Whales not endangered species, yet

March 20, 2001 6:45 AM
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Put a whale in a fishbowl and he’s like a fish out of water.

That’s the message from casino executives pushing legislation to allow "whale" habitats — exclusive salons for the casino’s biggest and best high rollers.

Nevada gaming law requires that all gambling be "open and accessible" to the public. But proponents of a bill making its way through the Legislature say high-stakes players (or "whales") have been migrating to other locales — presumably abroad — that offer private casinos and other indulgences.

Many top casino hosts, however, don’t feel the Las Vegas whale is ready for the endangered species list.

"I haven’t lost any customers because they can’t close the door to the salon," said one highly placed host at Bellagio. "We’ve never had a problem with gawkers or rubberneckers infiltrating Salon Priv."

The Bellagio’s high limit area and others — such as Le Salon des Tables at Paris Las Vegas and the Grand Mansion Casino at the MGM Grand — share many characteristics.

The gaming parlors for the rich and famous are more ornate than the "public" portion of the casino. They sport a liberal use of marble, stone and granite, crystal stemware, bone china and original artwork.

In addition, the dealers, managers, floor persons, hosts and even security guards are often dressed in tuxedos while hostesses don evening gowns or cocktail dresses.

The high-stakes salons are staffed with the best and most experienced dealers, who work exclusively at the high-limit tables. But they may venture into the "regular" casino when the action is slow.

High-roller action is frequently intermittent, causing long periods when no one is playing in the salon.

"There can be long stretches when the salon is quiet," said the Bellagio host. "The players will often take extended breaks for meals or other diversions. They don’t usually cram a lot of play into short periods of time."

If any segment of high roller players demands private gaming facilities, it’s probably the international player.

"Unlike domestic players, international players usually travel in large groups that include family members, servants or other attendants," the host said. "It can become a private party."

Most players prefer the semi-privacy of a high-limit salon, but some actually like the "limelight" of playing in public view.

"Some players like the excitement and notoriety of playing in the regular casino, where a crowd can form," said Gene Kilroy, executive host at the MGM Grand. "These players are not adverse to playing in public — they like the cheering and carrying on that sometimes accompany the game."

Kilroy added that it should be the goal of the casinos to cater to the desires of their customers.

"If it’s something that will make them happy, or something that will make them more comfortable, then that’s what we are here for," Kilroy said. "Look, if a guy’s wife wants roses delivered to the room every day, then let’s do that. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to provide a private salon."