Home > Features > The whales vs the small fish – how casinos treat these groups differently

The whales vs the small fish – how casinos treat these groups differently


8 Jun 2017

Wouldn’t it be great if you could walk into a casino, change up £10 into chips at a busy blackjack table and be treated like a king for your entire visit?

Unfortunately, the most such a player is likely to get is two chips, a forced smile from the dealer, some headshakes from others at the table and a free soft drink if they are lucky.

There will be little in the way of frills and maybe in the way of thrills, unless such a player is fortunate enough to get dealt blackjack with their first hand or hit straight up on their lucky number playing roulette.

Such players are the small fish of the casino. Students, the retired or those with relatively modest jobs like a shop keeper or taxi driver are the most likely to be considered among this group. They look to make a small outlay provide them with a lengthy period of fun.

Alternatively, the bigger spenders, or whales as they tend to be classified within the industry, are usually those to have made a habit of winning in life and intend to continue this within the casino.

However, it is worth noting that laying down £10,000 on a single blackjack hand will not single-handedly cause a casino to mark a player as a great white to watch and treat differently.

Alongside their bet per hand, a casino will also take into account the total hours spent at the tables and average spend over a period of time when devising who to establish as their big fish.

And here are a handful of ways that these players get preferential treatment over the general masses attending a casino.


Most players know the high flyers may get front-row seats at a box-office boxing fight, free hotel rooms, unlimited top-shelf alcohol and beluga caviar canapes followed by lobster dinners. However, these are among the more basic shows of lavishness for a casino.

In certain cases the royal treatment ramps up a couple more notches. Think James Bond playing on a reserved table in a private and restricted-access area, a Michelin-star chef flown in especially to provide room service or a Gulfstream jet on call. Casinos are effectively happy to give million-dollar players the world to ensure the lion’s share of their action.

By going above and beyond with their bespoke service and generally catering to a player’s every desire, the casino is hoping that the whale will not be tempted anywhere else.

However, there is a growing trend for casinos to encourage the mid-spenders with more lavish perks and comps to remain loyal.

Ultimately, providing free rooms or food and drink doesn’t make a great dent in a casino’s bottom-line figure, particularly if such an offer encourages a player to part with £500 more than they initially intended.

As for those armed with their £50 bankrolls, soft drinks and hot drinks are the best they can expect from their toiling.

However, we have previously noted a selection of strategies which could help lower-spending players boost their chances of receiving a casino comp.


Don’t expect the high rollers to pay a visit to the cash point on their way to the casino. They won’t be taking used £10 notes out of their wallets or even a roll of crisp £20s.

Instead, rather than gambling with cash, these players will have the luxury of receiving lines of credit, which are sometimes referred to as rolling chips.

Not only do these chips make it easier for a casino to track the play of such players for their own records, but it’s also not so straightforward for the big fish to monitor exactly how much they are spending and potentially losing.

Buying casino chips on the slate is virtually guaranteed to be rejected for the smaller fish, even those that a casino would classify as regular visitors.

Negotiating advantage play

Because casinos are so desperate to entice the big fish, they are even likely to accept adjusted terms on some of their games, which theoretically reduce their regular house edge.

This could be playing blackjack with only two decks of cards, which obviously makes it easier to track other cards left in play, enhanced odds from the standard 6/5 if dealt blackjack or what is perhaps best described as an appearance fee where they are given free chips to start betting with.

Don Johnson, not he of Miami Vice fame, is one of the more famous gamblers to put advantage play to good use when negotiating a loss rebate. If he lost a certain amount during a session of blackjack play, Johnson would be allowed a percentage of this total stake back. In his circumstance, this was 20%.

With the house edge already fairly minimal against a player adopting basic blackjack strategy (in Johnson’s case he said it was 0.263%), it’s obvious where the advantage is.

If Johnson bet £100,000 per hand and set up a rule of quitting for the day when up or down £500,000, these days should theoretically balance themselves out. But on his losing days, Johnson would get £100,000 back.

Therefore, every other day he would effectively be up £100,000 – winning £500,000 one day and losing £400,000 the next on average. Johnson won $15m before the casinos decided enough was enough and pulled the plug on their agreement.

The best negotiating the smaller fish may manage is to get their £20 in chips to be allocated to them as four £5s, rather than two £10s, to technically enable their game to last a little longer.