Writer’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles about Chris Moneymaker’s stunning victory at the 2003 World Series of Poker and what went on behind the scenes at Binion’s Horseshoe — before, during, and after.
Part 1 — War of the Binion’s
The 2002 Hall of Fame tournament was a disaster. A colossal failure. It would be the last Hall of Fame tournament ever held.
Now, you have to understand that the Hall of Fame tournament used to be a really big deal. Jack Binion ran two major tournaments each year — the WSOP and the Hall of Fame. The later was done in conjunction with the official announcement of the latest inductee(s) into the Poker Hall of Fame. Usually a dozen tournaments were scheduled for what was basically a redux of the WSOP. The winners received gold watches emblazoned with the Horseshoe emblem.
By September of 2002, the Hall of Fame — much like Binion’s Horseshoe — had become a shell of it’s former greatness. That final fateful tournament was held downstairs at Binion’s Horseshoe — just as it had been during the previous 15 years. But this time an odd thing happened. Nobody showed up. The biggest names in poker, namely Doyle Brunson and Chip Reese were still boycotting the Horseshoe out of their loyalty to Jack, and that undoubtedly hurt attendance. Some of the tournaments drew a dozen players. A few events were even canceled. It was an embarrassment.
This week marks the ten-year anniversary of Chris Moneymaker’s stunning victory at the 2003 World Series of Poker. It was the spark which lit the fuse of what became known as “the poker boom.”
So much has already been written and said about Moneymaker’s rags to riches triumph, that his story now seems to be old news.
Or is it?
There’s a lot of background stuff no one knows. Things that went on behind the scenes that very few people saw. Events related to the decline and eventual demise of what was a Las Vegas landmark called Binion’s Horseshoe. Whispered conversations off in the shadows about what some people in authority really thought. Chaos at a exact moment of poker’s most celebrated moment. Backroom developments related to the television broadcast during that first year of extended coverage. Personal incidents and management blow ups I was involved with that shaped own my career, and others, too. Amazing stories that happened late nights inside the poker room, some of which involved members of the Binion Family.
I plan to tell you about some of it. However, a few details will have to wait until some people are long gone.
In my upcoming series of articles (the number and length of which is yet to be determined — probably as long as I feel like writing), I’ll remember back on that stupendous year in poker, probably the most monumental era in the history of the game. At the time, I served as Media Director for the World Series of Poker (seasonal) as well as head of Public Relations for Binion’s Horseshoe (year around).
This marks the first time I’ve ever written about these events.
COMING NEXT: BEFORE THE STORM: BINION’S HORSESHOE (2002)
Photo Caption: Gary Thompson’s bloody right leg on the golf course at Angel Park.
When I grow up, I want to be Gary Thompson.
At the very least, I want to be as much like him as I can (aside from his horribly misguided political views).
Gary has spent nearly a lifetime working mostly in the shadows, which is a damn shame because he usually outshines just about everyone he’s around. The current corporate spokesman for Caesars Entertainment and former Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Sun newspaper never quite lets on all the interesting things he’s done or those he knows on a first-name basis — which includes just about everyone who’s anyone in the casino business or hoists political power in Nevada.
So, who is Gary Thompson? Born and raised in Connecticut, this is a man who served in the military and was once stationed in Pakistan during the height of the Cold War. He worked in a high-powered New York City public relations firm for many years. Gary ultimately relocated to Las Vegas where he ran the day-to-day operations of the city’s newspaper. In fact, Gary was at the forefront of local media during what was arguably the most interesting era of Las Vegas and its rich and colorful history. After that, Gary went to work as the head of PR for Harrah’s Entertainment, which acquired control of the World Series of Poker in 2004. A lifelong poker enthusiast, Gary assumed the pivotal role as head of communications for the WSOP for a few years, which is when we worked closely together. But he was sorely missed back at the highest levels. Gary proved so indispensable to CEO Gary Loveman that he was asked to return to his former high-profile position as the primary spokesman for the world’s largest gaming company. Today, when you read an official statement from Caesars Entertainment somewhere in the media, it’s usually Gary who gets quoted.
Gary has also experienced some serious challenges and setbacks, both personal and professional. Undoubtedly, losing his wife of nearly three decades was his most irreplaceable loss (he now has a wonderful woman in his life named Gina, as well as a daughter). A few years ago, Gary was diagnosed with cancer, which he battled with unwavering bravery and inspiration which is so characteristic of this exceptional man, now in his late 60′s — but who acts and behaves like someone less than half his age. He’s like a fine wine, getting better with the years.
Indeed, Gary has been my mentor for a decade, although the association is sure to make him shiver in horror. Disclaimer: I can assure everyone that I turned out this way despite Gary’s best efforts and good intentions.
Golf is so annoyingly Republican.
It’s an arrogant game played by rich people. It’s a criminal waste of precious water and land. It’s a firewall intended to preserve oligarchy. And it relies on minimum-wage making Mexicans to do all the landscaping and maintenance.
I despise golf. I hate private country clubs even worse. But this bitter resentment has nothing to do with politics. It’s because, when it comes to golf – I fucking suck.
Yesterday, I was granted a rare invite to play a luxury golf course called “Cascata.” Think of it this way. If Shadow Creek is the Maserati of golf courses in Las Vegas, then Cascata is most certainly the Lamborghini. This resort is so exclusionary that no signs are posted outside showing the way. It doesn’t advertise. It doesn’t have to. Cascata is the golf course for super high-rollers.
Carved into a rocky mountainside, the course is nestled unassumingly between Henderson and Boulder City. Walk-ins are not welcome. The greens fee is $350 per round — and that doesn’t include the cost of a mandatory caddy, which adds an extra whack to your wallet.
My misappropriated invitation came courtesy of two close friends — namely Marissa (probably best known as the tax accountant for many of the world’s top poker pros) and Matt Savage (international tournament director extraordinaire and TDA co-founder). Maryann Savage (Matt’s lovely wife) also blessed us with her presence. And of course, there was that costly caddy.
And so my story begins.
Writer’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series. Part 1 can be read here: THE AFRICAN INTERVIEWS (PART 1)
Each of us has our own secrets. Things we’ve done we later regret. Moments in our lives we’re not proud of.
I’m about to tell you one of mine.
There are two kinds of jobs. Some which you apply for. Others that come to you, seemingly out of nowhere. They just happen.
This one just happened. It came to me unexpectedly — and to this day — I have no idea exactly how or why.
My home telephone rang. The voice on the line identified himself as someone who worked for the South African Government. It was a friendly voice. Cordial even. He knew I was unemployed and looking for a job.
Being out of work sucks. I’d sent out several resumes. However, I don’t ever recall applying with the South African Government. It’s pure speculation now, but perhaps a generic advertisement was placed in the “Help Wanted” section of The Washington Post and then someone plucked my resume out from among those that responded. Who knows?
South Africa was undergoing changes that were truly revolutionary. The repressive state policy of Apartheid was taking its final deep desperate breaths, but was by no means expunged. If anything, those who benefited most from the old order were still in power. Although the government did transform itself by official decree in 1990, most of those who still worked in South Africa’s foreign service (and related intelligence agencies) were holdovers from the bad old days. No doubt, these were some real ball busters. A government doesn’t simply change all of its personnel overnight and it took many years to ultimately make South Africa and its diplomatic corps far more reflective of the actual racial and cultural makeup of the nation.