From The Felt Top


Alex Kirkoff is a rich man, a very rich man, or should I say, he WAS a very rich man. In Las Vegas he’s considered a major player. He’s the player that any of the big hotels would send their limo to drive him to their private jet, wine and dine him at 35,000 feet, then have another limo sitting next to the taxiway to take him to the winning casino; in this case the winner was Sunset Station.

They had just stolen the casino host from a major Strip casino that didn’t appreciate the $50,000 weekend player. The bosses thought he treated them too well, as compared to an occasional quarter-mil player and up players that were good; that took more than one casino to the edge in Baccarat and Blackjack. The Paris took a quarterly loss last year from just one Baccarat player that did them a big favor in the end. After the SEVEN MILLION he took them for with limit bets every hand and incredible “intuition” it took the Paris the next year to make it up. And there’s still Pit bosses, Shift Bosses, Surveillance, and probably a cocktail waitress that just wasn’t fast enough that are still looking for jobs.

When this guy got his pink slip, the Sunset Hotel made him an offer he couldn’t say no to, it was a good job and it was totally his. He ran the major security for Sunset Station and his first call was to Alex to come see his dew digs. In three days, two of their major guestroom suites they had plans for anyway went forward and the walls were torn apart and in its place was an incredible suite (which could be changed from the one big suite to two, three, or even four classy mini suites depending on the players. And Alex got the brand new entire suite. The new casino manager stuck his neck out and sent out a brand new Lincoln limo to pick him up with his date, flew him to the Hughes private terminal and from the extra limo complete with DVD, Bose sound system, completely stocked bar and snack bar with frig , he liked the start. Jerry and Sandra met him at the limo and if you ever saw Sandra you know why Jerry got lost pretty quick. She brought them up the private hand-tiled elevator to the private suite that was the only button that required a key that only Sandra and now Alex had. He was stunned at the suite.

Expensive everything to the newest 62″ Plasma flat screen with ambient light and High-def. attached to the Bose system, sauna overlooking the mountains and stars. Sure there are bigger hotels, more luxurious hotels, but Alex feels at home at Sunset. When he comes in he usually brings nothing but a briefcase filled with money. No clothes, no underwear, just what he’s wearing when he leaves. Whatever he needs, Sunset Station will provide and they spared no expense. He has a personal valet that picks up whatever he needs for the two days he’ll spend at the hotel, or should I say at the casino. He gets the best suite whenever he wants but rarely uses it. Once, when the maid came in to clean the room, he was sleeping on the floor. Here’s a $2,500 a night room and the bed is still made, the towels in the same place, not even a bar of soap opened.

He entered the casino and walked right to the cage with his suitcase. The money was counted down by machine because it would take too long by hand and Alex wants to hit the tables. The count was $100,000. Hard to believe for a guy dressed in a Dallas Cowboys shirt and kakhi pants with a scratched and ragged briefcase, his hair unkempt and his beard a few days old. That’s the reason he’s never gotten mugged, he looks like he just stayed at a $25 a night motel and carrys all his dirty clothes in his briefcase. The look on the cage girl’s face when she opened the old briefcase could have made Mad Magazine.

By the time he hit the Roulette table, his marker was ready. He always started with a $20,000 marker, all in $100 black checks and, usually by the time the cocktail waitress got the drink to him, he would be signing another marker for $20,000. He was smart. He knew all the games, and why he picked the toughest game in the casino was beyond everyone’s comprehension, but he just liked the action, the spinning of the ball as all the players with different color chips scrambled to get their bets on their numbers. He was smart enough to count down a single deck of blackjack if he wanted to, he was smart enough to beat a craps table if he applied himself, but to him, nothing was as exciting as Roulette. He had no system, never read a book on any systems, he just played the same numbers, his birthday, his wife’s birthday, his son’s birthday and his mother and father’s birthday. But like he said, which is true, what’s the difference what number I play; each one has just as much a chance as any other. He’d start off with a $100 check on each number. If he lost he’d bet $200, then finally the limit $300 to a number, if he lost that he’d start betting every way to a few numbers which means a straight up bet, four split bets and four corner bets, a total of $900 on each number. He would often be in on each spin for $3,000 or more.

But Alex was a loser. He wouldn’t quit until all the money was gone and the casino manager would give the word to cut off his markers, telling him in person that he didn’t want to see Alex scrape the bottom of the barrel like so many others had. He made it sound like he was his best friend and didn’t want to see him lose all his money and go home broke. He would often take 10% or 20% of his losses and give it back to him on his way home, which created a loyal player. That’s why Alex always returned to Sunset Station. He was given the best room, the best gourmet food, the finest champagne all served by his personal valet who was on call 24 hours a day at Alex’s whim.

Win or lose Alex always left happy with a smile not because of the money but because he was always treated like a king, something he could never find at home. His wife was a spoiled bitch; she had a strange infatuation to Carats: a 6 Carat ring, a 12 Carat bracelet and a 22 Karat chain. His kid was always screaming and crying to get the latest toy. His parents didn’t have the money Alex had, so he was always giving them money, but when he hit Las Vegas he was King.
His wife was taking the hot baths in Tecopa and Alex went up to the space above the closet where he kept a briefcase of cash and stopped at Bank of America for the rest of his cash. It would be a close one since she left early Saturday morning and the casino had the jet warmed up at 7:30 to get him there by 8:15 and at Sunset station where they had his suite set up for him with breakfast complete with a cook and a server, omelets and fresh fruit and a big bottle of Champagne. The managers and staff were invited to breakfast and by 10:00am he was buzzed and ready to go downstairs.

They stopped at the safe deposit box and put $50,000 in cash in the briefcase. He came out on a $25 Blackjack table playing three hands at $75 a hand and soon was beating the casino out of almost $80,000. He broke for lunch and the mangers had the food sent up to his room. But night time would bring a change of luck. He liked the attention and liked everyone staring at him, his money and his girl. But by 3am he started a losing streak so by 4 he sent her upstairs and demanded a table of his own. He lost back all but $20,000 and he only had a few hours to get home before his wife got unstuck from the mud. He cashed in all his black checks for pink $500s and took three or four spots. He would have been doing fine, holding his own but the dealers weren’t too happy with him since he didn’t tip, just a buck here and a buck there. But he was genuinely not a nice guy.

He was demanding and pushed the casino hosts as well as the Shift Boss’s to their wits’ end; asking for everything he could think of from a gourmet dinners to top drawer cocktails. Limos to drive him and a lady to the next hotel. But he was living fast that weekend and he ate when the shoe was being shuffled, he was betting $500s now and not just one per game, he was betting three spots, doubling down, playing like any other average player, he certainly wasn’t very impressive. I’ve seen the good players put on a show. They don’t hesitate, regardless what the numbers on the checks were, there was no self-doubt, there was not a hitch in their decisions they were there with a set amount and that would determine the amount of their play and the length of their stay. The good ones are great tippers and the dealers would pray in the elevator on the way up that the rack was emptying and the toke box nearing the top in greens.

But Alex couldn’t get anything going. He was hesitant, he was always complaining how hot it was and kept asking the Shift Boss to call maintenance and turn up the air, but the truth was it wasn’t hot in the casino at 10:00 am in December. He now took whatever checks he had left while I shuffled and put them in his pocket and on the table so unless he knew a way of getting shit thrown through a blowing fan without hitting the blades he was like a guy in a rented limo when it was time to start looking for the downtown bus schedule. He changed the pink back into black checks then, before the hour was over, when I left he was playing $200 a hand and holding around a thousand but he was devastated. I know I took $20,000 and whatever he walked in with or without he was shook up.

The next day I came in at my usual time and started the day on B.J.4 and I’ll be damned if he wasn’t sitting two tables over from me on B.J.6. He had stacks of checks again. At least $50,000. It was two hours later that I was put on his table. The first thing he said to the other players is, “this is the fucking dealer that took all my money last night.” Then he hesitated and said, “but he’s a real good guy, he talks to you and he tried to help me and then tried talking me out of playing.”
“So Alex, you were broke last night, where’d you get that kind of money?”
Now he hesitated, “I’ll tell you later.”
This meant to me he did something illegal or something embarrassing. Sure enough, when I got my break he walked back towards the break room with me. “So tell me now Alex, I counted just over $50,000.”
“I went to a loan center (I won’t mention which one, you’ll understand why), I own a home in Green Valley (Oh no, I thought, they got his home or his car) I brought my car in, and the fuckers gave me $500 for a 2002 Lexus.”
“Well man, they expect you to pay them back that kind of money for a car like that. If they gave you $10,000 they’d probably never see you again. But you’re doing pretty good there man; you turned $500 into $50.000? Are you kidding me.?”
I was astonished that he had the nerve to put his car at risk, but then he told me the rest of the story.
“I took a cab to Sam’s town and lost the five hundred in half an hour and he picked up a phone book and found another loan company but this was serious. They asked him what he had that was worth money. He had a big screen TV which they didn’t want, he had a stereo, they didn’t want that either, but he had only one thing left they’d gladly take, his home. They drove out that morning to look at the house and cut him a check for $50,000; the house was worth almost $500,000. He had stepped over the line. I went to my boss who was fully aware that the guy was a loser. That’s how they build the damn hotels.
When he told me that I stopped and said, “What did you do? What the fuck did you do? You put you car and your house up for what? To try to beat a casino that has 100 times what you’re holding in your pocket just on the side wall of the vault. You think you can beat them?”
He replied: “I’ll tell you what, at the end of your next hour come and see me and we’ll see how I’m doing.”
“I don’t need to waste my time,” I said. “I like you but you’ll be losing in half an hour.”
After my break, I was on the next table and he came over with his stacks of money. I told him I’d kick him off if he took it up the ass. He started two hands for $100 each then after a few wins went to $300 for two hands, then three hands. He was up another $1,500 and he started to change his play. Doubling down on soft hands, splitting anything if the mood hit him.
I told him, “This is how the casinos get their money back.”
I took my boss on the side; he dropped $8,000 the session on my table. I told him that his car and home were sitting on that table and he’s already lost the car.
“O.K. I’ll take care of it,” he said. And he walked over to Alex and said, “Listen let us buy you dinner and you can have a few drinks if you want and we’ll get you a room, how’s that sound?”
He took the comp and they cashed him out and he went to dinner. I went to the boss and said, “Hey that was really great of you to do that.”
“Get something straight, I didn’t do it so he could save his money and get his house back, that’s already gone, I did it so he’d lose the rest of the money with us instead of somewhere else.”
Cold but honest, and he was right. He stayed the next two days and when I got back from my weekend he was gone, He lost all but $5,000 and only kept that because he couldn’t stay awake and left the next morning. I don’t know how he got where he was going but in just a few days he went from a good life, nice home, nice car, good relationship, and a few days later he was taking busses or just walking and living in weekly apartments. He stopped gambling because he just didn’t have the money, no more fine restaurants, no more dry cleaning, everything was gone but his sanity and it would take an honest job and all the sanity he could muster. He went from being Mr. Kirkoff to “Hey asshole”
The last I heard he was working a construction site as a day laborer cleaning up after the carpenters. Now the most expensive thing he owned was a broom and a shovel. He took the broom to clear a spot, and the shovel to dig himself a hole he’d never get out of. He learned his lesson the hard way, but at least there was some light at the top of the hole.
-Ken Pearlman