AMA with Michael Shackleford
Heather: Hello and welcome to Vegas Aces. Today we have a special guest Michael Shackleford from the Wizard of Odds. Thanks for joining us, I really do appreciate it.
Michael: Thanks Heather, pleasure is mine. Hello Heather’s audience.
Heather: It is always a pleasure. Today is a special AMA (Ask Me Anything). I have a question for you. I just heard you came back from New York. Is that true?
Michael: This is actually my second trip to New York this year. Before that you would have to go all the way back to the 1990’s. It was coincidental, I had two reasons to go this year. I have been there a lot of times. I will tell you a few tips that I did on this trip that I liked. One thing is called the Vessel or also known as the stairway to nowhere. It looks like an enormous basket. It is 16 stories high and it is all outdoors. It is just staircases.
Heather: It is like a tree house?
Michael: Like I said it is more like a basket.
Heather: A 16 story basket. Weird.
Michael: There are 16 levels and there are stairs from one level to the other. It’s nothing but stairs. But it is really beautiful polished bronze and there is glass everywhere. I heard it was enormously expensive but it is so cool.
Heather: Is it like you are walking in one of those paintings where the stairs are going everywhere?
Michael: By Escher?
Michael: It does have that look to it. It has a lot of stairs and flat parts. But I can’t say there is anything like optical illusions to it. It’s just there for the sake of art. It is very much like a burning man kind of thing.
Heather: When you travel do you use public transportation?
Michael: Yes. I think part of experiencing a new city is getting a feel of their public transportation. Especially if it is a subway.
Heather: What is your opinion of subways that you have gone on compared to how Las Vegas does and how we can be better?
Michael: Oh we are the worst. We are so bad. If I were an urban planner this would be the last way I would do a city. It’s all sprawled out. Where it takes forever to get from one place to the other. There is awful traffic everywhere.
Heather: We could be like LA, it could be worse.
Michael: I consider LA to have the similar problem. It’s like Las Vegas. It’s necessary to have a car here. If I were an Urban Planner how would I do it? I love Hong Kong. Just a very high city, very vertical. With a great public transportation system. Like Manhattan is a great example. Very High and great transportation and it is probably terrible if you are a car owner but I don’t care. To be honest I don’t like cars. I am a public transportation and bicycle person.
Heather: If you had a choice you would ride your bike everywhere?
Heather: A little bird told me something about El Cortez? What is going on with that?
Michael: You know my friend Patti that did the escape room with us? She was saying that she went to the El Cortez and was playing video poker and she put in a $100 bill and played a little bit and then left the machine and left the credits in the machine and then 10 minutes later she realized it. She went to security and told them, “I was playing that machine 10 minutes ago and I left $90 of credits on it and now they are not there.” So this is what security did. They called surveillance.
Heather: No way!
Michael: Surveillance backtracked the camera and saw who cashed that money out.
Heather: I can’t believe that they did that.
Michael: Yeah so I will give my comments after the story. They did that. And the person that stole the money was actually still in the casino. Probably hoping to steal other credits. So security approached the guy and said we know you stole the credits from bla bla machine. He said, “No I didn’t do it.”. Security said we saw you on surveillance tape, don't even try to deny it. Then he made a run for the door. But surveillance chased him. I don’t know all the details but security detained him before he could get to the door. Then they told him, these are your choices, you can give the money back and we will 86 you or you don’t give the money back and we are calling the cops. So he chose to give the money back and be 86. Okay my point is kudos to the El Cortez. They went way beyond the call of duty in this situation. I think a lot of casinos would have just said, “Finders keepers, that’s your fault.”
Michael: But El Cortez, they had everyone in surveillance and security on this looking for the guy. I think they handled it perfectly.
Heather: I agree with you and I disagree with you. I agree because that is awesome that your friend was able to get her money back because it was someone you knew personally. I am really glad they got their money back. On the other hand, it is one of those things where it is finder keepers. I am really surprised they took the time and effort to check surveillance. Usually they don’t check surveillance unless there is a big – there is a purpose for it. Nobody checks surveillance unless there is a reason. That is one of those things where they don’t check surveillance for everything, let me just put it that way. For them to do that and to find the guy and track him down and ask for the money back. Holy cow! I have never heard of a casino doing that.
Finders keepers is a well known thing here in Las Vegas where people would go around to slot machines and see if there is any money left in them and if there is they would cash out and walk away. Not technically stealing. They did leave it in the machine. But I am really surprised that they would go to that amount of effort to find the guy.
Michael: I would have to vehemently disagree. When I said finders keepers I was putting myself in the shoes of what I would call the thief.
Heather: But he is not really a thief.
Michael: Yes he is. That money did not belong to him.
Heather: That money was left in the machine.
Michael: That didn’t matter. If you see a $100 on the casino floor you can’t just take it.
Heather: Technically you can.
Michael: No, I think that that money technically belongs to the casino.
Heather: It only matters if you are a person who works there. The reason that I know is because this has happened to me. This was at the Hard Rock. I was working there. I saw a chocolate $5000 chip on the floor. I was stupid and I picked it up. As soon as I picked it up my floorman said you shouldn’t have done that, now you have to turn it in. You saw it and picked it up, now you have no choice as an employee you have to turn that in. But if I was off the clock, if I was a player, if I was a patron and that happened to me I was able to keep it. Yes I found the chip on the floor, no it’s not mine, I want to cash it in. Technically they should allow that.
Michael: I wouldn’t allow it if it were my casino. I think that if you are taking property that obviously accidentally abandoned by someone else that is stealing.
Heather: If it was accidentally abandoned is that trash?
Michael: If you leave credits on a machine that is clearly accidental and there is a good chance the person is going to come back for them?
Heather: Does it matter how many credits we are talking about? Your friend – it was about a $100. But when this normally happens and people go in the casino and do this, they don’t find $100. They find $2 here and $1 there, possibly $5 here. Is it considered theft because it is $100? Or is it not considered theft when they do it and it’s $1 or $2 or that type of thing.
Michael: I would consider it theft if it were a penny.
Heather: But if it was a penny the casino wouldn’t call security or surveillance and do all that stuff.
Michael: That is true. If I ran a casino I would not like these people who troll around casinos just looking for abandoned credits.
Heather: But they do that. It’s Las Vegas. There are a ton of people –
Michael: I know there are a ton of people who do that kind of thing but what I would do is I would deliberately put credits on a machine, leave them, and watch that machine like a hawk for someone to take it and then once they do 86 them.
Heather: Isn’t that entrapment?
Michael: Sure, I don’t care. I am not prosecuting them, but I wouldn’t want them in my casino. You can tell how I feel. I think it is stealing. Should we see what the audience says? Who do you agree with?
Q: Have you ever been able to study and compare 6 to 5 blackjack to 3 to 2 table profits and whole percentages? How much more does a casino make when a casino changes this to 6 to 5?
A: Heather - Let’s say for an average 3 to 2 blackjack game, one table would probably bring in about $30,000 a month. How much more would a 6 to 5 game bring in?
Michael: You might know better than me. I mainly see things from the players perspective. But I am sure on the main casino floor a 6 to 5 table would make more money. Otherwise why would they be making the switch? Furthermore 3 to 2 games on the main casino floor are not very profitable because the house edge is quite thin.
Heather: Well which game do you think is the most profitable for casinos?
Michael: When I worked – Let me now give any qualifiers, but I think Pai Gow Poker is pretty profitable, roulette.
Heather: Can I ask a devil's advocate question?
Heather: If that was the case why are there so many more blackjack tables on the floor then there are roulette and pai gow tables?
Michael: That is a good question. Because people like blackjack and if they don’t have enough blackjack they are going to get a lot of hotel guest complaining that they like to play blackjack and the tables are always full. They are going to leave unhappy. Casinos now make more money from the hotel and the restaurants, and the shows then they do from the gambling. So the casinos are more and more looked at an amenity to the hotel.
Heather: They really make more money on the shows.
Michael: No all that stuff combined. All non-gaming combined makes more money than gaming in Las Vegas.
Heather: That is not how it used to be. In the 90s gaming was more than that right?
Michael: Oh yea. And it switched over in the 2000s.
Heather: Oh okay. In that case why are casinos still working on slot machine and table games and less focused on providing an experience to their players or their guests?
Michael: Well I would like to think a lot of casinos do want to create an experience so a person would leave with stories and come back.
Heather: So for example with Mandalay Bay, you know how they have that Be Happy Exhibit where it is like an Instagram photo shoot? I would see that as a really good example of attracting the millennials. The younger generation by offering experiences that they are looking for. But that is the only casino that is really doing it. If you would get all the other casinos their sort of attractions are more geared towards my generation and the baby boomers. Well I shouldn’t say my generation I am technically a millennial. The generation before me and the baby boomers. What is that gen X?
Michael: I can’t keep track of all these generation names. I don’t even know what generation I am in.
Heather: I think you are a baby boomer.
Michael: I think I am at the trail end of the baby boomers. Some people don’t count this as a generation but I do it’s called the baby busters. Because during the late 60s and 70s people were not having very many kids.
Q: If you find credits in a machine what are you supposed to do? Generally if it’s less than possible play it or leave it in the machine. I don’t print tickets with three cents on there.
A: Michael - I think he is asking what are you supposed to do morally and perhaps legally. I think that what you are supposed to do –
Heather: Is there an answer?
Michael: Yes. You are supposed to take the ticket and go to a security officer –
Heather: No one is going to do that.
Michael: I would.
Heather: Have you ever done it?
Michael: No because I am not out there trolling for credits.
Heather: Have you ever found a machine that had credits in there though. Did you leave them in there or did you print them out?
Michael: I have abandoned credits I must say.
Heather: You have? How much?
Michael: Usually if I am testing a machine I will throw in a $20. I know it has happened at least once where I have thought oh my research is done. I am off.
Heather: So technically what you left in the machine you wouldn’t be stealing.
Michael: I consider that whoever took it stole my money. Here is what you are supposed to do like I said, report it to security and if no one claims that money like within 90 days the casino will give it to you.
Heather: Yeah right. No they wouldn’t.
Michael: Do you want to make a bet?
Heather: I know they said they will, but they won’t.
Michael: We could do an experiment on this. Let’s say you abandon a $1 on a machine and then I come back. I will take the ticket to security and give them all the information and I will bet you in 90 days they will give you the $1.
Heather: Ok I will make that bet.
Michael: What casino?
Heather: On strip casino?
Michael: For our audience I pick on on strip.
Heather: Ok MGM or Caesars properties.
Michael: Ok next time we are out that way let’s do that.
Heather: Sounds like fun.
James agrees that El Cortez went too far.
Q: What do you think of the RTC buses?
A: Michael - I think they are pretty nice. I have ridden them lots of times. They are well conditioned. The leg space is good.
Heather: Some of them have double deckers.
Michael: Lots of times it can get really packed and it can take forever to stop for people to get in and out. In that case they need more of them. There is a bus that goes from the Sun Coast to the Airport which I have taken. Sometimes if I am doing car work I will get on the Saraha bus and take that to somewhere where there is something to do. But I do like them. They are pretty punctual. No complaints.
Q: It belongs to the casino but it is bad law.
Q: My friend found a ticket left in a machine, she played it and within minutes security came and wanted their money back.
A: Michael - Yeah. Did she give it to them?
Heather: Let us know.
Michael: Let me tell you another story. This was long before I was the wizard. I came to Vegas with a friend. We were playing Full Pay 10-7 Double Bonus at the Four Queens. We were playing video poker right next to each other and my friend said I am going to the bathroom, watch my machine. He left credits on it. I was so engrossed in my own game that I wasn't doing a good job policing his machine. Someone came up and started playing it and I didn’t even notice it. This was back in the days before ticket in ticket out. He played one hand lost and then hit cash out. Then I heard the clanking of the coins hitting the hopper and then I woke up and said, “What are you doing?” That is my friend's money and he claimed that he didn’t notice it. In fairness he did put – I think that he put in $1 and made a $5 bet. So I started arguing with him and then my friend came back. He was much more livid. He started calling security security!!
Everyone stated their version. Then they told the guy that’s not your money give it back. To which he did. Then he started saying, “Please don’t 86 me it’s my birthday, I gave the money back.” But they 86 him anyway. I think they were familiar with the guy as a credit horror.
Heather: I am looking forward to doing this with you.
Michael: But I totally applaud what the Four Queens did.
Heather: You mean El Cortez.
Michael: Well it’s a very similar story. Yeah. I would do that every time if I ran a casino. I would not want thieves on my property.
Heather: Do you have any cheating stories?
Michael: I can’t think of any off the top of my head.
Heather: So you have never been on a table and have witnessed cheating?
Michael: I can’t say that I have.
Heather: We had a counterfeiter at my table one time.
Michael: How did you know?
Heather: Ooh it was so horrible! It was cropped badly, the green looked weird, it felt really weird. As soon as I saw it I didn’t put it in the dropbox and put it to the side. The floorman came over and took a look at it, and realized it was fake. He took it to the shift manager who double checked it, and they came back and the guy is still playing on the table and my shift manager, really loud, said to him, this is definitely counterfeit money. He got freaked out and picked up all of his roulette chips, and you know roulette chips are not worth jack shit. He picks up all of his roulette chips and tries to leave the table. I am like, “Sir, you can’t walk away with the roulette chips, they are worthless. What are you doing?” So I had him color in and I was so slow. I slowly brought the chips in. I slowly counted them, slowly colored them up. Finally gave him his money. He ran like he took the money and dashed. By then security was behind him ready and waiting. When he turned around and dashed, they were right there and they got him. They took him in and arrested him for counterfeit money.
Heather: Yep. I had one of the MIT guys on my table too. Did I tell you that?
Michael: Nope. What was he doing?
Heather: I will tell you really quickly. He was card counting.
Michael: Okay. Not that that is cheating.
Heather: No, but they were not happy about it. So it was on a six deck shoe. He was the only guy on the table. He wasn’t even trying to hide it. $500 one hand. $25 the next hand. Then $1000 the next hand. Huge spread. My floorman came over and I was like shuffling the deck and he was like, “Cut the deck in half.” I am like, “What do you mean cut the deck in half?” I didn’t know. So I cut the deck in half. We are sitting there and playing, two security guards come up, two metro police officers are following them. The guy doesn’t say anything. Nobody says a word. The guy stands up and puts his hands behind his back. They handcuff him, take his money, go to the cage, cash him out and then take him out. I asked my floorman what just happened. He was like oh that is one of the MIT guys and they said his name. They said because he is so well known he is in our system for facial recognition. As soon as he came in we recognized him and called the cops. As soon as the cops came in they arrested him for trespassing.
Heather: Story time. Okay.
Mr. Chad - I saw someone leave a ticket for about $80. I stopped her and gave her the ticket. Not sure how many people would do that in a casino.
Heather: You know what? More people are more honest than you think. Maybe it’s just me and it's Las Vegas. I don’t think too many people are honest, but there are more honest people out there than I think. I would be on a blackjack table, I would make a mistake, I would pay someone when I wasn’t supposed to, and more people than not would tell me oh you made a mistake, that is not my money, you should have taken the money not paid it.
I was like OMG you are actually honest, holy cow.
Michael: I applaud that person.
Heather: That is really cool, but not a lot of people would do that.
Heather: Especially here in Las Vegas.
Heather: Everyone would be like, yeah of course that is mine. Don’t know what you are talking about.
Michael: Yeah. I have been in that situation a lot of times. If I get overpaid, I just don’t say anything but I leave the money on the table.
Heather: I think that is smart.
Michael: I think that the dealer would think oh he usually grabs his money right away. And then she will check it and say oh yeah I paid it wrong.
Heather: That is smart.
Michael: That way, hopefully I am not getting her in trouble for making a mistake.
Heather: That is really smart because when they do figure it out the money is already up there, you didn’t put it in with the rest of your money. You know exactly what to do.
Heather: That is a really good way to handle it.
Q: I was told that when playing Fire bet at 5 points and the 5 point hits, when is going for the 6 and final point it would be ideal to lay the last point for a heavy amount to close the margin to guarantee the higher pay. Is that accurate?
A: Michael - Well one of the 10 commandments in my book is thou shalt not hedge thy bets.
Heather: And that is what that is?
Michael: However…if this is a life changing amount of money to you, I am not going to shake my finger at you if you do it, but –
Heather: But people shouldn’t be playing with their mortgage.
Michael: Yeah I agree, but they might say look the fire bet only cost me $5, I didn’t need that $5 for my mortgage. But if I hit the fire bet what does that pay $5000?
Michael: I think. Anyway, if you can lock in say $2000 rather than have a chance at $5000. If that is what someone wants to do, if that is a lot of money to them I am not going to give them the big lecture, but as a generality I am not big on hedging your bets. That is why I say don’t take insurance in blackjack, things like that.
Michael: I recommend not hedging.
Heather: Okay now let’s go to New York. What did you want to talk about?
Michael: Are you old enough to remember TWA?
Heather: What is that a union?
Michael: No it is an airline.
Heather: Nope not old enough.
Michael: TWA used to be an enormous American Airlines. Probably one of the biggest companies in America. This was back in the 60s when flying was still very glamorous and expensive. Not only did they have 100s of planes, they also had a hotel at JFK airport and it was really nice. It was built in 1962 but it was themed like the future. The hotel is still there and called TWA. They kept everything like 1962. Like the library has books that were written at that time. They have a payphone that is actually free. They have flight attendants and pilots walking around in period outfits. And it is like a museum of TWA stuff during the lifetime of the airline. They have an old TWA plane that they converted into a lounge, that you can go in and have a drink. If you are flying out of JFK I recommend getting there 2 hours earlier than you do and head over and check it out.
Heather: That sounds so cool.
Q: Any story of a high roller dropping a big tip for one dealer and then the dealer had to share that with other dealers?
A: Michael - Isn’t that how it always is?
Michael: I will let you answer that one.
Heather: Yes we do get a lot of tips from the high limit area. That is where a good portion of our tips come from as a dealer. The thing is with Las Vegas casinos we pool our tips so we don’t keep our own. All of the tips are gathered in a 24 hour period and then split equally among all of the dealers from all three shifts. If we have a George at that hotel – a George is another name for someone that tips the dealers really big. He will likely be in high limit, he will be tipping the dealer in high limit say $5000, $10,000 a hand depending on how much he is playing. The dealer in the high limit does not get to keep that. It is pooled all together and split equally among all of the dealers and that is a very normal thing here.
The most money I was ever tipped as a dealer was in the high limit at the Reo. It was a 21 year old kid who was playing with his fathers money. $15,000 a hand and he was betting about $5000 for me so I was getting a $5000 tip every single hand. Then if he doubled or split it would go up to $10,000. That was about the most I ever had in high limit as far as tips go.
But it is amazing how many young kids play with their dads money. As a dealer I wanted to strangle him. Just saying.
Michael: What parents let their kids bet?
Heather: Rich! Rich people.
Michael: I would say that is not teaching the kid the value of money.
Heather: Well if you are rich you don’t have to. He is set for life. He doesn’t have to worry about it. Why does he have to be taught money if he doesn’t have to worry about it?
Michael: To each their own.
Heather: Do you see a lot of rich people here in Las Vegas?
Michael: Well I generally don’t play in the high limit rooms.
Heather: We do have a lot of rich people come here.
Michael: Oh yeah sure.
Heather: It is always fun to hear the stories about how celebrities or famous people were here and made a fool of themselves. Like Paris Hilton.
Michael: What did she do?
Heather: So I was working at the Hard Rock, it was a graveyard and I was going on break. Paris Hilton is there for her sister's 21st birthday party. She is right in front of me. She is drunk as a skunk. She trips and falls flat on her face. The skirt goes over her head. She has no underwear on at all.
Heather: She is so drunk she can’t get herself back up. She is on the ground yelling and screaming and throwing her arms around making this big old fuss. Huge crowd gathers. No one is helping her. The security guards are standing there watching her. Finally a cocktail waitress comes over and helps her up. She says, “Don’t touch me, you just want to touch a celebrity, get away from me. How dare you!” Then she stumbles away.
I looked over at one of the security guards and I was like, “What just happened?” He was like, “That is why we are not allowed to touch her, talk to her, nothing. We are just here to make sure nobody hurts her. If she falls she has to get back up on her own. Last time she fell, a co-worker helped her up and he got fired because he touched her.”
Michael: She should be thanking the person that tried to help.
Heather: Right! Nope he can’t touch her.
Michael: Oh no comment.
Heather: You see that in Las Vegas.
Q: They had a TV show based on that called PanAM have you seen that?
A: Michael - Yeah that was another big airline. Nope, never seen it.
Q: Hey my family doesn't want me to be a dealer because I will be around bad people dealing all the time, but I want to give dealing a try. How can I approach becoming a dealer while talking with my family?
A: Heather - First off I know that casinos have a bad rep. Technically we are in a taboo industry. But with all of the casinos popping up all around America can people really consider it taboo any more?
Michael: I don’t think it is as sinful as it used to seem.
Heather: And the thing is being a casino dealer, you don’t need to go to college, you don’t need to get a degree, yet you can learn this trade and make $30,000 - $80,000 a year. Good money doing this. I don’t see why people would be upset with it. You could do a lot worse working at McDonalds making nothing. At least you are in a good industry making good money. You have good hours. If you need to get out of the hours you can always take an early out or switch with a dealer. They are pretty relaxed about it. Honestly it is a really great industry to get into, especially if you aren't using your degree. A lot of people pay for a degree and don’t use it and become a dealer. They have all this stuff to pay for. Why not just be a dealer and have the money to spend on vacations and doing fun stuff? I hope that answers your question.
Michael: I have another New York story. When I go to New York I always want to see a Broadway play. This time I saw two of them. One of them – there was like a screwup with the tickets and they basically didn’t have my tickets but I asked someone if they had standby tickets. I asked what they recommend would be another show to watch. He recommended what I thought he said was 80s Town. He said yeah it is one street over. We go there but it was really Hadestown. You know, as in the devil, where you go if you are bad, after you die. So I went there and I asked, “Do you have any standby tickets?” They said now we are sold out. Someone overheard that. They asked if I was looking for tickets. The lady said, “I was supposed to see this with my sister but she is sick.” So she gave me the tickets. This was a hot show and the tickets were expensive.
Heather: Oh Wow!
Michael: Things like that give me faith that there are good people out there. I went there not knowing what it was about. It was from Greek mythology where people can travel to hell and back. In the river sticks. They barely mention the river in this play. Instead you get there on this train. The train has a lot of jazz music and dancing. The story about someone that goes to earth to a very depressed place and then on to Hell. She leaves her boyfriend behind and he is heartbroken. He has to go to Hell and rescue her and get her back to earth.
Heather: Wow sounds interesting. Well that’s it for today! Have a great day.