When it comes to imagining the life of a VIP gambler, most of us have a stock image in mind.
James Bond. Tuxedo on. Martini in hand. In sun-drenched Monte Carlo. Poker. Maybe Blackjack. Chips worth a couple hundred thousand.
But the casino world’s real top dogs don’t quite fit this sybaritic archetype.
“Globally, high-roller play is heavily skewed toward the Asian gaming markets and is dominated by one game: baccarat,” according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch research analyst Shaun C. Kelley’s report.
Forget poker. It’s all about baccarat.
Although Hollywood has cinematically sexed up both poker and blackjack over the years, the “whales” — aka the high rollers — actually stick with baccarat.
For those unfamiliar with the game, baccarat is pretty simple: players bet on whether the player or dealer get closer or tie to a combination of “9” with the cards they are dealt.
The game’s popularity is primarily attributed to the fact that the house’s advantage is extremely slim.
Baccarat happens to be especially popular in Macau. According to data cited by BAML, VIP baccarat and regular baccarat play make up 90% of the total gaming revenue there, with the VIP portion alone making up 60% of the total revenue.
High-rollers play by their own set of rules.
A regular Joe plays with the other regular Joes.
But a VIP player in Macau has his own reserved table with a dealer staff and other amenities in a private gaming salon — either at the casino properties near the main floor, or, sometimes, in “more exclusive and restricted-access areas,” according to Kelley.
(Perhaps that’s the one thing the real-life whales have in common with James Bond.)
Furthermore, Macau high-rollers purchase “rolling chips” before they get to Macau, which, upon arrival, they receive on a credit basis.
“Rolling chips” are non-negotiable and used to track VIP play, according to Kelley. They must gambled at least once, with any winnings paid in normal, negotiable chips that can be redeemed for cash.
“Rolling chips ensure casinos are paying rebates on amounts that are actually gambled,” writes Kelley.
“I have two pieces of advice…”
As suggested above, most high-rollers actually gamble on lines of credit, or “markers,” instead of with cash. Kelley notes that in Las Vegas, up to two-thirds of total gaming play can be marker play. And this happens to be the number one thing the guys in the back closely watch.
According to BAML, one senior gambling executive recently told a new exec, “I have two pieces of advice: watch your credit and watch your credit.”
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