Like so many others, Anthony Curtis came to Las Vegas to gamble. It was 1979 and he had just turned 21. After attending Duke University and UCLA on wrestling scholarships, spending most of his time reading about gambling mathematics, he dropped out and began his career as a professional gambler. For years, he and a team of math whizzes used any legal trick they could come up with to beat the house.
“When you read the book ‘Bringing Down the House’ or see the movie ‘21,’ ” he says, “that was a parallel team to ours. We did what they did — we went after casinos.”
Gamblers who know how to beat the house have a shelf life, however. When he was eventually banned from playing table games at all major casinos, he started the Las Vegas Advisor (LVA), a newsletter and website that reports on the best deals in the city.
“Being in the casinos,” he explains, “the things that I saw, all the deals I would find, and knowing where the best food was because I would eat there every day — I always had that idea of publishing information about it.”
LVA currently has between 12,000 and 15,000 subscribers. Curtis also runs Huntington Press, which publishes books about all aspects of gambling and Las Vegas. (Full disclosure, the author of this article co-wrote the first three editions of the dining guide “Eating Las Vegas,” which was published by Huntington Press.)
We spoke to him about his career and the state of gambling and entertainment in Las Vegas.
Review-Journal: How does one get banned from playing in casinos?
Curtis: Our group specialized in a few things that others didn’t, (including) tournament play. There was a lot of money in them, and the public was playing them very sub-optimally. So we whipped out the computers and came up with ways to play tournaments better. We made a lot of money. The problem was, when you win them it’s very high profile, because you’re winning $50,000, $100,000 at a time. At one point, I won two keno tournaments in a row at Caesars Palace. How do you explain that? Lucky numbers only go so far.
A lot of your books teach people how to gamble. How teachable is it?
Teaching people the concepts of how to do it, and giving them a road map, is easy and efficient. Getting them to follow it — there’s where it falls apart. People will take a book, and they’ll rub it, or pass it under their nose, and think somehow they’re absorbing something without reading it, or studying it or anything else.
You’ve seen the booms in poker and fantasy sports betting. How have they held up, and what’s next?
I was blindsided by the poker craze. We didn’t have any really good poker books until about four years into the craze. Then we started writing poker books, and they started selling like crazy. But poker has started to fizzle. The bad player can’t exist in that world. Even the mediocre player can’t exist with the sharks. Daily fantasy sports is kind of the same idea. The bad player has a hard time competing.
The next big thing, without a question, is going to be sports betting. It’s all going to be enabled by the Supreme Court decision that’s coming up this year. … We think it’s going to open it up to sports betting all over the United States. … We have seven books on sports betting in development.
Las Vegas dining has gone from bargain buffets to fine dining and celebrity chefs. Are there still deals to be found?
Absolutely. For example, the A.Y.C.E. buffet that just opened at the Palms. The price point they have, and as good as that buffet is, is an example of a void that needed to be filled.
Another good example is how every time we put out our “Eating Las Vegas” book, I’ve always insisted that we have a section on places you can go for cheap steaks. Places like Ellis Island, which is the king of the hill for that, with a full steak dinner for under $10 ($7.99). There are a lot of places like that around.
What do you think of the entertainment options in Las Vegas?
I hate the pricing on entertainment. The movement has been towards higher cost, but it’s the most discounted thing in the world. Nobody should ever pay retail. There’s always a code somewhere, or a coupon, or a deal, something. So you can see even a Cirque du Soleil show for less money. You just have to be a really vigilant consumer when it comes to shows.
But the level of entertainment has just gotten better and better and better. I cannot remember the last time I saw a Vegas show where I said “This absolutely sucks.” I went to see “50 Shades The Parody.” I can’t think of a show that I wanted to see less. Maybe that “Duck Commander Musical,” which didn’t last very long. But both of those shows, I came out going “That was really good.” It’s just because the level of talent out there is so great. … I’m really big on Vegas entertainment, as long as you don’t pay retail.
Last concert attended
“For some reason, and I don’t know why I continue to see him over and over and over again, Howard Jones.”
“Bar video poker when I don’t necessarily have an edge.”
Overrated: “Expensive clubbing. I think expensive clubbing is overrated. I know why they do it. They do it to get (women). But there’s other ways to do that.”
Underrated: “Bar video poker.”
“The one I’m editing. So that’s a moving target.”
Favorite vacation destination
“Another place with gambling, either Reno or Tahoe. I want to go places where there are casinos.”
Food I could eat every day
“Spinach, pho and oysters.”