The High-Rolling Habits of Stephen Paddock

While his motive for the massacre remains a mystery, his gambling proclivities are well documented

As the quest for answers ensued after the horrific events of 1 October, an angle surfaced that captured the imagination of both the media and the public. Shooter Stephen Paddock was a gambler. And not just any gambler, but a bona fide high roller. It’s a fascinating facet of this otherwise terrible story that was reported, literally, worldwide. Unfortunately, the media has problems getting its head around the realities of gambling for other than entertainment reasons, so I’ve decided to address it here.

Was Paddock a high-rolling degenerate loser who snapped under the weight of huge losses and wanted to exact revenge? Or was he a studied player, possibly even an expert? I’ve heard from several players who knew and played with him. I’ve heard from casino employees who’ve seen his records and results. And, eerily, he was a regular customer of mine—a subscriber to the Las Vegas Advisor and a frequent buyer of video-poker tutorial products. Based on input from these sources, I’m convinced that he knew how to play.

Soon after the shooting, I began hearing from players who could verify that he’d played video poker for high stakes for several years at various Strip casinos. That doesn’t jibe with the loser theory: Paddock had played for too long at high levels for that to be the case. Others with knowledge from the casino side told me that he had an intact “low 7” rating, which means a verified $1 million to $3 million in the bank, and six-figure credit lines. I was told that he was known as a player who could win or lose up to $100,000 on a trip. He apparently paid his markers when he lost.

Given this information, it’s much more probable that Paddock was a talented gambler who used many of the concepts that I write about in this column. I don’t think he was a professional, but I suspect that he was just a notch below, someone who played the comp game—losing, but making it up in high-end givebacks. It’s an arrangement that often exists between players and casinos, where the player is satisfied with the value of the comps and the casino is winning more than the hard comp costs.

The best video poker schedule at Mandalay Bay is $5 Triple Double Spin Poker, which has an achievable 99.58 percent return with the possibility of betting up to $225 per hand. A 99.58 percent return is still a loser, but with club points, bounce-back cash, and VIP tournaments and drawings, it’s very likely that Paddock could play near a 100 percent return. Throw in full comp privileges, and bingo!

What’s really crazy about this is that the big-loser scenario could still be true. That’s something we won’t know for sure until his records are released. But indications are strong that this was a player who was getting what he wanted out of the casino system and whose demons resided elsewhere.