Professional poker players packed into a Playboy-inspired suite at the Palms Wednesday night and raised their glasses in celebration of World Series of Poker’s imminent main event.
WSOP Event 57 begins Friday at the Rio.
Before then, however, both the pros and aspiring pros seem keen to party. And last night the card sharks gathered high atop the Fantasy Tower in the swanky, double-sized Hugh Hefner sky villa to do just that.
The party was presented by pkr.com, a U.K.-based online poker site.
Since Internet poker is illegal in the U.S., the majority of the closely guarded guest list consisted of the site’s European and Canadian customers.
Meanwhile, players’ spouses, hired models and the occasional American mixed and mingled as go-go dancers did their thing on both sides of an improvised dance floor on the main level and a DJ spun from the second floor.
Upstairs, attractive young women in mini-dresses lounged seductively on a rotating bed as the young players took turns joining them on what served as a very merry-go-round.
All the while, alcohol flowed from several open bars erected throughout the lavish $40,000-a-night suite.
As the party shifted into high gear at 11 p.m., organizers were being forced to hold the line downstairs after the crowd quickly reached capacity.
Would-be partiers resisted the tables and waited just off the casino floor, some more patiently than others, all eager for others to leave and free-up space inside the party for them.
Inside the suite, Tony “The Lizard” Bloom and Neil “Bad Beat” Channing sipped Coronas and took it all in. Both of the British card sharks are well-seasoned gamblers.
“I hardly used to gamble,” Channing said, “until my 10th birthday.”
“I’ve been gambling since the age of 8,” Bloom chimed in, explaining how, “Ten plus 8 is 18, almost legal age.”
Outside on the terrace, one of Bloom’s employees, Steve Edery, explained his strategy – or lack thereof – while waiting in the drink line.
“I’ve never played a hand in my life,” he said before quickly correcting himself.
“I played one,” he clarified. “Sorry.”
He said he experienced some beginner’s luck with that sole foray into the world of poker and is hoping his luck will continue on Friday.
“I won it,” he said. “I have a 100 percent record.”
Edery said he’s been doing some research to improve his game in advance of this week’s $10,000 buy-in contest.
“I’m bumping into people and asking them for random tips,” he said. “I’ve got no tactic whatsoever, no strategy.”
Still, it’s not like Edery has no one to talk to if he wants to learn the ropes.
“My boss is a very, very good poker player,” he said.
“Very, very good,” is an understatement: When tallied last year, Bloom’s winnings surpassed the $1.5-million mark.
And that’s just counting traditional, live poker, not any online poker wins.
Yet poker isn’t Bloom’s sole passion or income stream.
He serves as the chairman of the Football League One team Brighton and Hove Albion, and previously made a name for himself for holding a well-performing portfolio of property investments.
His performance at the poker table (and other areas of betting) is just a bonus.
“I have a lot of other business interests these days,” he said, “but I like to play poker.”
Channing, meanwhile, takes things more seriously. He last month placed 40th in WSOP Event 2 and has collected more than $2 million in winnings in live poker play.
Despite being based out of London, he acknowledged that he had spent more than his fair share of time in Las Vegas through the years.
“In my lifetime I’ve never been in Vegas longer than eight weeks at a time,” he said before casually mentioning how, in 2005, he spent 17 nonconsecutive weeks living and gambling at the Bellagio.
The 2008 Irish Poker Open champion recently added up all of the time he has spent in Las Vegas and said the result of his simple math was shocking.
“I’ve lived in Vegas for 2½ years!” he said, shaking his head in half-disbelief.
Before he began embarking on frequent trips to Las Vegas as a poker pro, Channing made his living as a bookmaker and earned a reputation for being “more generous than financially prudent.”
That generosity recently reared its head when he concocted what he himself described as “a scheme” where 50 players competed against each other on his Web site, BlackBeltPoker.com, for one of eight all-expense-paid trips to WSOP in Las Vegas.
“They had to play for six hours a day, five days a week, and in four games at once,” he said.
“We judged them over a series of trials,” the frequent Bluff Europe magazine columnist said, and selected his top picks after reviewing the metrics.
Channing made a range of concessions for the so-called “great eights:” He paid for their travel arrangements. He rented a sprawling mansion in Summerlin, complete with pool, Jacuzzi, and pinball machine, for all of them to stay in. He covered more than $160,000 in entry fees, among other things.
Unsurprisingly, there is a catch: Anything the “crazy eights” win, they have to split, 50-50, with Channing’s company.
The winning players are all males between the ages of 22 and 30. The presumably lucky lads have been in Las Vegas for a few weeks now, and have played in five smaller tournaments in advance of Friday’s main event, WSOP 57.
Roland De Wolfe is another – and presumably the most-accomplished – poker pro who was at last night’s party.
He joined American player Gavin Griffin as the second person to achieve a trifecta of wins with victories in WSOP, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour tournaments.
He won a WSOP bracelet and nearly $250,000 last month, in a WSOP Omaha Hi-Low Split 8 or Better tournament.
Prior to this, De Wolfe’s biggest Las Vegas victory was back in 2006 when he won more than $1-million with a third-place finish in the World Poker Tournament championship at the Bellagio.
In all, he has collected more than $4.75-million in live tournament winnings – and, once again, the total does not include any online poker gains.
De Wolfe has been in town for about a month now and said that he’s still up, despite playing countless hands of cards and shelling out about $50,000 in entry fees and buy-ins.
He said he'd been trying to behave himself and stay focused at the task at hand, despite the city’s ample distractions, flashing lights and sequined dancers.
“I’ve been coming here every summer for the past five years and have been going out to the clubs and all the rest,” he said. “This time around I said (expletive) it, I’m going to focus on poker.”
The former Inside Edge reporter said he had successfully shunned the city’s famed-yet-potentially-distracting nightlife and had reaped the rewards.
He smiled as he recounted his Event 27 winnings, then politely concluded, “It’s paid off.”
While he and the others are looking forward to Friday’s main event and today’s star-studded lineup for the third-annual Ante Up for Africa tournament, Channing said this week has already proved to be a very interesting one around the card tables.
“I’ve been playing poker with Nelly all week at the Rio,” he said, smiling as the words left his mouth.
“He’s a great guy, he’s very funny,” Channing said.
The Grammy Award-winning, chart-topping rapper is scheduled to appear at Jet on Monday.
The hip-hopper is no stranger to the world of poker, and played in WSOP’s Main Event two years ago.
While Channing said that Nelly made a good impression, the British card shark said he won’t be forgetting the rapper’s omnipresent entourage any time soon, either.
“He has enormous bodyguards!” he said.