Writer’s Note: I’ll try and write up the final chapter of the Chris Moneymaker “behind the scenes” story in the next day or so. In the meantime, here’s something from the Binion’s Horseshoe era that happened in August 2003.
Remembering back ten years ago to the days working at Binion’s Horseshoe, I’m reminded of my all too brief career as a reality television “star.”
Fresh off our public relations coup from the 2003 World Series of Poker and the ESPN broadcast which was attracting huge ratings, my cell phone never stopped ringing. From that instant forward — Las Vegas, gambling, and poker were hot topics. My philosophy was — anyone with a television camera was allowed to film inside the casino. We didn’t care who they were.
That policy made us really different. While the corporate stiffs on the other end of The Strip practically made things impossible (they wanted forms filled out, lawyers’ signatures, proof of insurance, total bullshit), we opened up our doors to the entire world. We rolled out the red carpet, and let everyone inside.
I had complete power over all of this, my authority granted by “the family.” Casino boss Nick Behnen green lighted me to do pretty much anything with media, one of the reasons I loved working for him and for the Horseshoe. He got it, if you know what I mean. So, true to our wild west heritage where just about anything was permitted, legendary Binion’s Horseshoe developed a reputation as the one casino in Las Vegas where all it took was one phone call to bring cameras in the door and start shooting. The word spread quickly. For several months, just about every television show featuring Las Vegas and gambling was filmed at Binions Horseshoe — with our logo and trademark emblazoned on the screen. You couldn’t buy the kind of publicity we were getting for free.
Perhaps 20 to 30 television shows and a dozen commercials were filmed during that final year, many of them documentaries and gambling features. There were also a few television shows and movies. I brought in three episodes of MTV’s Viva La Bam and even choreographed one of the gambling scenes where we cold decked a man in a wheelchair and then dumped him out on the street (seriously).
But the most outrageous occasion was when a reality television show from Holland called up in a panic and informed they wanted to start shooting as quickly as possible. Somehow a film crew had flown into Las Vegas straight from Amsterdam and then had a falling out with the casino where filming was scheduled to take place. So, we came to the rescue and said, “come on down.”
The stars were all from Dutch television. They paraded around the casino while lights and cameras followed them everywhere. Oddly enough, the distractions in the pit area actually made the gambling scene pretty exciting. People like to be on TV, so those cameras didn’t hurt business any. Of course, none of those who were actually caught on camera had any idea the footage would end up somewhere in The Netherlands.
An awful half-written script called for a Dutch couple, who were the stars of the show, to accidentally run into a “professional gambler.” I’m not exactly sure what happened with their casting. But the shooting schedule broke down during the second day. They couldn’t find the ideal American to co-star in a few key scenes. He was supposed to portray a shady slime ball character who would con the Dutch couple out of all their money. As I understood it, they simply thought Las Vegas was full of shady characters and they could just pluck someone off the street as a stand in for the paart. So, they didn’t even bother to pre-cast the role.
I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. My duty was to stand around and make sure the filming went smooth. That’s it. The director repeatedly buttered me up with praise about being helpful. One thing led to another and that led to him ask a favor. The director requested that I play the role as a stand in, which was presumably going to be just one scene and a short take.
I couldn’t exactly follow what in the hell was going on since they were all talking in Dutch language. But they decided to move the filming location. Somehow, we ended up moving across town and doing a night shot at The Palms Casino. The film crew arranged to set up at Alize, the high-dollar penthouse restaurant, which was completely cleared out from 11 at night until 6 am. It was a night shoot. The scenes were supposed to be inside the couple’s hotel suite — but with the backdrop of the Las Vegas Strip. Some additional furniture was brought in, including a bed.
What was that all about?
What was going on here, I thought. I started fearing I might end up with a bit part in a Dutch porn movie.
Filming went for a few hours and I just sat and watched the scenes as they did take after take. I didn’t understand a word of anything. The couple was even filmed in bed kissing during one short scene. But at least it wasn’t porno.
When it was finally my turn to be on camera, I couldn’t believe the lines they wanted me to say. My scenes were apparently going to run with subtitles over my dialogue. But everyone in Holland speaks English, so it hardly mattered. They wanted a someone who was authentic from Las Vegas to teach the couple “how to gamble” and I was supposedly a master of blackjack. I couldn’t digest the hideous script I’d been given, with improper lingo and phrases about blackjack and gambling. So, most of my lines were made up on the spot. No one cared. When we finished shooting late that night, the director informed me that he needed some “B-Roll” footage of me acting like a gambler.
“Acting like a gambler.” What does that mean? Like throwing dice?
I’d soon find out. The hard way.
The following afternoon, I showed up at a discount car rental place. It was called something like “Exotic Car Rentals.” I hoped they’d put me in a fancy sports car. But instead, the film company rented me a 1959 Cadillac convertible — the model with the giant tail fins. It was bright yellow and ugly as shit. Worse, it was banged up and had a loud muffler. But the biggest embarrassment of all was the license plate: HI ROLLR
Picture Tony Montana’s car in Scarface. I was filmed driving up and down the Las Vegas Strip in a yellow 1959 Cadillac with a muffler that backfired, with plates that said HI ROLLR. The 30 minutes of B-Roll turned into two fucking hours. And of course, the impossible happened.
Never mind that it was August and like 111 degrees.
That’s right, it began raining just as the filming began. It felt like the inside of a steam bath.
The only thing I was thinking about was — please don’t let anyone I know see me. Don’t let me run into anyone that can identify me and think this yellow shitbox is really my car and this is how I live.
The filming ended and I was told that my final “scenes” would be shot on Fremont Street that night.
This was the most humiliating moment of all. I almost refused to do it. Trouble was, the crew were all so nice and it was explained they were desperate to wrap up the filming.
The crew asked me to put on a bright red silk shirt, which looked like they’d bought off the rack at Goodwill. Actually, I think it was. The shirt was something I’d never be caught dead in. They also made me wear one of those “in-your-fucking-face” twenty-dollar gold pieces, the kind Jimmy “the Greek” used to hang around his neck. It was ridiculous. I had the buttons on my shirt open and this faux gold chain with a medallion hanging down to my stomach. I felt like slime.
The worst thing was — they wanted me to walk beneath the fully-lit Fremont Street Experience canopy, in between the giant neon casino signs. A camera was placed in front of me down around knee level and shot upward while I cock walked down Fremont Street with the FOUR QUEENS and GOLDEN NUGGET signs flashing in the back. I was told to act like the biggest jerk-off on the entire block, like some kind of barnyard rooster.
This was supposed to be how a “professional gambler” lives. Yeah right.
My utter humiliation came from the catcalls of bystanders. There was no security around , so people got right into the shot which didn’t matter much since it was reality television. When tourists saw the cameras and giant sound mike on a boom, they thought a major Hollywood movie was being filmed. Gawkers started gathering around. Then, when the tourists saw me walking in the spotlight, all I heard for the next 30 minutes were comments like, “let’s go, he’s not anyone famous.“ And, “Who the fuck is that?”
So, I pretty much cock walked Fremont Street that night while the cameras rolled and filmed me as a “professional gambler” who conned the poor Dutch people out of their vacation money. A few hours later, the crew shot one final scene in the pit at the Horseshoe and that was a wrap.
Months later, I received a rough cut of the show on a CD in the mail from the television company. Apparently, the show aired once as a pilot in The Netherlands. But it wasn’t picked up. It was cancelled after just one showing. I couldn’t understand any of it, but what I could make out about the story was hideous. I came across looking like a child molester.
My career as a television star was over. And I wasn’t nominated for an Emmy.Read More