Read Double or Nothing: How Two Friends Risked It All to Buy One of Las Vegas' Legendary Casinos Online
Authors: Tom Breitling,Cal Fussman
Tags: #===GRANDE===, #-OVERDRIVE-, #General, #Business, #Businessmen, #Biography & Autobiography, #-TAGGED-, #Games, #Nevada, #Casinos - Nevada - Las Vegas, #Las Vegas, #Golden Nugget (Las Vegas; Nev.), #Casinos, #Gambling, #-shared tor-
Tim's restraint was being tested almost more than he could bear. The guy who once got into a fight over a parking space with a pediatrician suddenly had to stand at a podium and turn the other cheek as his uncle's reputation got slapped around.
In any other setting, Tim might have made the case that Las Vegas ought to be thanking people like his Uncle Jack and Bob Martin for helping to organize legal sports betting. But Tim knew that the slightest retaliation would be an alarm to the board and give the three members just the evidence they needed to deny the license. This was not a court of law where there are rights to protect the innocent. The board held all the power to judge our character. The three guys at the head of the room would make a decision on whether to recommend or deny us that license.
For two hours Tim remained on the grill. At one point the
board called me up to answer a few questions, and just when Tim thought he'd gotten off the hot seat, they summoned him for more.
When it was over, the three members of the Gaming Control Board didn't see fit to recommend that we receive a license unless the state could easily yank it away.
“There are too many questions here,” said board member Scott Scherer. Without a limitation, he said, his vote would be no.
That basically meant the board would recommend to the Nevada Gaming Commission that we receive a license only if we'd start out on probation.
Probation? We hadn't done a damn thing wrong! But we were in quicksand, and our lawyer only pushed us deeper. “It's clear that the board wants a limitation,” he said. “Hopefully it will be as short a limitation period as possible.”
When the Gaming Control Board recommended a one-year limitation, we knew we were dead. What investor in his or her right mind would hand over money for a hotel-casino without knowing whether the owners would be allowed to run it for more than a year?
We were distraught as we stepped outside the courtroom only to find Mark Burnett's reality TV cameras waiting. We headed to the elevator and let the doors close on them.
What was there to say? It didn't matter, anyway. How can you have a show called
without a casino?
The next morning, the newspaper was not a pretty sight.
Here we were, trying to do something good, and what we got in return was a public pummeling. The fact is we'd worked our asses off for years, and now a board member had dismissed
our accomplishments as luck. Now, after Tim and I had spent a couple of years apart searching for and finally finding ourselves, the public was seeing a completely distorted image of us. All of a sudden, we were being dished up as either naÃ¯ve fools or public enemy number one.
Once you've been painted like Joe Pesci in a mobster movie, it's hard to restore your image. People would never know Tim as he really was now. But I knew him. And the guy I knew was the owner of a successful company who went to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to take an economics course just so he could get the final three credits for his degree at USCâeven though the degree would have no impact on his livelihood. People would never know that, when USC refused to honor the UNLV credits after he passed that course, Tim flew to USC on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for an entire semester to take another economics course and earn his degree. People would never know that it was Tim who held me back when I first moved to Vegas and might have succumbed to her 24/7 delights. But that's a very different picture of Tim, not the sensational wise guy that had just been trotted out by the media. It's much easierâand certainly far more funâto paint a mobster dressed in silk.
Phone calls flooded in from family and friends to lift our spirits. One unexpected call really stood out.
Only someone who'd gone through the same process could truly understand how Tim and I were feeling.
Elaine Wynn knew what it was like to be judged guilty before being proven innocent. The New Jersey Casino Control Commission had treated her and her husband, Steve, so suspiciously it wouldn't even let them attend the opening of their own hotel back in 1980.
“You're probably feeling it's us-against-them,” she said.
how we feel,” I told her.
“Don't,” she said. “Don't underestimate the power of the process. And don't disrespect the dues you have to pay. This is not just about them riding roughshod over you. This is not about you being cavalier. This is about them getting your attention and saying, âListen, boys, you may be the next coming. But there are rules here that must be adhered to.'”
She wouldn't let us feel sorry for ourselves, and it was just the support we needed. In hindsight, I can now see she was saying, “Welcome to the club.”
We were now living under a microscope, and we had to understand what that meant. We were asking to be the youngest casino owners in the state of Nevada. The state wanted to make sure that we weren't boys on a lark. It wanted to see us as responsible men.
In two weeks, we'd have to step onto the grill again when the Nevada Gaming Commission considered the Gaming Control Board's recommendation and made a final decision. The ante was raised. Our lawyer made plans to ask for an extension of the limitation. Every fact that had been revealed at the first meeting was sure to be scrutinized even further.
We'd gotten as far as we had by being ourselves, we decided, and that's the way we were going to stay. “It feels like I'm going to the electric chair,” Tim said as he approached the hearing. Mark Burnett's cameras were there to catch it all.
It was painful to watch Tim stand up to yet another inquisition. It was painful not only for me and our friends, but for my mother, who was battling colon cancer, and my father, who'd already worked through his own misconceptions of Tim.
My dad is the straightest arrow in the world. There is simply nobody more trustworthy. For thirty-three years, thousands of people stepped into a gigantic metal tube and depended on
him to lift all 873,000 pounds of it off the ground, navigate it through the clouds, and then land that tube safely six thousand miles away. Never once did he disappoint.
Now, Tim felt like shit as he looked over at my dad when my name was linked to the mob. And my dad, having gotten to know Tim, could barely keep himself from jumping out of his seat and giving the five members of the Nevada Gaming Commission an earful. “Let me tell you about these boysâ¦”
By the end of the hearing, we were beginning to understand what it would take. The chairman of the commission, Peter Bernhard, asked, “So let me be clear on this, Mr. Poster. Am I right in the knowledge that there's not one member of your ownership group that has ever had any experience running a casino operation?” When we agreed to bring in a team of experienced people, the board began to understand the seriousness of our intentions. It extended our license to four years with probation. When the hearing was over, Mark Burnett's cameras captured our hugs. All we had to do was wait until midnight before we got the keys to The Golden Nugget.
As we prepared for the celebration at the hotel, an elderly man and his wife, who were parked on the fourth floor of The Nugget's garage, drove through a retaining wall, and their car plunged to the street. Both died. The man had hit the gas instead of the brake, and it certainly wasn't the hotel's fault. But we were besieged with news reporters as helicopters hovered overhead.
The enormity of our undertaking was right in front of us. Tim and I were now responsible for 1,907 rooms and suites, 40,000 square feet of casino space, and nearly 2,800 full-and part-time employees. It was like being in charge of a little kingdom. As the clock ticked toward midnight and we prepared to
celebrate under these strange circumstances, our lawyers' cell phones were jangling at our table to sort out the accident while singing waiters were hitting operatic high notes.
Well, you can't call it an adventure if you know what's going to happen next.
At the stroke of midnight, January 23, 2004, it was all ours, and we lifted our glasses as Tim held up the keys to the joint.
“We've got the keys to the kingdom,” Tim said.
“But you're open twenty-four hours a day,” Perry said. “Why do you need keys?”
“To get in the cage,” Tim said, “That's where all the cash is.”
aybe the Gaming Control Board had good cause to wonder if we could be duped.
The first couple of days after we took over the casino were nuts. We were running around in a million directions without a moment to return congratulatory calls.
Lorenzo's brother, Frank, and The Sniffer phoned us again and again, but we were just overwhelmed. “Now that they're big shots,” Frank said, as he and The Sniffer drove down the highway, “they can't be bothered with guys like us. I wonder if they're taking Steve Wynn's calls?”
A moment later, the phone rang in Tim's office.
“Hello, Mr. Poster, please.”
“I'm afraid he's unavailable at the moment.”
“Darling, this is Steve Wynn calling. Is there any way I can speak to Mr. Poster?”
The Sniffer was biting his lip. Frank was doing a flawless Steve Wynn impersonation on the car phone.
“I believe he's down the hall,” Tim's secretary said. “Let me go find him.”
A minute later, Tim grabbed the phone huffing and puffing.
“Hello. Hello. Mr. Wynn?”
“Timmy, my boy, how are you?”
“Oh, I'm great, Mr. Wynn.”
“I just wanted to call and congratulate you on your purchase. You've got big balls, son. That's what I like about you. I just want to make sure you'll take good care of my baby.”
“Don't worry, Mr. Wynn, I'm gonna take care of your baby.”
At which point, The Sniffer and Frank just cracked up.
it was you, Frank!” Tim immediately shot back. “I knew it was you!”
Which only caused The Sniffer and Frank to laugh louder.
Which only caused Tim to slam down the phone.
Which only made The Sniffer and Frank laugh even harder.
To this day, The Sniffer claims, Tim will swear he knew who it was all alongâeven if you put bamboo shoots under his fingernails.
There were many things we learned when Steve Wynn joined us for dinner to celebrate our purchase of The Golden Nugget. One of them was that Steve would never say, “Timmy, my boy, take care of my baby!”
It was kind of surreal waiting for Steve Wynn to arrive as
guest. Steve was one of Tim's heroes when he was a kid. And I was still trying to adjust to the fact that I was now the owner
of a hotel-casino. Even though four days had passed since we'd taken over, I'd find myself walking through the bakery and asking if it were okay to grab a cookie. “Mr. Breitling,” one of the bakers responded. “You
As we waited for Steve's car to pull up, Tim begged me to get a grip. “Please,” he said, “don't say anything stupid!” He never let me forget the day I thought the VIG meant Very Important Gambler.
But one of the things I realized after meeting Steve Wynn was that I truly belonged.
When you think of Steve Wynn, you think Las Vegas. But Steve wasn't from Las Vegas, either. He'd come from farther away than I did, Maryland, where he'd grown up working at his father's bingo parlor before going on to study literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Frank Sinatra was not from Vegas. He was from Hoboken, New Jersey. Dean Martin was from Steubenville, Ohio. Sammy Davis Jr. was from Harlem. The executive who helped Steve Wynn lift The Golden Nugget and build the Mirage and the Bellagio, Bobby Baldwin, came to town as a poker player from Oklahoma City. The man famous for running the Horseshoe across the street from The Nugget, Benny Binion, drove to Vegas with $2 million in the back seat of his car along the dusty route from Texas. Las Vegas has always been a magnet for anyone who wanted to take his life to a new place. It embraced anyone willing to take a risk and work relentlessly to make it better.
At The Nugget, I was once again following Tim's lead. He was overseeing the casino side of the operation. I was in charge of entertainment. Once more, I was green. The extent of my experience in the entertainment business was booking Kool & the Gang for our Travelscape Christmas party. I didn't do too bad, though. Anytime you can get Tim Poster boogying on the dance floor, you know you've hit a home run.
The early years. My sixth birthday: a bike and a new brother on the same day.
The beginning of a partnership. Tim came to my graduation at the University of San Diego, May 1991.
Mom and Dad celebrate my dad's last flight as a Northwest Airlines pilot, 1999.
Tim, long before he discovered Brioni suits, with his bookmaking partner, Frank Toti Jr., and his Uncle Jimmy.
Their first meeting was tense, but Perry Rogers
and Andre Agassi have been smiling ever since.
(John C. Russell)
Mr. In-credible, Richie Rich, and Naaygs celebrate the sale of Travelscape to Expedia for $105 million with Tim and me at Piero's.
The Golden Nugget has been the grande dame of downtown since 1946.
Tim teaches “the square from Barnesville” a few tricks.
Two artists: Tony Bennett with his sonâand managerâDanny.
James Gandolfini with the real bosses
Steve and Elaine Wynn come back to The Nugget to give us their blessing and check on their “baby.”
There was nothing better than watching Tim in his glory.
The one and only “Johnny D”