December - 2006: At Your Service - VIP Host Bill Bruce
October - 2005: Poker Room Reaches Out To The Ladies
September - 2005: Lights, Camera, Play!
October 13, 2004: For Some Dealers, There's a New Job In The Cards
May - 2004: Poker Star: Bill Bruce on loan to Party Poker Million III
It’s 4 a.m., and Bill Bruce is wrapping up his shift, tying up some loose ends before heading for home to grab a few hours of sleep. He was scheduled for 8 hours but, as usual, he came in early and left late, making for another 12-hour day - a fairly typical Bill Bruce workday.
Yet at the same time, Bruce’s workday is far from typical if you measure it up against yours or mine. Where our average work day would probably be, well, pretty average, Bruce’s day (or night, if you will) might entail arranging for concert tickets, taking in a boxing match, checking up on hotel room details, making last-minute reservations for a private dinner, accompanying a guest to go nightclubbing, signing off on a gift shop item … hmm, what else? Oh, maybe take in a Lakers basketball game at Staples Center.
Typical? Yeah, Right
OK, only typical if you’re Bill Bruce. That’s because he is the VIP Host for Pechanga Resort & Casino, one of only two people in this demanding position who, for want of a better description, “take care” of the casino’s important and high-level patrons, the VIP guests.
Now, that’s not to say all of Pechanga’s patrons aren’t considered valued guests, because they are. But let’s face it, my $20 in a nickel slot machine isn’t going to warrant a blip on Bruce’s radar. No, we’re talking the high-roller guest, the gambler who has a lot of discretionary income and doesn’t mind parting with some of it on occasion. Like the section of the casino floor designated as “high-stakes wagering,” it is a world most of us are unfamiliar with.
But as Bruce explains, it is a world that the high-roller is very familiar with, whether they frequent Pechanga or Las Vegas. And a top-notch VIP Host can be the difference whether a high-level guest heads to Pechanga or Bellagio for the weekend. “It’s my job to build that bond with our VIP guest,” he says.
Reality or Fiction?
So, what exactly does a VIP Host do? Like millions of others, my immersion into the world of the VIP is via the NBC TV show Las Vegas, where we follow the character Samantha Jane (played by Vanessa Marcil), the VIP hostess of the fictional Montecito Casino who indulges the wishes of the casino’s beautiful people. But does Samantha’s wining-and-dining of the high rollers ring true?
“To be honest, I haven’t seen the show, but my friends say I should watch it. I don’t watch much TV,” Bruce says, noting that from what he’s been told, the show’s character seems to cross the line of proper behavior. “You’ve gotta stay professional.”
Bruce points out that to be singled out as a VIP guest is to be a part of a very select club and a casino’s relationship with these valued customers has to be on a personal – yet professional - level. And it is, indeed, a relationship when it comes to a VIP Host.
“You become their friend. That’s the main thing,” he says. “To offer them personal service; to be a familiar, friendly face to them.” And like any friend would, Bruce can recall the important details of his clients: when it’s their birthday, their spouse’s and kids’ names, what their outside interests are, when they like to have dinner, what kind of music they like. You name it and Bruce keeps his mental checklist (as well as his PDA) updated.
So, what constitutes the profile of a VIP guest? It’s really pretty simple: someone who enjoys gambling and has the means to part with large sums of cash – at the gaming tables, of course – with regularity during their visits. And let’s make no bones about it, any person who devotes a large amount of cash to high-stakes gaming contributes mightily to any casino’s bottom line. And it would behoove any casino to make these gamblers feel welcome and special.
The VIP Treatment
Which is what Mr. Bruce does on any given day. Typically, he would be scheduled for a 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift. But his day usually begins much earlier – and ends much later. After grabbing a few hours sleep (depending on when he got in the previous night and what he is committed to the next day), Bruce makes a few calls before heading to the casino.
First, he’ll call Pechanga’s hotel host staff to see which of his (VIP) clients are scheduled to arrive and check in to the resort. He’ll make sure the staff prepares the guest's room with (personalized) amenities and a gift basket, often tailored to the likes of his client. He’ll likely touch base with those clients expected to arrive at the casino, whether for the evening or over several days, and see what types of arrangements they’d like him to make.
An 8 p.m. reservation at the Great Oak Steakhouse? Certainly. Tickets to the concert at the Showroom? No problem. Access to a VIP booth at Silk after the concert? Absolutely. How about a tee time at a local golf course and a spa appointment for the wife for the next day? You got it. Bill Bruce will take good care of you during your stay. And you can bet, his clients will let their friends know how well they were taken care of while at Pechanga.
Depending on the situation, Bruce might join his client at their behest, be it a Lakers game, a round of golf, a boxing match or a concert. It’s all about making sure they enjoy themselves and have a good time. Yeah, tough life, you say.
But the long and late hours, and sometimes his VIPs, can be quite demanding. “You have to stay disciplined,” Bruce stresses. “You need to be ego-less to do this job. It’s all about taking care of the client.”
Someone’s gotta do it, right?
On handling requests from clients:
“My job is to take care of the highest level guest. I never say ‘no.’ What wouldn’t we do?”
On going above and beyond:
“It was a client’s anniversary and he requested 200 roses for his wife. We did that but also covered the room with rose petals – it looked like he had it planned all along. And he was a hero to his wife.”
On his celebrity VIP clients:
“Jennifer Tilley (the 2005 Celebrity Ladies Poker Champion), Carmen Electra, Eddie Murphy, Nick Lachey, Traci Bingham, Gail O’Grady, and Alex Rodriguez too name a few… [Luckily] I really don’t get too star struck.”
On his first week as a VIP Host:
“My first week on the job I played a round of golf at an exclusive club, went to opening day at Santa Anita, and attended numerous parties in Las Vegas … [all before the weekend]”
On juggling several clients at once:
“Being on top of my schedule is vital … [You want them each to think that they are your most important guest] ... you have to find the time.”
On common requests at the end of his shift:
“Some clients will ask for transportation – a ride home – if it’s late, which we’re happy to provide … gift shop requests, of which I’m authorized to sign off … and tee times for the next morning. At 4 a.m.? OK, but I guarantee you’re not going to make it [to the course]!”
Temecula, CA - Steve Wiley has osteogenesis perfecta - brittle bones. He has had 60 fractures and 27 surgeries. He supports four sons, one of whom, he said, had a "one in a million" reaction to baby immunizations, causing brain damage and contraction of his legs.
He came to Pechanga Resort & Casino determined to deal a new hand for himself.
Wiley, 36, of Detroit, was among 45 hopefuls auditioning Tuesday morning for about 15 poker-dealing openings at Pechanga. He made the flight on the spur of the moment - a "roll of the dice," he aptly called it - and arrived at his destination around midnight Monday.
|Frank Bellino / The Press Enterprise|
|Poker supervisor Bill Bruce foreground, of Pechanga Resort & Casino, observes prospective dealers during an open audition.|
Nine hours later, he was dealing high-stakes poker, hoping to land a better-paying job in a place he'd never seen.
His first challenge had been making it through airport security.
"I have metal from head to toe, a plate in my jaw, staples in each foot," Wiley said. "It was the first time I've been on a flight, and I got through with no problem. I had a note from my doctor, just in case."
He made $42,000 last year dealing at Detroit's Greektown Casino, sharing tips equally in a union with dealers he judged slower and less ambitious. When he heard tales of dealers out West making twice as much, he made plans for Riverside County.
Fellow Detroit dealers Shek and Eliza Ip, from Hong Kong, joined him on the journey.
They would return home late Tuesday night all smiles, mission accomplished. Job offers were extended to all three by poker manager Tony Covington, who makes it clear that you don't watch the World Series of Poker on TV and show up thinking you'll land a dealer's job.
"We have auditions every Tuesday and prioritize our dealers based on experience," Covington said. "We take dealers with the most experience first, least last. Typically, we don't take break-in dealers at all. We don't want to train our dealers on our guests."
Wiley and his Detroit friends came a long way to show their personality, passion and skills.
"Friends were telling me this is where you want to be," he said. "I have one friend in Morongo (near Beaumont) who just made $900 in tips in three days. Poker's getting bigger and bigger. It's on television all the time."
With the final voice in the selection process, Covington studies evaluations compiled by shift supervisor Bill Bruce and Floorman Thomas Crane, who conduct the auditions. Candidates are seated in "the box" dealing to a table of fellow prospects.
"This process is nerve-racking," Covington said. "People come here because they want to change their life. I've seen people who have dealt for 15 years dripping with sweat, hands shaking."
Bruce said he can spot a suitable dealer in 30 seconds.
"(You have a chance) if you're polished and comfortable, if you've got skills," he said, "we're going to train you to do it our way. We'll take the best and make them better.
"This is dealer heaven. This is where you want to be if you're a dealer."
Auditions are common in area casinos. Morongo requests two years' experience in the business for applicants but will accept open auditions. The Lake Elsinore Resort and Casino, a card club, holds auditions every Monday, according to shift manager Lance Kawamura.
"We take dealers straight out of dealer schools," Kawamura said. "We've had situations where customers want to change careers and go from players to dealers."
Covington said Pechanga has hired dealers from Las Vegas, Reno, Arizona, Florida and Washington. Add Detroit and Hong Kong to the list.
The three-step process starts with Bruce and Crane grading candidates in 16 categories from appearance and personality to reading hands, pushing the pot and overall speed. An one on one interview follows with Bruce or Crane. A sit-down with Covington yields a final verdict.
"I'll have writer's cramp at the end of the day," he said. "Our goal is to have 155 dealers by Nov. 10. We have 125 now."
Covington cites Pechanga's "zero tolerance" of abuse by guests as one reason it has become a coveted workplace for dealers, along with growth in the area and a benefits package he calls "second to none."
Pechanga began operations in 1995, debuting its hotel and permanent casino in June 2002.
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