The whales’ whales: Packer, Khashoggi and the Sultan
Q. What do Kerry Packer, Adnan Khashoggi and the Sultan of Brunei all have in common?
A. Enormous propensity for gambling and the ability to bring the house down with a single streak.
The terms high roller and whale are thrown around quite a bit but in gambling circles, but there are really only a handful of guys with both the gambling appetite and bankroll to really scare casinos. And this statement is not at all being over dramatic. A good night at the tables for a real whale can (and quite possibly has) bankrupt casinos.
It was one such good night in 2004 when Paul Newey, who reputedly wagers up to £300,000 per spin on roulette, took £3 from Star City Casino and forced owners Stanley Leisure to issuing a profit warning that wiped 12% off their share price. When the Aspinalls Club ran out of money and was forced to close its doors in May 1990, there were reports that Kerry Packer was responsible – though neither the casino nor Packer would confirm or deny.
That old saying that the house always wins, because it can weather what ever you throw at it before you eventually give it back…just doesn’t apply in the case when the players’ pockets are much bigger than the casinos.
The dollars these guys throw around are astronomical. And while all the facts and numbers are hearsay and vary from source to source (according to the Mail Packer’s 1995 $US20 million win at the MGM Grand came from a 7 hand streak while News reports it as a 20 hand streak; the Review Journal puts the win at $US 26 million), what is consistent are the orders of magnitude.
Philip Green, owner of the UK’s Topshop reportedly wins or loses up to £8 a night at his casino of choice – Les Ambassadeurs in London. Packer during his 1995 win at MGM was, according to witnesses playing 8 blackjack hands at once, staking $US250,000 on each! Adnan Khashoggi’s wife complained that her then husband used to regularly cash half million pound cheques during a night at the casino back in the 1980′s!
Other names whose win/loss positions move in the multiple millions in a single night include Malaysian tycoons Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay and Quek Leng Chan, Indonesia’s Putera Sampoerna, and Hustler founder Larry Flynt.
After reading up on the exploits of recent history’s best known high rollers, no matter who the source, the Daily Mail, News Corp, the Independent or Forbes the consensus appears to be that Packer, Khashoggi and the Sultan were in leagues of their own at the casino tables. And of this elite group, Packer seems to be the undisputed champion.
His exploits at the tables have become the stuff of legend and are so numerous they could fill a book. Way back in 1987 he lost £8 million in a single night at London’s Ritz casino. That’s probably closer to £20 million in today’s currency. Apparently he was playing multiple seats at 2 blackjack tables and cashing £1 million cheques to fund chip purchases. 1999 was another bad year at the London casinos with a losing streak put anywhere from $US15 to 30 million. In September 2001, stranded in Las Vegas when airlines were grounded after the 9/11 attacks, he dropped around $US 30 million playing baccarat hands at $200,000 a pop.
But it wasn’t all bad. There was his $US26 million winning night at MGM Grand. A run at Crockfords in London that associate Trevor Kennedy estimated to be ‘about 10 million quid’ and which lead to the casino’s manager asking that he find another casino to gamble at – a request that apparently brought no end of joy to Packer. And of course there was the Aspinalls win – no figure reported but big enough to put the casino out of business.