Paddock’s high-roller status would have bought him perks, casino experts say


We’re learning more about Stephen Paddock, the “lone wolf” in the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history. USA TODAY

RENO, Nev. — The gunman at the center of the deadliest shooting in U.S. history did not leave much of an impression with his Reno neighbors.

Amid the bright lights and bustling din of the casinos he visited in the Biggest Little City, however, Stephen Paddock was instantly recognizable.

Before becoming known around the world as the man behind a shooting rampage that left 59 people dead and more than 500 injured at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, Paddock was a familiar fixture among the staff at some of Reno’s big hotel-casinos.

Matt Orchowski, 25, of Reno remembers running into Paddock a few times at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa’s VIP lounge. Orchowski, now the general manager at Fitness For 10’s downtown Reno branch, worked as a VIP representative at the Atlantis from 2014 to 2016. He was responsible for catering to the needs of high rollers, including checking them in and serving them drinks.

A few of those interactions were with Paddock, the memories of which came back to Orchowski after he saw the man’s face plastered all over the news.

“I recall a specific situation when I was at the bar and he came in, got a drink and left,” Orchowski said. “He was a very, very quiet guy.”

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A lot of times, guests would sit at the lounge and visit with each other. Orchowski, however, says that he never saw Paddock interact with other guests.

Despite Paddock’s low-key demeanor and tendency to keep to himself, it was his gambling that would make him a known commodity at the Reno casinos he frequented.

Some former and current employees stopped short of describing Paddock as a “whale,” industry parlance for big spenders who risk millions of dollars gambling. However, he was considered a high roller — the kind who would regularly get rewarded with complimentary, or “comped,” rooms.

Paddock’s status also meant that it was likely easier for him to move freely without arousing suspicion, or at least without being called out on suspicious behavior. Sources who have worked in the industry said they are not surprised that Paddock was able to sneak in the 23 firearms that were found in his Las Vegas hotel room.

In the casino industry, high rollers get far more leeway than the average casino-goer, said Mike Wootan, a retired casino manager who worked in the industry from 1978 to 2014, first in Reno and then Las Vegas.

The practice of ignoring strange behavior makes it difficult for casino employees to flag “unusual” actions, according to Wootan.

“The last thing you want to do is chase them to a competitor down the street,” Wootan said. The casinos “can be very tolerant of unusual behavior, even protective of it.”

The reason all boils down to one thing: money.

High-spending players are critical to a casino’s bottom line, and casinos will compete for them with perks and service above and beyond what is offered to regular customers. This includes free rooms, meals and even instructing staff to turn a blind eye when their behavior turns erratic.

“What we generally tell our employees is, ‘Leave them alone,’” Wootan said. “This is a big player, and we don’t want them bothered.”

“If they want to hang a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door for four days, and anybody says it’s unusual, then we say to leave them alone,” Wootan added. “We don’t want to go rattling their cages or make them feel uncomfortable.” 

Paddock checked into the Mandalay Bay resort suite on the Thursday before his Sunday killing spree, according to investigators.

Following the money

Mark Pilarski is a gaming industry lifer.

Before retiring to Michigan, Pilarski worked for 18 years at seven casinos, starting as change carrier and working his way up to shift manager at Reno-Tahoe gaming establishments such as Club Cal-Neva, Bill’s Casino and Harvey’s. Pilarski also wrote a syndicated gaming column for more than two decades.

“This is a gambling story to me from the very beginning,” Pilarski said of Paddock. “Just looking at things like the hotel suite with adjoining rooms — you usually don’t get those without a lot of play.”

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Stephen Paddock frequented a Starbucks in Mesquite, Nevada, where employees recall seeing him publicly berate his girlfriend, Marilou Danley. Buzz60

What’s clear based on accounts from some current and former employees at the hotel-casinos Paddock frequented was that he gambled a large amount — enough to garner extra attention and service.

Several who saw Paddock on the news recognized him as a top-tier customer who gambled enough to get free rooms, albeit not at the level of a whale. Others said he was a high roller, the kind who would be equivalent to 100 regular customers. 

Although Paddock might not be an upper-echelon client in Las Vegas, he would be a bigger player in Reno, Pilarski said.

The GSR and Atlantis declined to provide information on Paddock’s gambling habits following a request for information by the Reno Gazette-Journal. Both, however, say they will cooperate with law enforcement for any inquiry regarding Paddock.

“We will fully cooperate with law enforcement if there is anything that might be able to aid in this investigation,” said Mike Draper, Grand Sierra Resort spokesman. “All additional questions should be directed to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and other cooperating agencies.”

The Atlantis also did not comment on Paddock or his girlfriend Marilou Danley, who worked for the hotel-casino as a high-limit hostess from 2010 to 2013.

“Atlantis has no current information regarding Stephen Paddock and Marilou Danley,” said spokeswoman Teresa Drew in an emailed statement. “Ms. Danley left employment with Atlantis several years ago.”

“We are cooperating with law enforcement and support their efforts to investigate and address this tragedy,” Drew said.

Wootan and Pilarski say it is no surprise that the casinos do not want to share the information publicly. Doing so shows their current high-roller clientele that they will protect their information, according to Pilarski. In addition, data on clientele is considered proprietary and a closely guarded secret for each hotel-casino.

Kelly Colvin, chief of the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s audit division, also says such data is considered confidential.

“Asking for that information is like asking for someone’s tax returns,” Colvin said.

Not all fun and games

Two months ago, former hotel VIP representative Orchowski started renting a condominium inside The Montage in downtown Reno.

After the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Paddock became a subject of conversation inside the building. Paddock used to live in unit 1513, just four doors away from Orchowski’s condo. Paddock sold the unit in December.

The accounts of Paddock from those who lived in the building mirrored Orchowski’s own recollection of the man he served drinks to a few years back.

“I’m told he would keep his head down when he took the elevator,” Orchowski said. “He just kept to himself.”

The description matches those given by Paddock’s neighbors in the Somersett area, the northwest Reno neighborhood where he and girlfriend Marilou Danley lived until recently.

Tom Hedger, a neighbor of Paddock’s at the Del Webb community in Reno, said that he only saw him a couple of times and didn’t really know him.

“I know a few other neighbors that said they never met him either,” Hedger said.

Reclusiveness, or wanting to keep themselves and their gambling habits out of the public eye, is not at all uncommon in high-stakes gaming circles, Wootan said.

“Most, if not a large percentage, of those type of customers — they want to stay very anonymous,” he said. “And your casino’s ability to maintain players of that level relies heavily on the absolute 100 percent confidentiality of their status.

“You go to great lengths to protect that level of play.”

Wootan said that casinos will fight to protect their high rollers’ names, the amount they gamble and even their preferred games.

Casinos also clam up when a player gets involved with something nefarious, Wootan said.

“Usually everything just shuts down. They don’t want anyone to know that the guy played in their place, that anybody knew him — they just want to stay out.”

Although the life of a high roller might seem glamorous, high-stakes gambling is not all fun and games, according to those who worked in the industry.

The perks can certainly seem appealing, Pilarski said. When a gambler bets huge amounts of money, they get rewarded with a certain amount of comps. Sometimes they include cash-back rewards or lavish meals. Another popular comp is rooms or suites on higher floors with better views, Pilarski said.

High rollers can also get private check-in service out of public sight, Orchowski said.

Essentially, you’re treated like a VIP.

Those perks, however, come with a cost. Hotel-casinos, for example, love to advertise by using pictures of people winning. Part of the industry’s traditional, gaming-based business model, however, is based on people losing.

The house holds a built-in advantage against players. Comps are a symbol of that advantage.

“No dinner is free, no comp is free (for a customer) because they are technically paying for it,” Orchowski said. “It’s based on their loss.”

Big losses can especially take a toll on clients, with some taking it worse than others, said Orchowski, who worked at several hotel-casinos in Reno including the Eldorado, Grand Sierra Resort,  Atlantis and Whitney Peak. 

Some guests could get extremely aggressive, which Orchowski cites as one reason why he decided to leave the industry.

There’s also a big difference in the reaction of someone who lost money they can afford to lose and someone who just lost everything. Some could part with $100,000 and act like it was nothing, Pilarski said. For those who wipe out, however, the emotional impact is far, far greater.

Pilarski says he has seen plenty of people with sizable fortunes squander their money over the years. This includes those who bucked the trend and rode winning streaks that lasted for years, only to lose everything in the end.

“Losing in the casino can happen very quick and very fast,” Pilarski said. “If someone had money and lost all of it, it can really take a toll on that person emotionally.”

 Wootan remembers several occasions where he has approached players who he believed were gambling beyond their means. Other times, he has had to fend off spouses and family members angered by a partner’s or relative’s high-risk gambling habits.

The absence of clear-cut information on Paddock’s finances immediately after the shooting make it uncertain whether he continued to live a life of comfort or flamed out in the end. Records from Washoe County and Clark County indicate that he still owned houses in Reno and Mesquite, Nev. He owned two planes at one point but sold both of them in 2010, records show.

Regardless, “tapping out” is a constant risk for people caught in the allure of high-limit gambling, according to Wootan.

“I’ve seen that happen in my career many times where people with all kinds of money play like there’s no tomorrow, and then the next day there is no tomorrow,” Wootan said. “They’re broke.”




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