Beer and Pwning In Las Vegas
Unleashed in Las Vegas for the very first time as a guest of Betfair Poker, Duncan Wilkie recounts his experiences of Sin City.
“I won’t be seduced by the madness. I won’t be seduced by the madness. I won’t...”
These were the words that I found repeating over and over in my head as we began our descent into Las Vegas, but as the plane nosed into McCarran International I knew all hope was lost. It was exactly like they said it would be.
Having been a poker journalist for over four years now my first visit to Sin City was long overdue, but thanks to a deal thrashed out with Betfair ahead of the WSOP I’d finally been given my chance. This was to be my Fear and Loathing-style pilgrimage.
Playing the part of my Samoan attorney on the trip was my housemate James – a fellow Vegas virgin – and our combined awe at the vast casino structures looming over us as we landed soon put paid to any chance of feigning nonchalance.
Quite simply, from the moment we set foot on the baking Nevada soil, Vegas felt like a land of opportunity, a place where anything can – and frequently does – happen and we were both determined to enjoy this sprawling neon metropolis to its fullest.
Thankfully, our quest to do so was rendered immeasurably easier by being in the city courtesy of Betfair’s “Vegas Experience” package, and – after checking into our suite at the Palazzo – it became apparent that our hosts knew exactly how to “do” the city.
Our first port of call was to head poolside and get acclimatised to the searing desert heat and there, with ice-cold beers in hand, we liaised with Fran and the team from Betfair, who presented us with an itinerary as impressive as the resort around us.
With a different and unique event planned for virtually every day of our stay, it was clear that Fran was willing to spare no expense to make sure all the Betfair qualifiers would have a trip to remember – and it began with welcome drinks.
A 30-strong team of Betfair players including John Tabatabai, Hans Martin Vogl and the site’s newest recruit, Jon Driscoll, met in the Laguna Bar as the drink and the conversation began to flow, and online enemies rapidly became firm friends.
To say it was a sociable occasion would be an understatement in the extreme, and before long the party had spilled out of our designated area and overtaken the entire bar as Taba’s magnetic personality attracted a vast entourage of fellow revellers.
The rowdy mob finally dispersed in the small hours of the morning to get some sleep ahead of a big day at the tables, but the previous night’s banter was reconvened over breakfast at the Grand Lux Cafe before a fleet of limos ferried us all to the Rio.
THE BUSINESS END
Unfortunately, the stylish nature of our arrival didn’t manifest itself in my play during Event #59 (see our Academy section for a full write-up), but the tournament was far from a washout for Team Betfair, with seven players all successfully beating the bubble.
Norwegian player Harald Olsen was the last Betfair player standing until he crashed out to a three-outer in 22nd place for over $20k – and he thought he’d suffered another beat when he had to hand over 50% of his loot to girlfriend Elisabeth Hille.
If the name sounds familiar, it certainly should as the lovely Lizzie took her share of the money and used it to enter the WSOP Main Event, where she returned the favour in style by finishing 11th for $590,000. Her reward, as well as the cash? A new contract as a Betfair pro.
All was not lost for those who didn’t fare as well as Elisabeth and Harald at the tables, however, as there was still a wealth of things to do on the Betfair roster and players were soon trading bad beat stories over a team dinner at Lagasse’s Stadium.
While the eating, drinking and American pool hustling lasted long into the night, a few of us decided to take the opportunity to escape the confines of the Strip and head downtown for a real slice of Vegas culture – we certainly weren’t disappointed.
After taking in the light show at Fremont Street, we visited some true Sin City landmarks in the shape of The Golden Nugget and Binion’s Horseshoe – home to the disappointing Poker Hall of Fame – before hitting the felt for some low-stakes action.
From the seedy “pleasure pits” where girls dressed as Playboy bunnies smile sweetly as they lay waste to your bankroll to the desperate site of a man wearing nothing more than a bikini dancing for dollars, this was the tackier side to Vegas we wanted.
Downtown Vegas has character: it’s gaudy, it’s in your face and it’s sometimes even dangerous – but it’s also a lot of fun, and after resisting the urge to go for a burger in a joint where people over 360lb eat for free, we returned to the Strip fully satisfied.
If the previous night had been a warts-and-all look at the dirtier side of Las Vegas, the Betfair players’ party couldn’t have been more different as we took to the opulent Surrender nightclub at the Wynn’s Encore resort for a night of all-out decadence.
The club itself was huge, encompassing a dance floor, gaming tables, countless pools and a row of private “bungalows” of which two had been reserved for Betfair and their guests, who were only too happy to take advantage of the table service.
Needless to say after several days at the felt, this was the big blow-out many qualifiers had been waiting for and though one in particular was so awe-struck his surroundings that he inadvertently walked into a pool, a fantastic time was had by all.
With Betfair wisely scheduling a day off from any activities on Sunday so players could rest and recuperate, I shook off my hangover by putting in a decent shift at the cash tables and was happy to find they were even worse than I’d been promised.
Waking up the next morning with a clear head and replenished wallet, there was still time for one last Betfair treat – and given the drab weather being reported back home in London, it was the one I was most looking forward to: a day on Lake Mead.
There, the Betfair party beach gave the qualifiers a final opportunity to soak up some sun, enjoy yet more complimentary alcohol and take part in some jet-skiing, doughnut-ing and other fun activities organised by a “water-soluble” John Tabatabai.
With perfect weather and all the team in attendance, it was a brilliant end to a fantastic week with Betfair, and with the amount of effort they put into taking care of their players, you really could believe the goodbyes that vowed: “I’ll see you next year.”
VIP TALES: Rajesh Modha
WPT Poker spoke to the former Poker Million V winner and Betfair WSOP Trials qualifier following his cash in Event #59.
From qualifying in a freeroll to cashing at the WSOP – that’s quite a spin-up!
Oh yeah, it’s been brilliant. I made it here without spending any money and I had a good run in the $1,000 [WSOP NLHE] event and cashed. I can’t ask for anything more – well, a final table would have been nice, but hey!
How did you find the tournament as an experience?
It went fine. I played a pretty steady game and didn’t take that many risks to begin with. I was sitting pretty without ever having a massive stack, but I kept chipping up and stealing the blinds to make sure I was never in danger.
Having been to Vegas many times before, how have Betfair been as hosts?
Betfair have been great. They’ve been taking care of me and have organised so many things for us all to do in Vegas. Obviously you’re never going to get bored here, but Betfair have been brilliant at arranging something different each day.
Are you enjoying the camaraderie that comes with being in Team Betfair?
John [Tabatabai] and all the pros are a really good laugh to hang out with. You can let your hair down with them and have a really good time, so there’s been a fantastic atmosphere within the team and it’s brilliant to be a part of that with Betfair.