dome, before joining the Cirque du Soleil and working on their Orlando show. I’ve been around the world with the Cirque, and I’ll be off working on a new show in Radio City in New York very shortly.

So are you heavily involved in the design stage?

Yes, that’s the best way to get to know how the show works. I was involved in the “creation” stage for the LOVE show as well as Viva ELVIS. We spent four months on site fine tuning the show – although there is plenty of work before we get anywhere near the theatre, it only starts to come together when we’re in the working environment. The show is constantly changing as we go along, and there’s a huge amount of work in the background – as you can see (as we are talking in the empty theatre auditorium, the performers are hard at work practising away).

And what does your job involve on a day to day basis?

The main part during the show itself is to give the cues for the 4 auto operators. There are a huge number of elements of moving stuff around and activating pieces of equipment, so we’re all wired up with headsets and I co-ordinate the guys to make sure everything and everyone is where they should be. We have a lot of contingency plans for when things go wrong, and I’m always thinking ahead to plan what would happen in situations that come up. Some of the gear is pretty heavy – the Got A Lot stage weighs 56,000 pounds and moves around on the staging area – so we have to keep safety paramount. (After the interview, I asked what “Got A Lot” meant, assuming it was either a brand of equipment – sounds a little bit Ikea – or a technical term, far too complex for me.  Turns out it stands for “Gotta Lotta Lovin’, the title of the song that accompanies the stage being used. Of course.)

It’s critical to be ready for those moments where the timing is disrupted for some reason, and keep the cues timed accordingly. We’ve had all kinds of dramas, as you would expect with a show that has 17 lifts on the stage, trolleys, winches, massive stages and plenty more, but very rarely have we had to stop the show. Occasionally the band are asked to extend a song or two when we have an issue!

The other major part of the job is the scheduling. Every part of the production needs to train and practice, and it’s my responsibility to allocate the time slots on the stage, the training room and the dance studio. We run two shows per day, five days per week, so it’s critical to get everything right. We do have weeks off, in fact tonight’s the last show for a week. (At this point Ann, the tremendously helpful PR lady from Cirque du Soleil who set up the interview and is sitting with us, tells me that she’s headed for a week away with a bunch of members of the team to appear on Strictly Come Dancing. In Blackpool. In November. You get your good weeks and your bad weeks ….)

And how do you and the team find living in Vegas?

It took a while to get used to it, but really, I’m never anywhere near the Strip except for work, so it’s much the same as anywhere else. The weather’s a bit different from home in Glasgow, though. Away from the strip, there’s so much to do here, with skiing nearby and hiking, mountains to climb and so on.

Any famous faces in the audience?

We’ve had plenty of them, and some take the backstage tour. Priscilla Presley, of course, as well as Snoop Dogg, Christian Slater and Buzz Aldrin come to mind.

And since you always wanted to have this job, has it lived up to expectations?

Absolutely. The best part is seeing the crowd as they leave the show, with some of them bearing the same look on their faces as I had as a teenager. There’s nothing like generating that sense of wonder in people, I love my job!

With that, it was time to catch the show. Anyone who’s ever seen a Cirque show will know what to expect, with performers who are genuinely among the best in the world at what they do. This show is probably a little heavier on the singing and dancing than most Cirque shows, as you’d expect for an Elvis tribute, and it fairly directly parallels the life of the great man, with video footage along the way.

As you would expect, there are a couple of jaw-dropping moments in the show, and the biggest set piece, on that Got A Lot stage, features some preposterous abuses of the laws of physics by a pack of superhero-dressed trampolinists. I defy anyone to watch them rocketing around without being impressed, and later in the show the musical highlight for me was an electrifying marching-band version of “Return to Sender”, complete with gymnastic insanity on parallel bars. No prizes for guessing the tune of the climax of the show – we’re in Vegas after all – and anyone, especially an Elvis fan, couldn’t fail to be impressed.

July 1st, 2011

Tipperary Venue

Tipperary Casino

I was recently asked for comment on the proposed “Tipperary Venue”, a huge casino and racing development in Ireland.

Listen to my interview on Irish national radio
Click here to read my piece in the Irish Examiner.

June 28th, 2011

Interview with Steve Kezirian, COO, Cantor Gaming

Cantor

Paul Sculpher interview with Steve Kezirian, Chief Operating Officer, Cantor Gaming

Cantor Gaming have experienced great success with their  two new products in the casinos of Las Vegas. Both based on  handheld mobile technology, Pocketcasino and In-Running Wagering are now in place at the M resor, Hard Rock Hotel and Casinot and the Venetian and Palazzo hotels and casinos in Las Vegas, so Paul Sculpher went to speak with Steve Kezirian, the new Chief Operating Officer of Cantor Gaming, to find out what it’s all about.

PS : So, Steve, how did all if this begin ?
SK : in 2004, our CEO, Lee Amaitis, came out to set things up here in Nevada. The original plan doesn’t bear much resemblance to what we have ended up supplying, but the principle of merging trading with betting remains, and is a central part of what we do.
Fundamentally both of our products allow people to bet or game while they are in the main part of the casino through the hand held terminals. They can sign up for the pocket casino product, meaning that they can play roulette, blackjack, slots, baccarat and video poker wherever they are in the building, or they can also sign up for the in-running betting, meaning that they can have a bet on the big game from anywhere, not just sitting in the sportsbook. The only restrictions are that the parking lot and the hotel rooms are out of bounds, and we have the terminals themselves electronically enforcing a “green zone” that locks players out when they’re out of the designated area.

What kind of security is present on these terminals ?
We have everything as locked down as it is possible to be – don’t forget our parent company, Cantor Fitzgerald, handles hundreds of millions of dollars worth of trades on the stock market, so we’re used to dealing with financial risk. Our field trial took place in March 2008 in the Venetian and we were approved in November 2008, and we also rolled out in the “M” casino resort in March 2009. There have been three major upgrade releases already, we’re constantly fine tuning the product. We are also looking at and trialling different types on handset, to make sure the experience is as good as we can make it.
A lot of what the product is about is trying to make the gaming a seamless experience – we’re not trying to compete with the existing slots and tables within the casino, more to complement them. Being able to game at the pool, for example, will be appealing to some people, and it gives groups of people the chance to all do something they like together, rather than having to split up.

And in terms of the sports betting side of things, how can you be sure you’re not getting past-posted or that the whole process is secure?  Surely there is some human involvement somewhere, in terms of updating the game situation so that the odds are correct – and a process is only as secure as the trustworthiness of the weakest part of the chain.

We’re confident that we’re secure in all areas. We use proprietary technology – which I’m not prepared to discuss – to cover ourselves. We ensure that our live feeds are as fast as possible, ahead of the picture the casino customers see [this is confirmed later when the score on the handheld terminals on a basketball updates moments before I see the team score on the sportsbook TV], and don’t forget every transaction is recorded with a full audit trail, so that if anyone does get up to anything fraudulent, we’ll be able to track them down to the ID they have to produce to sign up for an account in the first place. We have risk charts to flag up any unusual betting or winning patterns.
We don’t take any shortcuts in the setup stage, and make sure there are separate teams on the coding and programming. With our financial experience, we know how to avoid things like programming back doors. Our RNG system for the pocket casino is totally separate from all the rest of the infrastructure, and the wifi connections are nothing like regular frequencies, and fully encoded too.

And how is business going so far ?
The product is doing really well, March Madness [the annual college basketball tournament] was tremendous for us, the nature of basketball works really well with in-running betting. Every day is different, and the whole process has been challenging but a lot of fun. Our trading experience as a company is in the billions, but this project has seen unique challenges.
We’re recently up and running in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, and will soon be in the Tropicana and the new Cosmopolitan development. We’ll be aiming at other jurisdictions too, but right now Nevada is taking up all of our time.

What’s actually involved in terms of the deal and the hardware ?
The business model is quite complex, with an awful lot of hardware on any given site, and we operate a couple of variations in terms of who operates the business and how the revenue share works.
Each handheld terminal has two RFID chips involved, a passive one to attach the device to the chip we stick to the customer’s loyalty card and an active one that makes sure the customer is within the green zone. We also have functionality where the customer has to confirm their password every now and again if inactive, to make sure they haven’t left the device lying around. Of course ID confirmation is required to withdraw cash from the system at the sportsbook windows, but you don’t want people messing around with your cash balance on the games. We’d like the product to be a base platform for all kinds of betting opportunities, eventually to have a kind of apps store, much like the Iphone.
In fact we are developing a similar application for smart phones, and there’s much discussion within the business at to where the future lies. When we originally started down the line of mobile gaming, smart phones didn’t really exist, but there’s no doubt that as market penetration of these hand held computers increases, we have to be mindful of where the technology and its adoption is going. We’re certainly keeping abreast of the direction the market is taking, with a view to being able to provide App-type solutions for various personal data devices, depending also on how legislation develops.

With that I headed down to the Palazzo to have a crack at the technology in action. In any given jurisdiction, much depends on the specific law in the local area as to whether the products will be appealing. The pocketcasino device worked exactly as advertised, although to a certain extent it is hard to see the huge appeal of playing roulette on a miniature computer with a real roulette tables yards away – of course that’s as an industry veteran speaking. It might look very different to someone unused to the casino atmosphere, who hasn’t even had a chance to play roulette online and certainly not on an FOBT.
The in-running wagering, however, was a completely different picture. In my view, this is the future of sports betting in-venue (as opposed to at home online). Betting in-running is starting to take the UK by storm, and since it’s pretty impractical anywhere other than online, there’s never been a way for venues to take advantage of the phenomenon. Combine a device which can facilitate betting on a game in play with the atmosphere of a place like Lagasse’s stadium in the Palazzo, and you have an intoxicating mix indeed.
It will be very interesting to see if Cantor Gaming’s algorithm based odds calculations stand up to the type of angle-shooting customers seen on betting exchanges such as Betfair in the UK. While some games can be modelled very accurately using past statistics and current form – soccer and baseball spring to mind – games like NFL football and basketball are not so simple. The “wisdom of crowds” is a powerful tool to gauge probabilities, and it is this which is effectively used on the exchanges to determine odds, with thousands of customers essentially distilling their views into a straightforward probability of the two (or three) results occurring. With some canny individuals making a living out of the slightest discrepancy of odds, Cantor will need to be very certain of the accuracy of their algorithms. Of course the margins to which they bet will permit significant inaccuracy (although those margins are competitive in US sportsbook terms).
There’s no doubting the potential of this technology. The potential to fit this system in the sportsbook of any major casino is simply massive. In-running betting is the future – even as a Betfair veteran I had a great time “trading” a basketball game live on my handheld terminal, celebrating and (mostly) commiserating with other players in the room, and Cantor Gaming appear to be at the forefront of what is sure to be a growing trend. With the ability to base the platform on personal data devices such as smart phones or Ipads in the future, legislation permitting, Cantor are well placed to ride the wave of in-running betting across the world.

To contact Paul Sculpher for further information about this technology or any other matter, email sculph@hotmail.com.

June 13th, 2011

Las Vegas reflections 2011

Las-vegas-sign

Vegas Reflections 2011

Another trip to Vegas, another week of late nights and early jetlagged mornings, meeting barking nutters and lovely new people as well. I think this was my 15th trip to Sin City, an even split of work and holiday, with a wedding trip thrown in too last year.
This trip was a good chance to reflect on the city as a whole.  Last time I was in Vegas was November 2010 for the G2E gaming show, and at the time there was nothing but doom and gloom for the whole area, with occupancy rates down, gaming revenues through the floor and a general despondency about the place. This trip, I think the numbers weren’t much better, but there was definitely a more positive vibe. Whether it was the onset of Spring in the air, or a genuine sense of more money washing around the city, I had the feeling that there might be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Vegas downsides

There are still plenty of negatives about the place though. My personal pet peeve is the taxi trade in Las Vegas. The whole trade consists of about 14 companies – there are zero independent cab drivers in the city – and the Taxicab Authority that governs them seems to contain a number of people who used to work for the cab companies, a relationship that is a little too close to be comfortable. Certainly the long-hauling problem is no better – a case in point was my own arrival. I know well enough to speak out early to avoid getting long hauled, but my wife Sarah arrived on a different flight, and paid $27 for the same ride for which I paid $15 (Airport to Diablo’s). Long hauling is so rife in Vegas these days, particularly to and from the airport, that you know the authorities aren’t working hard enough on it. Sarah got the usual excuse – “construction” – which is generally just a lie, as the work usually goes on late at night.
You have a couple of ways to avoid getting shafted. The first, for the adventurous, is to make certain you know what a reasonable fare is, and simply refuse to pay if you get long hauled. In the past I’ve called out a driver who ripped me off on a trip to Town Square, and told him that I’d either pay the fare on the meter and call the TA, or pay what I thought was a reasonable fare. As tickets from the TA run around $200, he took my offer – if I’d said I’ll pay him nothing and not squeal to the Taxicab Authority, I think he’d have taken it. Obviously you’d better be sure of what you’re doing in this scenario, but some long hauls, especially if you have an English accent, can be pretty blatant.
The other option is to get your own pet cabbie. I had the good luck of interviewing a cab driver, Andrew, a while ago, and on this trip just phoned him (with a bit of notice) whenever I needed a ride. It works for everyone – you don’t have to queue, he doesn’t have to wait in the huge line of cabs, and with my guy, not only do you not get long hauled, but he’s also a very articulate guy, knows the city like the back of his hand for recommendations and so on, and is good fun to boot. If you’re headed to town, drop him a line. You can read his blog at http://lvcabbiechronicles.blogspot.com/, or find him and say hi on Twitter at @LVCabChronicles – you won’t regret it. Be sure to have a quick look at his FAQs too – especially on tipping ….

One of the other things I really noticed on this trip was the frankly stupendous wastage of food. It’s a well worn cliche to remark upon the size of food portions in the US and in Vegas in particular, but this trip really was extraordinary – two meals that I had were on a scale to satisfy a small army. I’m not known as a shy person at the dining table, and the morning after a night enjoying the odd adult beverage can see me eating on a quite staggering scale, but a serving of cheese fries at the Sporting House (used to be ESPN sportsbar, within New York New York) and a pasta bowl at the Peppermill (next to the Riviera) were genuinely awesome. It is no word of exaggeration to say that after I’d had my fill of each dish, I was less than halfway through the shoe-box sized meal – man vs food, and food won. It’s all fun and games until you spend a little time thinking of the huge problem of homeless people in Las Vegas, and then it’s not so funny. Recent estimates of 14,000 people homeless in the city, with up to 1,000 living in the spider infested tunnels beneath the city – many victims of the spate of layoffs – put such wastage in to perspective. It’s normal to put all thoughts of anything other than having a good time to the back of your mind in the adult version of Disneyland, but when you see the scale of food portions sold in the name of value (and the scale of some of the patrons, big enough to have their own moons orbiting them), sometimes you can’t help but think there’s something a bit wrong.

Seeing Vegas with some first timers also made me look again at the whole ethos of the place. Normally I don’t spend a whole lot of time in Vegas thinking of anything much except how to find a couple of winners on the NFL handicap sheet, but this time I couldn’t help reflecting on the general ethos in Vegas that having money makes you better than other people. I think that because the levels of service are so high in town, everyone feels like they’re a valued guest – clearly that’s the objective of both businesses and the city as a whole. This isn’t enough for the more monied people, however, and I genuinely get the feeling that a good proportion of people can only feel good about themselves if they specifically feel that they are better than other people. When everyone’s treated like a king, the people that can afford the best, in some cases, don’t feel good enough about themselves unless they can look at other people who can’t afford what they have. For this reason I sometimes get tired of staying at the top end in Vegas (for which I tend to get affordable rates due to the PR / writing connection) as a certain proportion of people want the most expensive version of everything just to show that they’re richer than everyone else.

It’s partly a Vegas thing, partly a US thing, and partly me getting old, but seeing plenty of people visibly throwing their money around – with the visibility of spending it being more important than what they’re spending it on – makes me feel a bit sick. Granted, plenty of people, especially Americans, save up for a weekend blitz in town and take the opportunity to have an almost ironic blowout, but you only have to hear a couple of stories about $20,000 poolside cabanas on a celebrity day and see people behaving like the staff are scum to wonder just what’s in these people’s minds. Knowing as I now do a few local Vegas workers, the money they generally earn isn’t going to make anyone rich, except perhaps the lucky few working in the best tipped positions in the top end hotels. I guess it’s a matter of perspective.

Vegas people

I was lucky enough to meet some cool people on this trip again. Interviewing wise, I took care of five or six articles to queue them up for Gambling magazine (http://www.gamblingonlinemag.co.uk/people.php) including my favourite of the trip, Moochie, a tattoo artist working out of the Sleepy Lagoon tattoo parlour in Hooters. I also interviewed Noe, who’s a barber at the Kim Vo salon in the Mirage retail promenade – while I was getting my wet shave there was much talk of the “sanctity of being a man”, and celebrity shaves of some serious stars – none of whom I’m allowed to reveal.  These and other interviews will be in the magazine in the near future.

I also met Julia Buckley, a British writer in Vegas who does some freelance work and also writes regularly for Vegas Chatter, although she’s headed home soon – you can see her great writing at http://bitchinvegas.com/, among other places. She’s also on Twitter at @tmwrnj. I was lucky enough to spend a lunch with Julia, pleasantly accompanied by a couple of entirely lethal cocktails, and spoke to her about life in Vegas as a brit. One of my intentions was in fact to try to pick her brains as to a career in writing, as for me it’s just a sideline, and although the final impression was that it’s extremely tough, she was kind enough to share some views with me. One really interesting point she made was that the prices for locals are vastly different to those for tourists – it’s all about local ID  -and in fact on another night I realised this in detail, when I was out with a bunch of locals (to the Blue Martini in Town Sqaure) and ran a bar tab that I expected to be the thick end of $100, only to find that I’d been “localised” and owed just $37. She reckons local women can drink for free pretty much every night somewhere – if they don’t mind being located in a meat market.

Julia and I had lunch, picking up a special offer at the greek restaurant at the new Cosmopolitan – Milos. It’s often worth hunting down these offers, ours was something like $22 for two courses – food was great as you might imagine. In fact the Cosmopolitan features in Julia’s latest story, where a transgender friend of hers was marched out and barred for life for using the “wrong” toilets. This precipitated something of a shitstorm as you can imagine, and eventually the Cosmopolitan got their third attempt at an apology right – possibly not that impressive for a site that purports to offer “just the right amount of wrong” and appears to be aimed at a slightly more eclectic crowd than most Vegsas strip hotels. The place itself is spectacular – next trip you just have to have a drink in the amazing chandelier bar – but this incident leaves a little bit of a sour taste. If not for the poor attempt at restitution (which only really got serious once it became clear that word was getting around, very rapidly indeed, through Twitter) you could blame it on a pair of overly officious (or possibly bored) security guards, but if nothing else, the Cosompolitan now know they’re under scrutiny.

Speaking of Twitter and the speed things can get out of hand, I also took in the Matt Goss show again this trip. It’s been slightly reworked, with a cover / new arrangement of one of the original songs (When will I be Famous) and some more solo piano work. I love the show, and having interviewed Goss a year ago I took the opportunity to say hello again. He was once again entirely gracious, and good fun to have a drink with.  I’d have to say next time you’re in Vegas, check the show out – it’s only around $50, and as a live show you’re going to hear a tremendous voice lashing out some great tunes – with some exceptionally fine dancers too. The Twitter connection comes from a gent called Paul Carr, who’s writing a column in the Huffington Post, detailing his stay in every Strip Vegas hotel over 32 days. It’s a great read here : http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-carr and he’s on Twitter here @paulgoestovegas. Paul went to the Goss show too, and in his review, stated effectively that he really enjoyed the show but that Goss was trying too hard and the marketing (and in-show graphics) were overly relentless in their attempts to turn him into Frank Sinatra. While this may be true, although in Goss’ defence he has to get a simple message to US tourists to hook them into the show, as most won’t have heard of him from his UK days (although both times I’ve been there has been a healthy proportion of Brits in the audience) the reaction from some of Goss’ fans on Twitter was quite amazing. With the interview I wrote I have had dealings with quite a few of his fans, and they are amazing, passionate people. The reaction Paul got to his piece though was quite extraordinary, given the mixed nature of the original piece (here : http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-carr/the-strip-diary-day-nine-_b_848410.html) and his video rebuttal, here http://vimeo.com/22788610. To the outsider, pretty entertaining, at least, and proof that you should be careful mocking things that people feel genuinely passionate about, although that’s kind of Paul’s job …. It does, however, make you realise just how fast things can move in Twitter land.

So, another trip to Vegas finished. On the gambling front it was a draw, and in all other departments as great a time as ever. Food highlight was the steak at Binions, always a great meal, although the Milos lunch was a close second. Ate at Gallagher’s in NYNY again and had the same steak I’ve had twice before, both of which rank in my top five meals of all time, but this time it (the dry aged Sirloin) was disappointing.  A great time of year to go (middle / late April) weather wise, and many thanks to the kind people at MGM and the Palazzo / Venetian for their help with rooms, as well as Shant Apelian and Sara Gorgon, also from MGM for their help lining up interviews. I imagine I’ll be there for the G2E casino show in October again … always a pleasure, never a chore …

May 6th, 2011

Writing : Vegas People, Dayna Roselli

Dayna

Vegas People – Dayna, TV Anchor

This month, Gambling magazine tracked down a local celebrity in Vegas, TV news anchor Dayna Roselli. Dayna anchors the morning news show from 4am to 7am along with co-anchor Dave McCann and the rest of the team, and took time out to talk us through her job.

PS : So what makes a good TV anchor?

DR : A lot of it is about confidence, obviously it’s quite intimidating at times. In the job that I have, the ability to ad-lib is critical, and being able to think on the fly is key. We’ll often have the producer’s voice in our earpieces trying to fine tune the timing, so we’ll need to fill a little bit of time or wrap a piece up to order. I think a lot of the reason why I’ve been successful is simply my work ethic, and of course it’s all about preparation.

How does somebody gets into this line of work?

Ever since school and college I had kind of admired the people who report on TV, and I got involved in student TV at college. That’s a pretty good training ground, and we all were involved in every part of making TV shows. From there, I picked up an internship in my home town of Rochester, New York, and realised this was what I wanted to do. In our industry the way you apply for jobs is by putting together a tape of your work, and I was lucky enough to land this job in Las Vegas.

You must work some pretty interesting hours.

The show goes out from 4am to 7am – in Vegas lots of people work crazy hours, so it’s watched relatively well compared to a lot of places – and I get up at 2am to arrive in time for the start of the show. I’ll usually stick around until about 11am. Then I’ll run all the usual errands that people have to do on the way home. I’ll then take a nap for 3 hours or so, and get up and have my regular leisure time, for the gym, or phone calls, or whatever. Then it’s back to bed at 10pm and up at 2, unless it’s the weekend, which I have off. I have other work related things to do sometimes, like attending shows and helping out with the entertainment reporting too. With the week being a pretty fixed routine, I tend to leave dating for the weekends.

And how does your social life work? Do you get recognised around Vegas?

Well, the social life can be quite tricky, so the weekends are important, and I meet tons of people as part of the job. I get recognised all the time in the street, which is usually great, with people being really kind. It can be a little awkward sometimes though, and I can’t even open the chat function on Facebook as I’d get swamped with people. There’s always the darker side of celebrity however, and I have had to take out a restraining order against one guy to stop him contacting me incessantly. Overall it’s great, though, and I’m really big on the social media side of things – I can even tweet right from the news desk (Dayna’s at @DaynaRoselli)!

So what does the future hold?

The career progression would be to aim for a station with a bigger market – Las Vegas is number forty something out of 210 markets across the USA, with New York being number one. However, I’d love to move into hosting, maybe some sort of lifestyle show. I always wonder whether someone’s going to have a national show syndicated out of Las Vegas, as it’s a spot where there is always stuff going on, whether it’s a show, a celebrity launch, a big fight or whatever. I have to say that I love my job here, though, they are a great team to work with, almost a family, and the management treat us very well.

I noticed your award, there on the desk (from a local radio show, it’s titled “Hottest News Chick”). In the UK we’ve just had a high profile case where an older lady had issues with discrimination for her age. Does the sexist nature of the industry ever bother you?

It’s not something I think about too much right now, and there are plenty of older anchors in the business, as well as a bunch of other interesting jobs I could move into. As far as appearances go, the fact that we’ve moved over to High Definition (HD) meant we needed some changes. We even had an HD specialist in to revamp the way we apply makeup, as you can’t get away with the same style on the more detailed pictures, and the wardrobe’s had a makeover too. The award was just a bit of fun, it’s kind of half gratifying and half not! Overall I’m aware of the way the business works, but for now I’m really happy here.

And have you ever been involved in any on-screen disasters, maybe like the infamous chicken comment on Fox 5 WNYW? (If you haven’t seen it, search youtube for “Ernie Anastos chicken” – and turn your speakers down if you’re at work!).

No, nothing like that! We have things going wrong every day, but try to keep things looking smooth of course. Most of the issues we have are just losing it with laughter – as a team we’re all pretty tight, and an accidental innuendo can set us all off.

With that, I sat back to watch the show being broadcast live. I have to say, it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever watched – to the team, it was just another day, but watching all the segments being performed in front of me, and the eventual result on a monitor, felt about as far removed from my experience as anything I’ve ever seen – like watching witchcraft, or rocket science! The professionalism of these people was amazing, and the way they just turn on and off their TV manner was just extraordinary. It’s really strange how a voice that sounds totally natural on TV is actually a little odd-sounding live, and seeing the team interchange at bewildering speed somehow resulted in a super-smooth final product, with VT segments, weather, traffic and live segments in the studio blending in.

I met Dave the co-anchor, Dan the producer and Brian the traffic guy, all of whom could not have been more helpful. Never got the chance to meet the sports guy – not too much going on in the world of sport around 5am – but I like to think his name was probably Dirk, or Spike, or maybe Jed (the J-Dogg?). The tour of the station was amazing, 138 employees in all, and for all that the desk is absolutely pristine from the camera side, it was gratifying to see that behind the desk, there was all kinds of – well – crap lying around, from handbags to coffee cups ! Overall, no question this was the most interesting assignment I’ve had so far for Gambling magazine, and feel free to take a peek at 8newsnow.com to see how the whole thing comes together.

March 31st, 2011

Writing : Vegas People, Tawny Brie, Escort

Vegas People – Tawny Brie, escort.

Any column that deals with the people who make a difference to the city of Las Vegas can’t be complete without meeting someone from the escort business. While there are a million and one things to do in the city, prostitution is inextricably linked to Las Vegas, and with the amount of convention business guaranteeing a willing customer base, the city can be a magnet for young women looking to trade on their looks. This month Paul Sculpher met Tawny Brie, a working girl from Sin City, to talk about how the business works and what it’s like.

PS : Hi Tawny, can you tell us a little about how you got into this trade in Las Vegas?
TB: I was born out in Lithuania, but moved with my family to Minnesota when I was three. About 7 years ago I moved to Vegas, and started working as a dancer in the gentleman’s clubs. After a while the line between dancing and extra services became a little blurred, and I went to work at Sheri’s, a legal brothel out over the county line. From there I enjoyed the job and wanted to move into becoming an independent escort / call girl in the city.

What are the main differences between working in the brothels and working in the city?
Well, the streetwalkers in the city have a pretty tough job, some of them with bad habits and with pimps involved. As an independent who makes all her arrangements by phone or email through my website, my life is a lot safer, and plus I can make my own hours! It’s a very competitive business, with thousands of girls looking for the same business, and it’s all about the sales technique and having a lot of confidence. Repeat business is very important to me, so I guess the bedroom skills come into things as well, and of course simply being a friendly person is what will keep a lot of people coming back.

In Vegas there are always stories about call girls headed out to the hotels, and then ripping customers off. I’m guessing these are exaggerated, right?
Actually, no, it goes on quite a bit. It’s a great situation for a girl who’s prepared to do it, as the robbed client generally isn’t going to go to the police since there’d be court dates and all sorts of embarrassment. In fact when I was at Sheri’s, I was talking to a colleague who enthusiastically described how she stole from customers – it made me sick, as you can imagine, and we ended up very much avoiding each other.

So how hard do you work, how much do you charge, and do you ever get into tricky situations?
I’ve seen girls come into this business and work flat out, but that can lead to burnout after a couple of years. I ask for a minimum donation of $400 for my company, and I do other work in the movie and porn industry under a different name. I try to take a couple of days off together every week or so – in fact I’m free now for a few days as I have people over for Thanksgiving next week.
The business can lead to some difficult situations, but I am as careful as I can be. I never meet anyone for the first time without some sort of reference or an exchange of emails or phone calls, and the first thing I do when meeting someone new – always in a public place like a bar – is to see some positive ID. It’s important to me to establish identification to help with my personal safety, and also to avoid any legal complications – prostitution is illegal in Clark county, where Vegas is located. Having said all that, I’ve never genuinely felt in danger at work.

How does your life go outside of work? Do you have friends in the business, and does your job make dating difficult?
I do have friends within the business, although sometimes I have to be careful with stage names as against real names, as with a wedding recently when I was maid of honour for a friend within the business, and nearly made a very awkward blunder! As for dating, lots of girls in the business approach this exactly the same way as any other person and I know plenty who are married. I’m single myself, I just find dating makes life more difficult. I just have a few ‘friends-with-benefits’ [not the exact expression Tawny used!], both girls and guys, around.

And are your customers generally respectful to you?
Oh, of course. Believe it or not, I’ve never met a guy for the initial get-together in a bar and not followed through to the appointment, although you know how it goes – jerks are jerks in any part of life – and I’ve aborted meetings during the exchange of emails stage if the tone doesn’t feel right. There have also been times when I’ve been speaking on the phone to guys to arrange a meeting and it’s become clear that they had a little too much to drink. Besides the obvious performance problems, it’s no fun for anyone if you pass out or can’t remember the fun you had. You can’t get repeat business from a great experience if you don’t leave any memory at all!

What kind of person might be your typical client?
The truth is there is no typical client and that’s a good thing. It allows me to engage genuinely and learn about what makes someone uniquely him or her. I always find something that I sincerely love and enjoy about everyone and can build on that. Some guys are lonely, some guys are shy, some are too busy for dating and all the drama that can come with that. Some are in bad relationships and despite all efforts to reignite the sizzle, their passions are not being reciprocated. I’m the best of both worlds… I’m here when you like and more importantly, I’m gone when you like!  More than ever, a lot of couples seek me out too. A lot of people find that it re-energizes the relationship and improves the bond between them.

And what does the future hold? You’ve clearly plenty of years ahead of you in this industry if you want them, but eventually you’ll need another plan.
Well, I’d love to end up living by the beach, and I’d actually really like to run a B&B with a nice bar next door after my adult career is over.

One more question – given that clearly you operate under stage name, can you give us an idea why you chose to be named after a type of cheese?
It started ages ago – my first name really is Tawny, and I was given a bottle of Tawny Port. I thought it was cool that a type of drink had the same name as me, and when I discovered Brie cheese I thought it made a great name. Not too many guys make the connection!
So really you’re just in the business of selling cheese and wine parties! Ok, I’ll get my coat ….

So, this meeting was a fascinating insight into an industry that’s unquestionably a key part of Las Vegas. Tawny seems like a lovely girl, although of course a charming personality is part of her job. You’d figure to a certain extent that complete fakery is difficult – while clothed anyway – and while Gambling magazine isn’t really into providing referrals for illegal activities, what’s beyond question is that Tawny’s a beautiful girl with a really friendly girl next door personality. If you’re flush, single and in Vegas with a cavalier disregard for the law, knock yourself out!

February 18th, 2011

Writing : Vegas People, Anthony Cools, Hypnotist

Vegas People – Anthony Cools

Our intrepid reporter Paul Sculpher takes a turn into the mysterious world of hypnotism this month, as he interviews one of the best known performers in this field in Vegas, Anthony Cools, who performs at the Paris hotel and Casino.

PS : Hi Anthony, thanks for taking the time. So how does a youngster decide to get into the hypnotism business ? And where did it all originate ?
AC : I was always kind of the class clown when I was at school, so I figured I always wanted to be some kind of entertainer. I wanted to be a musician but didn’t seem to have the talent, so I bounced around until I got to thinking about hypnosis. I learned everything I know from books originally, and took it from there. I was always kind of an arrogant kid, and I think that goes well with my stage persona.
Hypnotism itself was developed hundreds of years ago – one of the original pioneers was Franz Mesmer, hence you’ll have heard the word “mesmerised”. In those days it was pretty much looked at as voodoo magic, but obviously these days it’s much more accepted.

So do you start by practising on friends or family ?
Well, believe it or not, I never practised at all on anyone. My first experience of hypnotising anyone was my first show, in front of 550 people. This was on May 7th 1994 – I was 27 years old – and I’ve never looked back. Of course I had no 100% certainty that it was going to work – I sure lost a lot of sleep the previous night worrying about it – but it turned out fine and I quit my job the next day to make a career out of it.

Who can and can’t be hypnotised ?
There are three types of people who I can’t deal with. That’s people who are drunk, people who are high, and people who simply don’t want to be hypnotised. Often people will volunteer to come up and be part of the act – we only take volunteers – with the intention of proving it can’t be done. Once I know I can’t get them under, I just send them back to their seats. Some people are tougher than others anyway, I might bring 15 people up on stage and end up working with anywhere from all 15 to 4 or 5. Despite what people believe, the process isn’t connected to sleep as such, it’s more of an extremely focussed state that I put them into through relaxation.

And the show is pretty much adult comedy, right ?
Yes, we do tend to suggest that easily offended people don’t come along. We put that right there on the literature and give another warning at the top of the show, but still some people find it a little much for them. I have a huge raft of comedy material that I draw from, so not every show will turn out the same. It depends on the type of people I get up on stage, so I run the show pretty much on the fly. My brother runs a multi-camera rig to record the whole show so that afterwards, people can buy a DVD of the whole thing and watch themselves and their friends or family making fools of themselves. It’s a big part of the appeal and takes some skill to edit the whole thing more or less in real time.
Working with real people – I’m often accused of using actors, but imagine the logistics of getting 15 different actors in every night, it’s just ridiculous – can throw up all kinds of issues, whether you hypnotise them or not. Something different happens every night we run the show, so I have to be alert. Obviously, I’ve seen lots of situations so I have a few standard responses, but I still get surprised sometimes.

And how have you had such a great run in Vegas ? You must love it here ?
We’ve been in the Paris hotel and casino for four years now, which is pretty good. [At this point Cools is a little hesitant to “toot his own horn” – but I press him]. We’ve received the respect of our peers in the entertainment and hypnotism fields, which means a lot to us, and I’m told elements of the show and my techniques are used in hypnotism classes. As for Las Vegas, I love it here, and it was my goal from day one to get a show in what is the top of the tree for a performer in any field. The massive payoff for me is that I get to go home every night – touring can be pretty rough, speaking from ten years’ experience, and now that I’m here I can have parts of a normal life. I get Monday and Wednesday off and can have a normal home, love life and so on.

The standard question, which you must get asked all the time, is whether hypnotist have ever used their skills for evil deeds ?
Hmmm, ermmm …. no, that’s never happened in the history of hypnotism!
But seriously, yes you hear stories of people getting up to no good. In fact, if you watch the speeches of Adolf Hitler or the techniques of David Koresh – the guy behind the Branch Davidian sect who all were killed in Waco, Texas – they clearly use some elements of the hypnotic techniques, probably best classified as Neuro-Linguistic programming. With my background it’s very clear that there were elements of my trade involved in their getting people to follow their instructions.

Is there any sort of “magic circle” equivalent for hypnotism to control these kinds of things ?
There is a hypnotists guild, but I’m not a member – it all gets kind of political. I just want to get on with my show and make people laugh.

With that it was on with the show. You might have seen hypnotist shows before, but the posters around Vegas aren’t kidding – this one’s about as extreme as you’re likely to get, certainly in Vegas. Cools is a very funny guy – a lot of the show is reacting in real time to the people he has on stage – and matters naturally turn to the sexual. The induction process is amazing, with only a few minutes of calming music and Cools’ speech to prepare the volunteers to do the most ridiculous things on stage.

The climax of the show, as it were, was provoking his remaining volunteers (he lost four or five from the original 14, through presumably their not being sufficiently “under”) to a rapturous orgasm, and any doubts about the validity of the whole deal were erased when one of his more vocal subjects took her seat in the row next to me, and was probably the most embarrassed person I’ve ever seen. Next time you’re in Sin City, drop in and check the show out – just be prepared for total humiliation if you decide to volunteer !

January 18th, 2011

Writing : Vegas People : Jay Rankin, MGM Grand Doorman

Gambling’s Paul Sculpher recently spoke to Jay Rankin, who worked as a doorman in Las Vegas’ MGM Grand hotel and wrote a book about his exploits.

Hi Jay, and thanks for taking the time to speak with us.  Firstly, can you tell us a bit about your Vegas job, where you worked and what it involved?

I worked as the doorman at the MGM Grand Hotel on in Vegas for 6 years. At the time, this was the largest hotel in the world with over 5,000 rooms, a theme park, convention center, and 3 showrooms one of which held over 16,000 people. My shift was from 7pm till 3am. I was in charge of providing transportation for guests, and keeping things flowing since the volume of people was so great. But the job was actually much more than that. I was also a go-too guy who could open any door in town, answer just about any question, and get almost anything a guest desired whether it be a good restaurant or a hooker.

It must have been quite an experience, being right in the middle of all the action. What were the toughest parts of the job?

My shift took in all the show break crowds – and there were a lot. There was also the dinner crowd. Each night there were two shows in the showrooms. If there was an event in the big room with over 16,000 seats, we got slammed with thousands of people. It was like standing in the middle of a hurricane or at the edge of a fast moving river of people….non stop, very loud, and extremely physical. Plus, the air was filled with taxi and bus fumes mixed with cigar and cigarette smoke. I had to learn to breathe. One of the reasons I wrote my book was to let the world know what it’s like from the other side of the fence. This wasn’t like working for a hotel in Hawaii or New York where they close the bar. Guests in Vegas usually come to party and blow steam, not sleep much, drink, gamble, and in general forget about problems for a while and have fun.  But Vegas is a business and the customer is always right even if they’re wrong. This was by far the toughest part of the job for me. I had to swallow a lot shit that drunk quests threw at me. It wasn’t my style to allow people to demean me or throw a drink in my face because they lost money in the casino and were looking for a scapegoat. I had to learn a new level of customer service.

It’s clear that lots of jobs in the US and Vegas in particular work because of tips.  What kind of proportion of people slip you a dollar, and what was your best tip?

The subject of earning tips for a living is huge in Vegas. Servicing people with the hopes of being given a tip is big business not just in Las Vegas but restaurants, hair salons, taxis and limos and a hundred other jobs all over the country. There is serious competition in Vegas for jobs that are considered big careers because of the tips. Being a bartender or waitress or waiter in a popular club or restaurant can stage you to eventually buy a home, car, see the world etc. For my position, there were about seventeen hundred applicants to become a doorman. They needed 7 people.

The percentage of people who tip varies because of the types of people in town and the conventions and events. The CES crowd tips better than other kinds of conventions. The Cinco De Mayo crowd may tip better than the rodeo crowd. For me it was about technique and volume. Doing my spins and yells, putting on a show always helped. Certainly the massive amounts of people helped. In the end, we did well.

 The largest tip I ever received I gave back, because the guest was drunk and staying in my hotel. I called him the next day and asked him if handing me a $5,000 chip for putting him in a limo was what he meant to do? Because he had lost every cent he had the night before, he gleefully took the chip and handed me four hundred dollars for being honest.

What kind if nights were the busiest and gave you the most trouble?

The busiest nights were the ones that actually filled the city. Some events were there to be seen while others were an excuse for people to come and party. New Year’s Eve, huge rock concerts, Comdex all filled the city, but the busiest nights by far, were the Mike Tyson fights. It was also the craziest and most chaotic, nothing came close. Those events were like a movie, something you had to see to believe. Valentine’s Day was also pretty crazy in that Las Vegas seemed to represent a ‘pick your own themed marriage and we’ll create it’ sort of ceremony.

Given that you must see it all from your job, what advice would you give to someone coming for their first weekend in Vegas?  

As a first time visitor, have fun. There’s something in this town for every fantasy, choices for every desire whether it be food, music, shows, nightclubs, extreme bars with views of the city, party pools, topless clubs, golf, gambling, and probably a hundred other things that target every age. In might be wise to do some homework and make some reservations before coming to Las Vegas. If you don’t do a little planning, you could get lost with all the choices, and burn-out with all the 24/7 activity. You will experience a freedom with little restrictions.

Great entertainment does not have to be about losing all of your money, or getting beat up or the cause of a divorce. I have seen every extreme from people having the time of their lives, to freefalling. This can be a place that hands you something you can’t have at home or at any other time in your life. There are gambling landmines, sexual landmines and it’s up to you to be aware that an ATM machine can be your enemy. Also keep in mind that drinking your meals can alter your ability to survive. Las Vegas is a very romantic town; spend some time with person you came with. Take care of yourself, get some sleep and food.

Finally, you must have seen some weird, funny and crazy stuff.  Can you share some of this with us ?

I’ve seen people in love, people in hate, people drunk, people violent with each other. I’ve watched people try to have sex in front of everyone on a bet. I’ve seen countless come outside and throw up in the trash can only to turn around and go back into the casino for more. I’ve seen healthy people arrive and two days later, looking like they needed prunes and a blood transfusion. One night I helped put a middle-aged man in a taxi. He got in, closed the door and the car drove off. The next thing I knew, the woman next to him who was searching for something in her purse looked up and ran after the cab. He had forgotten he had his wife with him….or maybe not.
One night a man tapped me on the shoulder to tell me I was doing a great job. I turned and there was Tony Curtis standing two feet from me. He stayed for a while to just stand and talk with people. There are tons of celebrities there.

Jay’s book is called Under the Neon Sky, and is available from Amazon. It’s a great read, so if you want to know more about life as a Vegas doorman, nab it !

January 3rd, 2011