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Las Vegas Shooter Stephen Paddock Was A High-Level Gambler

Oct 5, 2017
Originally published on October 5, 2017 6:59 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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We don't know much about what motivated the Las Vegas shooter, but one thing we do know about Stephen Paddock is that he gambled a lot. NPR's Nathan Rott has been looking into the world of gamblers like Paddock, and here's what he found.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Video poker is not a flashy game. It might be one of the quietest games a person can play at a Vegas casino. It's five digital cards flashing across the screen, a few buttons - hold, draw and cash out - below. This is the game that Stephen Paddock played, and he played it at a high level. In an interview with CBS and a scrum of reporters outside of his Orlando home, Eric Paddock, the shooter's brother, said his brother gambled large sums of money.

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ERIC PADDOCK: He gambled for 20-plus years successfully. It's like a job to him. He did it because it was a way to have a fun life and make - and he didn't go poor doing it.

ROTT: And he gambled a lot. Paddock says his brother had high status with many casinos.

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PADDOCK: I mean, he got lots of money and comps. To have him gamble with them, they would comp him for a lot.

ROTT: For those who don't know, comps are benefits for gamblers at a hotel or casino - free room, free concert tickets, free food. The type of comps a person gets are dependent on their status at the casino or hotel where they're staying, and that status is earned by a combination of things - time spent at the casino, the money played. People in the industry say that Paddock was likely at a level where he earned high-tier status at some of the biggest casinos in Las Vegas.

There have been reports that the room he used as a perch to spray bullets on concertgoers last Sunday was comped by Mandalay Bay. The hotel and casino has not confirmed those reports but told NPR that they're working with authorities in their investigation. Anthony Curtis, who runs the website Las Vegas Advisor and is a former professional gambler, says he knows people in the industry who interacted with Paddock in Vegas casinos.

ANTHONY CURTIS: And they're saying that he's - that he is a reasonably good video poker player, that he plays at very high levels.

ROTT: Playing five, 10, $25 video poker, a game that doesn't take long to play. Someone who does it that much, Curtis says, likely has muscle memory, quick calculations that they make.

CURTIS: So he's approaching a thousand hands an hour. So he's putting a hundred thousand through a machine at a time. That's a big player.

ROTT: Not a whale, the industry term for the tip-top gambler who spends millions, but certainly in the top 1 percent. Paddock's family says that he met his girlfriend in a Reno casino when she was working there as a cocktail waitress tending to higher-level gamblers. And she's likely not the only relationship that Paddock made with casino staff. High rollers often get assigned a host, someone who makes sure they're having a good time at the establishment.

It's that host that sets up the comps, and it's that host whose job it is to know as much about the player as they can. One former host who asked that his name not be used for risk of hurting his career says that it was his job to know whether a high roller liked Italian food or surf and turf, if he liked a ground-floor room in a hotel versus an elevated one. Everything he could know he would work to know about a high-level player. Curtis says that's normal in the industry.

CURTIS: Now, there are hosts out there who know a lot, who know a lot about the way he plays.

ROTT: And maybe more about who this guy was. Nathan Rott, NPR News, Las Vegas.

(SOUNDBITE OF PORTICO QUARTET'S "SU-BO'S MENTAL MELTDOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.