The Scene: Atlantic City, New Jersey
The Date: December 5, 2005
The Problem: I need to raise $120,000 in cash by the following morning.
Sometimes, it’s a wonderful life. Other times, it’s not.
If you want to discover who your friends really are — try to borrow money. This is especially true in the poker world.
On a bitterly cold night in December of 2005, I was in a state of panic. I desperately needed $120,000 in cash by the following morning. The time was 7 pm.
At the time, I had about $150 in my pocket. That left me $119,850 short — give or take a few coins.
A bad situation was made much worse by several problems. First, this was a Monday night — the slowest time of the week in Atlantic City. Second, it was 20 degrees and snowing outside. Third, the Philadelphia Eagles were playing on Monday Night Football, which meant anyone I could conceivably shake down for money was busy watching the ball game. Finally — this was the deadest time of year, early December on the New Jersey shore. The place was a ghost town.
So, what does one do? Where does one go to raise $120,000 in cash when you’re desperate and failure is not an option?
Chances are, you’ve never heard of Mark Fleddermann.
Over the years, he’s led what can be described as an unglamorous existence, grinding out at living at the poker tables. If surviving on a fluctuating bankroll and weathering the financial swings that accompany playing for a living were to be an art form, then Fleddermann would be poker’s Picasso.
By 2009, Fleddermann had long since departed his cherished St. Louis roots and had moved to Las Vegas. Trouble was, the poker games on The Strip were getting much tougher during the post-boom era and Fleddermann was going through one of the worst runs of his life. Making matters worse, the world economy had tanked by January of that year, leaving many of the game’s best players scrambling trying to raise a stake.
Nearly penniless, Fleddermann was nearly out of options. That’s when his old pal Tom Christopher stepped into the picture.
Fellow veteran grinder and St. Louis native Christopher was just as fed up with the Las Vegas poker scene. So, the desperate duo started mulling over the possibilities. It was perfectly clear. They needed to do something drastic. It was time to get out of town. Trouble was — both men were busted. Besides, where would they go? What would they do? Get jobs? Shudder.
I never saw it coming.
But least there was justification for my naivete.
I’m wiped out. Mentally exhausted. It’s the last of twelve working days covering the World Series of Poker Circuit at the Palm Beach Kennel Club. The final stretch has turned into an 18-hour death match. A workday that began at 11 am is now crawling past 4 am. During a short break in the “action,” I step outside for some much-needed peace and quiet.
But things rarely go as we plan.
Camped out in front of the darkened grandstand, I’m alone. And that’s just the way I want it. Peace. Quiet. Darkness.
Trouble is, there’s a shadowy figure looming on the horizon. Worse, he’s headed straight towards me.
Moments later, the shadowy distraction has metastasized into an annoyance looking straight at me puffing away on a cigarette.
“Hey buddy, how’s it going?”
Me: “Hey.” (What I’m really thinking: “Oh, fuck”)
“I just played with the worst poker player in the world. He’s in there playing right now!”
The first thing I heard was the roar of the engine.
It was Phil Ivey’s silver Mercedes SLR McLaren and the beast was barreling straight towards me.
If I ever get flattened by a motor vehicle, I hope to hell it’s a $285,000 luxury car. What a way to go out with a bang. Far more chivalrous getting mowed down by Ivey who’s late for his a golf match than being mashed by some late night boozer wheeling a Dodge Neon.
I somehow managed to survive that instant in the parking lot at TPC Las Vegas. Question was, would I survive a full 18 holes playing with Ivey?
Let’s start with the obvious problem. I’m a terrible golfer.
Make that worse than terrible. What’s a stronger adjective?
I’m horrifically shitty. In other words, my golf game stinks.
Phil Ivey and Greg Raymer have no idea what they’re in for today. Witnessing my golf game and sharing the embarrasment of me windmilling my way across the prairie will by like hauling an anvil around what I’m told is a six-mile, 18-hole golf course. And, we must walk it all. Carts aren’t permitted here.
Now, here’s where you have to understand what golf is really all about. Anyone who thinks golf is about chasing some little white ball around a park and trying to hit it into a tiny hole, doesn’t have a fucking clue. Golf is about two things — status and power.
Unfortunately, you can’t fake either. Which pretty much leaves me fucked.
If Nevada’s leap into the the abyss during the summer of 2011 as the first state to legalize online poker was the first domino to fall, New Jersey’s apparent decision to do the same thing yesterday should set off a tumbling progression of activity in states to follow which will eventually make American online poker a reality.
While measures to legalize online poker at the federal level remain firewalled due to continuing pockets of resistance and appalling legislative incompetency, some states are moving ahead independently without hesitation, preparing to implement their own ideas about how to deal with online poker issues. The most progressive of these states now includes Nevada , Delaware, and New Jersey — with Iowa expected soon to follow [Footnote 1].
But the biggest prize and the ultimate lynch pin for what would be another poker explosion is undoubtedly California.
That said, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
Footnote 1: I’m intentionally omitting the District of Columbia which also legalized online poker, but remains stuck in a legal quagmire as to its future.
* * *
So, what do the latest developments in New Jersey mean, not just to poker within that state, but the rest of the nation?
It likely means that legal online poker (and much broader gambling options) are coming to New Jersey, and its nine million residents. While Nevada was indeed the very first state to legalize online poker 18 months ago, no one is expecting web companies operating within the “Silver State” to initially to turn much of a profit. With less than three million residents and intense competition statewide from land-based casinos, there simply aren’t enough poker players within Nevada’s borders to sustain profits, without the potential for wider expansion in the form of pacts with similar states.