Casino's high-rolling 'whales' revealed: Private jets and Baccarat bets

Free accommodation in the 5-star penthouse suite? Of course.

The finest meals cooked by a Cordon Bleu chef and served with as much Cristal and Krug as you can drink? Naturally.

And how about a free limousine transfer to the casino and free ride in the private jet? Done.

These astronomical perks are just par for the course when it comes to 'duchessing' the high rolling 'whales' of the gambling world who can bet up to $300,000 a hand.

Luring them in

The practice of duchessing came to a head this week when 18 Crown employees were arrested in China for organising gambling activities for Chinese Nationals overseas.

Sources revealed the employees are known to tempt high rollers, or whales as they are known in the industry, with seven-figure lines of credit and assist them with applying for Australian visas to come to Australia to gamble.

Anna Smith*, worked as a VIP services manager, looking after high rollers for a major casino. It was Smith's job to make sure the whales were well looked after.

"My goal was to make sure they stayed put in the city where the casino was located," she says.

"They had access to free activities, VIP tickets to shows and special events, a choice of private parties, and the opportunity to meet and greet celebrities that nobody else could get near.

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"The casino could flex its muscles and get them whatever they wanted, just as long as they extended their stay and continued to gamble."

A history of hunting

The duchessing of whales has been going on for years. In the late 1970s Brian Twomey was the marketing manager for exclusive London casino Crockfords.

Situated in Mayfair, it was (and remains) the kind of place where James Bond would have felt at home, a gaming house that was a world away from the tacky glitz of Australia's poker machine dens.

"Our high rollers were induced by offers of the best seats at Wimbledon, a race day at Ascot, or even a ski trip to St Moritz," says Twomey.

Nowadays the stakes have been raised and casinos will stop at nothing to harpoon a whale and drag it back to the baccarat table. Sydney's Star Casino recently purchased a $10 million yacht for high-rollers to experience the harbour with cocktails and canapes. They stay in a penthouse suite which comes with its own butler, and get driven around in a Bentley or Rolls.

Big wins and bigger losses

Back in 2005, Crown Melbourne ploughed $10 million into keeping one of its whales happy, but in hindsight it was a profitable little earner for casino.

The whale, Harry Kakavas, a real-estate salesman who made his fortune flogging houses on the Gold Coast, gambled $1.5 billion in a little over 12 months, throwing it away $300,000 a hand on the baccarat tables, until he was in the red for more than $30 million.

As a major whale, Kakavas was courted like a superstar. Crown flew him overseas on holidays in their private Learjet, and even left him gift boxes containing $50,000 to give him a kick start at the tables. In one flurry, the compulsive gambler lost $2.3 million in under 30 minutes.

And in 2014 James Packer put his hand in his pocket for three luxurious Bombardier Jets to the tune of $US100 million, to ferry around his VIP Asian customers in style and comfort.

"They really do get spoilt rotten but the flip side is that they almost single-handedly float our hospitality industry some weeks," admits Smith.

The game of choice

It's all a relative drop in the ocean when you consider that in 2015-16, high-rollling gamblers wagered around $115 billion at Crown and The Star's VIP tables. While blackjack and the roulette wheel are both popular choices with high rollers, it's at the baccarat table that the really huge money is won and inevitably lost.

Baccarat became popular in 19th century France and continues to be the game of the whales. The big numbers result in the highest returns, with the house needing an astronomic turnover to justify the offering. 

The game is quite simple: Each hand comprises two or three cards, with the nearest to nine the winner. Court cards count as zero and when a sum goes beyond nine the value returns to zero.

So, for example, a pair of cards 4 and 8 has a value of 2 (not 12) while 6, 7 and 6 have a value of 9 (a perfect score) not 19.

In 2000, the biggest whale in Australia's history, Kerry Packer lost $33 million over a three-day period, playing baccarat at the Bellagio.

In the world of whales, the big fish usually only bet what they can afford to lose. 

Got any inside stories from the high rolling top tables? Let us know in the Comments section. 

*Names have been changed.

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