San Francisco, CA
It's hard to believe we've been emissaries for eight years. The WPBT's annual Winter Gathering thrives even in the wake of online poker prohibition. Black Friday did not deter an eclectic group of a hundred or so people from descending upon Las Vegas for a weekend of lurid debauchery.
The WPBT began as a bad inside joke like a half-baked Saturday Night Live sketch that morphed into a global phenomena and yearly pilgrimage. In his next book, Malcolm Gladwell should write about the compelling story of how an innocuous weekend in Las Vegas became a sanctuary for an unusual group of people, which originated from a couple of potheads from the Bronx and two cynical brothers from Michigan. For as long as I can remember, I flew from NYC to Las Vegas twice a year with my brother to occupy the sportsbook for a couple of days (March Madness in the Spring and another sojourn at the end of the year to bet on football). Our trip in 2004 was enticing to our friends, BG and Bobby Bracelet (back before he was even given the "Bracelet" moniker by my brother), and they instantly joined in the fun. Once the peanut gallery found out, the trip ballooned to over 30 poker enthusiasts.
When I (loosely) organized the first Winter Classic with the Poker Prof, we thought it was going to be just a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet virtual friends, many of whom we had never met before. The first trip was a whim for many of the participants involved, yet the first gathering spawned a yearly pilgrimage. The group grew. Fast. Infectious. Huge. Then things got out of control as it became a flash mob of several hundred, inebriated degenerates clashing with cowboys on the Strip.
Eight years later, the weekend still exists which is a testament to the people involved. The original weekend in 2004 was never about online poker, gambling or a pissing match -- rather it was a whimsical leap of faith in an attempt to nurture a sincere, yet genuine connection that we all made through the virtual world with online poker as our portal. Many of us originally booked their flights because we were seeking out a shared visceral experience in Sin City. The rest is history.
The inaugural WPBT gathering occurred right smack in the middle of the glorious poker boom during the halcyon days of "blogs" before Facebook and Twitter hijacked the social media cloud. From the outset, we were a rag-tag bunch of geeky writers and online poker addicts, which is why the Big Business vultures were circling around our gatherings. They dispatched savvy marketing agents and seized the weekend as an opportunity to bribe the poker blogging community. Any publicity is publicity. Simply put, the slithery tentacles of the poker industry octopus would hand out free shit with hopes that we'd write about it (and link it up) on our blogs. Fair enough.
Everyone loves two things: kittens and free shit. Alas, handing out furry adorable felines inside a poker room seems a little weird, even by Vegas standards, but the rest of the free stuff was welcomed. Over the last eight years, major online poker rooms competed with each other to get the attention of the WPBT. Some marketing ploys succeeded. Some definitely missed. Some of the online rooms outright exploited us. Maybe it wasn't a fair deal for everyone involved, but in the end we all had a good time and acquired some free shit. Let's not forget the last-longer pots were sweetened and the liquored flowed, while the industry unloaded tons of free trinkets (made in China, of course) like decks of playing cards, card cappers, t-shirts, and hats.
The annual weekend had become an orgy of consumption, yet this year took a slightly healthier bent when a small group of friends decided they wanted to run the Las Vegas half-marathon. If you haven't heard, the race was plagued with logistical issues and it's remarkable that everyone finished despite the clusterfuck. Regardless, the race was the perfect example of the quirkiness of our group -- from the runners in the half-marathon to the bunch of us screaming like banshees near the finish line.
We've done this eight times. Nothing can top the first one, but the eighth one will always stand out.
* * *
I arrived Friday and was already stuck. I asked StB to put a bet down on a college basketball game on Thursday. It lost. Even though the game was not on TV (nor could I find it online), I was sweating the score via my CrackBerry while seeing the film J. Edgar with Change100 at a theatre around the corner from our apartment in San Francisco. The movie was so boring that I refreshed the score every few minutes. I didn't even get to the airport and I was already down. That was an ominous sign that the gambling gods were going to fuck with me all weekend.
I departed San Francisco on Friday morning and ran into Katitude at the airport, which was odd because she's Canadian and supposed to be flying from Toronto to Vegas, yet she had a random layover in SFO. Even more weird? She was on my same flight. SFO > LAS.
I checked into Aria and had a Jerry Seinfeld moment at the front desk because of the reservation snafu. I found paid StB slamming Widmer at the bar in front of the sportsbook and I paid my debt. We went inside and studied the lines for upcoming games. I scanned the different screens back and forth when my brother piped up, "What the fuck is Lingerie Football?"
StB checked his iPhone and discovered the Lingerie League was a legit league with 12 teams of women playing football in pads and... lingerie. It's the kind of sports entertainment that strikes an angry nerve with feminists and even makes sport purists squirm. Even with a competitive angle, Lingerie Football is classic Americana Whiskey Tango Entertainment. Heck, it's nearly soft core porn which is why it only appeared on PPV. Even if we bet on the game, we couldn't watch it. What's the point to betting on something you can't watch? You have no sweat equity.
Fantasy versus the Crush. The Fantasy were the favorite and laying 8.5 points. I had no clue if that was good, or not. I couldn't even tell you the cities the teams were from. In case you were wondering -- Cleveland and Orlando. But which one was the Fantasy?
We bet on it anyway. Our first impulsive degen moment of the weekend. Five minutes before kickoff, we stood in front of the sportsbook and pooled our money -- Derek, Chilly, Iggy, StB, Maudie and myself. StB walked up to the window. My only regret was that we didn't bet more.
StB sprinted to the window and tried to joke around with a humorless woman in a Jim Kelly Buffalo Bill's jersey. She took our bet on the Limgerie Football game, but didn't care for our shtick. Too bad she wasn't working when we cashed our winning ticket, because StB would've rubbed it in. Bad.
Our career as a Lingerie Football betting syndicate was short-lived. No other games were scheduled while we were in town, so we'd have to disband the group indefinitely. At least we turned a profit. In fact, Lingerie Football was the only bet I'd win on Thursday or Friday. I was mired in a slump after whiffing on a college hoops game (I tried to fade the Ivy League and took Loyola Marymount -9 against Columbia) and a college football game. In a Six Degrees of Separation moment, Chilly randomly mentioned that he knew the head coach of the team I had bet on.
"What the fuck, Chilly? Why didn't you tell me? Send him a text and tell him he better score lots of points."
Around Midnight, Chilly hustled me in a prop bet -- how many of his toes were painted with nail polish? He gave me 7-1 odds and I instantly bombarded him with questions. After I extracted some answers, I barked out: three. I was wrong as he took off his shoes and socks to settle the bet, much to the delight of the eye in the sky. Chilly revealed his toes, which normally would horrify most sane people, yet the Friday night crowd was distracted with the edifice of Elvis -- a bust near the entrance to Viva Elvis, his new Cirque du Soleil show. A steady flow of tourists stopped in front of the bust all night and snapped photos with the bronzed statue of Elvis' head. A pack of soused cougars took turns molesting and making out with the head, but that all that sexual frisson overshadowed a semi-circle of shit-faced degens standing around Chilly as he wiggled his toes.
Whenever someone new showed up at the bar, Chilly attempted to run the same hustle. We didn't get busted so I suspect whoever was watching the eye in the sky was a foot fetishist and/or had a thing for portly bald guys.
To be continued...