Faces of Gaming is a monthly column from consultant Tom Osiecki about interesting and engaging people in the gaming industry.
Anthony Curtis is a Gambling Guru.
Professional gambler, gaming consultant to Hollywood and the media, Blackjack Hall of Fame member, gaming publisher and creator of the leading guide to Las Vegas, Anthony Curtis is an accomplished gaming entrepreneur with serious gambling street cred and a fascinating background.
Anthony Curtis is among the most recognized and quoted Las Vegas experts in the world. Author of several gaming books, Curtis is publisher and CEO of Huntington Press, the world’s preeminent gambling-title press, and the Las Vegas Advisor, the leading Las Vegas consumer newsletter for over three decades.
Curtis has served as a consultant and gambling authority for Disney Studios, NBC’s “Crime Story,” and Ocean’s 13. Articles about or by him have appeared in numerous high-profile publications. Curtis has also been featured in many gambling-related television shows.
As a professional gambler, Curtis’ top tournament wins include the $76,000 World Matchplay Blackjack Championship, $125,000 Atlantic City Craps Championship, $50,000 Las Vegas Keno Championship, and $60,000 Las Vegas Blackjack Championship.
He assembled the consulting group that assists in formulating the record-setting sports bets made by Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale and he is a member of the Blackjack Hall of Fame.
Falling in Love with Gaming
I asked Anthony Curtis if he could identify the moment he fell in love with gambling.
“I realized very early on that I was good at games, and I just had a grasp of probability when I was a kid. I had been able to beat the grownups for years. One day a family friend brought me a book on blackjack. He says, ‘I’m pretty sure you’ll understand this.’ I was in 10th grade.
“I read the book and a light came on, and I was like, Yep, I get it. And that’s what I want to do. So, I just started studying the game at that age.
And I thought, blackjack is a game where I can make a living. That was the fascination. It wasn’t easy money; it was I can be good at this,” Curtis stated.
Eventually, Curtis earned a wrestling scholarship for Duke and later UCLA. But he was not interested in what college had to offer.
“My dad was a university professor. I was a pretty lousy student. I just wasn’t interested in what they were teaching. I was counting the days until I got to twenty-one and I dropped out before I graduated UCLA. I came to Vegas as soon as I turned twenty-one in 1979,” Curtis recalled.
Curtis became an expert advantage blackjack player and card counter who was eventually recruited to a tournament team.
“My main thing was when Stanford Wong, a well-known gambling author, put together his tournament team. By then, I had gotten a little bit of a reputation as a good player. He called me and asked me to be on his tournament team, which was really the start of all of it for me.
“Wong was one of the most prolific writers of the best books on blackjack. I read his book early on and was a huge fan of his when he called. I often tell people it’s like a physics student getting a call from Einstein,” Curtis related.
“The groups I played with made well into the millions. You hear about the MIT team, you know, from the movie “21”. We were playing at the same time as them. We were actually a more successful team, but they were the ones that got the movie,” Curtis remembered.
Art, Science and The Act
“Blackjack is one part science and one part art. The science is learning how to do it, counting the cards, keeping the count, knowing when to deviate from basic strategy, and knowing your strategy. You can be the best player in the world, but if you can’t pull it off in the casino, or be allowed to do it, it’s worthless. So, the art is, actually getting away with it being able to conceal what you’re doing for as long as possible. That’s called the act,” Curtis said.
A Plan in the Works
I asked Curtis why he decided to leave the lucrative world of professional gambling.
“It wasn’t by choice. After a while, no matter how good you are at the act, you’re going to be found out. And for me, it was playing high-profile tournaments and winning big, big money in tournaments where my name kept popping up. You know, more than would be random.
“People began to catch on at that point, I started publishing the newsletter, and I had opportunities to do media interviews. I started doing television interviews and then the jig was up.
“I made a conscious decision that, okay, that’s fine if this hastens my doing the newsletter because that’s the next step anyway,” said Curtis.
Hall of Fame Player
During his years playing and authoring books about blackjack and gaming, Curtis reached the pinnacle.
“I’m in the Blackjack Hall of Fame. There are only thirty members and they are voted in by all of us at a gathering called the Blackjack Ball. We had the 25th anniversary this year,” Curtis announced.
Curtis has done extensive work on movies and television. I asked for a few stories.
“I’ve had a role in a number of things. On Ocean’s 13, they came and talked to me about veracity. They would ask me does this make sense? How would they actually do it?” Curtis stated.
Rain on the Parade
“I think the most interesting one was Rain Man. I was sent the treatment for Rain Man by the film commission in Nevada. And when it came to the part about Dustin Hoffman playing blackjack and what he was doing to beat the game; what they were saying was completely wrong and stupid.
“I got all excited because I thought, ‘I’m going to get a consultancy job,’ so I wrote all the dialogue showing how it would work. This is where I screwed up. I gave them all the dialogue and I never heard a thing. When the movie came out, I got to the theater, and I was waiting and waiting for this part. I’ll be damned if they didn’t change it and use my lines exactly the way I gave it to them.
“I jumped up in the theater and people were looking at me. ‘Those are my lines!’ I exclaimed.”
Move to Publishing
Curtis moved to publishing and is CEO of Huntington Press, which has 120 published titles on gaming and does a strong business in gaming strategy cards.
“We do books, the newsletter, and strategy cards. We’re really big in strategy cards. I don’t know if you’ve noticed in the past 30 years, but attention deficit disorder is definitely taking over with people. They’d rather look at a strategy card than read a book,” Curtis explained.
Huntington Press published books from famous gaming authors Stanford Wong, Peter Griffin, Michael Shackleford, Arnold Snyder, Blair Rodman, and James Grosjean, to name a few.
“I would say with as much humility as I can muster that we are the top gambling book publisher in the world,” Curtis said.
Surprisingly, author Jean Scott’s Frugal Gambler series is the biggest seller for Huntington Press.
“Jean sold over 100,000 copies. One of her books went all the way to number two on Amazon. I don’t mean number two for the category. I mean, number two, for all books in the world. For a day and a half, it was at number two. The only book it could not get over was one of the Harry Potter books,” Curtis explained.
The Las Vegas Advisor is Born
“I was trying to learn about Vegas, and I couldn’t find anything. It was always in the back of my head that someday I would publish a newsletter. That was when I decided to pull the trigger. I didn’t stop playing. I was still gambling with my group. But I started putting out the newsletter,” Curtis said.
First developed in 1983, The Las Vegas Advisor is in print, online and has a streaming show on YouTube. The Las Vegas Advisor provides a powerful package of gaming advice and coupon-style offers centered around Las Vegas casino resort properties.
The Las Vegas Advisor offers a free gold membership and a $50 subscription that opens up coupon offers for gaming, shows, food and beverage, rooms, and more that has been a staple for Las Vegas visitors.
“It all started with the first coupon, which was a $1 discount off a $6.95 buffet,” Curtis said.
The website is a treasure trove of advice for gamblers, and discount offers with an annual subscription volume that varies between 10,000 and 20,000 paid subscribers.
“This will shock you. The local percentage for subscriptions is only 6%. It’s 94% outside of Las Vegas. Without question, our biggest market is Chicago; Detroit’s number two; and the Los Angeles area from LA to San Diego is number three,” Curtis revealed.
A popular feature on the Las Vegas Advisor website is the “Top Ten Values in Las Vegas” tab that highlights a continuously updated monthly survey of deals. From Ellis Island’s complete steak dinner for $9.99 to discounted prices for the STRAT’s Illuminate show to the 99-cent shrimp cocktail at the Fremont, the Top Ten reveals deals in Vegas where prices have recently skyrocketed.
The website features Las Vegas news, webcams, frequently asked questions on Las Vegas, lists of parking and resort fees, detailed lists on the thirteen operating buffets, show lists and show ticket information, tips from Jean Scott’s Frugal Vegas, lists of all the places to gamble in Las Vegas, blogs, and forums.
It was all put together over decades by a research staff that works for the Las Vegas Advisor. Curtis also says that many of the tips on deals come from
“It’s almost like we have thousands of field agents out there telling us what is going on, but we are the final arbiters,” Curtis said.
Curtis also has a YouTube streaming version of Las Vegas Advisor with cohost Andrew Hunt. The Las Vegas Advisor also mailed its final printed newsletter in December 2022 and will become all digital starting in 2023.
Since 2019, Curtis has been a gaming advisor for Houston’s Mattress Mack. Jim “Mattress Mac” MacIngvale is the owner of Houston area furniture stores known for offering retail furniture promotions based on sports bets.
Very few gamblers become part of the national consciousness. And, only a select few achieve fame, such as Nick “The Greek” Dandalos, Doyle Brunson, Wild Bill Hickok, and let’s not forget Nathan Detroit.
Mattress Mack became world famous for the World Series payout of $75 million when the Houston Astros won the World Series in 2022. This is believed to be the largest payout in sports betting history.
“We’ve collaborated with Mattress Mack in a consulting capacity since 2019 on every promotion he’s done. As a few examples, Mack has done Kentucky Derby promotions, Super Bowl promotions, and March Madness promotions’” Curtis stated.
In 2019 Mattress Mack could not obtain standard promotional insurance to cover millions of dollars on a World Series promotion.
“I got a phone call out of the blue from Mattress Mack’s attorney, who introduced himself as a Las Vegas Advisor member. He said he was representing a businessman who had a big liability out of Houston. It was a liability that he needed to cover,” Curtis stated.
Curtis put together a team with friend Frank B, a sports betting expert, and another expert he calls The Professor, whose expertise is mathematics and gambling. Curtis documents his bets for Mattress Mack on a blog he publishes.
“The World Series 2022 promotion was the biggest winner of all time. The most Nevada casinos collectively won in a month from sports betting is $72 million; so, Mac won more in one game than all of the sports books in Nevada in their best month ever. It’s a pretty big deal, right?
“What’s really cool is you read about this being the greatest sports story of our time and I’m one of the guys behind it,” Curtis declared.
Post-Pandemic Las Vegas
Considering his decades of publishing the Las Vegas Advisor and becoming the go-to gambling expert on Las Vegas, I asked Curtis how Las Vegas has changed since the pandemic.
“It’s changed for the worse in several ways. As soon as the doors were flung open again, all the maniacs came screaming back and with more money, because during the pandemic, everybody saved money. Not only have they saved money, but they got stimulus that they didn’t expect and people tend to spend what they have.
“The casinos started making so much money that they cut back on their promotions, which is not good for the customer. But you know, it saved them money and their marketing costs. They did not step back with promotions to 2019 levels because the people didn’t care, and they still don’t care.
“Everyone I talked to agrees. People on the inside that I know, who would never speak publicly about it but will confide in me, also agree you got two things; the customer is getting less in value, and the customer is getting less in service,” Curtis said
”I really don’t think it’s sustainable; eventually this extra money is going to run out. The casinos are going to ride this as long as they possibly can.
“The smarter ones are the ones that don’t gouge and take full advantage of it, but a lot of them are gouging. So that’s where the change is,” Curtis exclaimed.
“At Las Vegas Advisor, we’re consumer advocates. Do you know what I mean? I mean, we exist to help the consumer get the most out of it,” Curtis said.
Talking to a gambling guru, it’s amazing to discover and relate gaming advice that casual players can use. Below are just a few.
Other Players at the Blackjack Table
“It’s a big fallacy that so many people believe that the skill of other players at the table affects your hand. Well, of course it affects your hand. But in the long run, it doesn’t affect your long-term results. Because as many times as a player will make a bad play and cause the dealer to make a hand, he’ll also make a bad play that causes the dealer to bust.
“There have been studies that have proven this. My advice to people is don’t worry about it. Don’t get all riled about it; don’t get upset,” Curtis advised.
“There are two major rules of thumb. One is to play table games because table games are better than machines. That’s because of the rules and because of speed. Machines go so fast that they’ll take your money quicker.
The second rule of thumb is that when you play table games, you want to play at full tables. Because again, you will play more slowly and have just as much fun because it’s social, and the jaws of negative expectation will be around your neck fewer times,” Curtis said.
With Slots, The Machine Does Not Matter
“People think that slot machines have the heart and soul, but they just have nuts and bolts. That just does not matter. No machines play any differently than the others. It’s all random, and that’s an extremely hard thing for people to accept, but it’s true,” Curtis said.
The Best Books for the Beginning Gambler
“Go with Gambling 102 by Michael Shackleford. The book really cuts down to the bare bones of casino magic in all of the different games. It’s not a master strategy book, per se, but it does put you in the driver’s seat in terms of having some knowledge.
“Or Jean Scott’s Frugal Casino Gambler Guide. That’s the book that is exceptionally good for beginning players. I mean, she goes all the way through everything,” Curtis said.
The Best Bet in Gambling
“I’m talking about the most bang for your buck. Because without question, nothing’s even close to making a sports bet. You bet and It’s going to mean something to most people, and you’re going to be riveted to that game for three hours, as opposed to playing three hours of video poker. The most you can lose is your base bet, and if you play three hours of video poker even at quarters, you could lose triple that, maybe more,” Curtis related.
Teacher, Player, and Entrepreneur
As a gambling expert, Curtis seems to most enjoy teaching about the vast and varied aspects of gaming. He is a true gambling guru.
As an advantage player and card counter, Curtis gained gambling street cred in a way few people can experience.
As a publisher, Curtis has the opportunity to teach the world how gambling works through books. With the Las Vegas Advisor, Curtis is a consumer advocate showing the world how to enjoy Vegas as a value.
And to think it all started with a kid from Dearborn, Michigan who figured out he was good at games.
Note from the Publisher Emeritus: CDC Gaming Reports would not exist but for Anthony Curtis. I developed my initial interest in gaming reading “The Las Vegas Advisor.” Twenty-five years ago Anthony Curtis took a chance on a total novice writer and published “The Las Vegas Advisor Guide to Slot Clubs.” He has been a constant and steady supporter of CDC Gaming Reports through its many inceptions. And best – he is one of the few people that I would totally trust in all circumstances. – Jeffrey W. Compton
Entries in the Faces of Gaming series:
- Willy Allison — From New Zealand bloke to world game-protection leader
- Tom Jingoli — From gaming enforcement agent to COO of Konami Gaming
- Tino Magnatta — Interviewing the interviewer, 3,000 and counting since COVID
- Deana and Brady Scott — Still talking shop with the owners of Raving Consulting
- Kevin Parker — “Putting everything into everything I do”
- Laura Penney — Putting in the Work as CEO of Coeur d’Alene Casino
- Andre Carrier — Paying it forward
- Jean Scott — The original casino influencer, still frugal gambling after all these years
- Anika Howard — From Harrah’s First Interactive Employee to CEO of Wondr Nation
- Anthony Curtis — Gambling Guru, Las Vegas Expert, Customer Advocate with Street Cred (now reading)
- Mark Wayman — An executive recruiter with a brand and something to say
- Melonie Johnson — From rural Louisiana to resort-casino leadership
- Brian Christopher — From actor, Uber driver, and cater waiter to slot celebrity
- Allan Solomon — From accountant and tax lawyer to pioneering casino owner
- Kenny Epstein — A Niche from Nostalgia
Tom Osiecki is a casino consultant who writes an occasional column for CDC Gaming Reports called Faces of Gaming, about interesting and engaging people in the gaming industry.
Tom Osiecki is a marketing and management consultant for Raving Consulting and can be reached for consulting engagements at 775-329-7864.
If you know of a fascinating personality in the gaming industry you would like to see profiled, please send Tom Osiecki an email at email@example.com