Sexton's Corner, Vol. 18: Poker's Only $10 Billion Player
Have you ever thought about what a billion dollars looks like? It is a thousand piles of a million dollars each; $10 billion is 10,000 piles of a million dollars. If you added up the top ten poker-tournament money winners of all time, here is what the picture would look like:
1. Jamie Gold — $12,165,973
2. Joe Hachem — $10,353,970
3. Daniel Negreanu — $ 9,314,464
4. Allen Cunningham — $ 8,735,148
5. Carlos Mortensen — $ 8,339,895
6. Jerry Yang — $8,250,000
7. Phil Hellmuth Jr. — $7,989,714
8. Paul Wasika — $7,477,346
9. Phil Ivey — $7,181,151
10. Scotty Nguyen — $6,875,203
Combined Winnings = $ 86,682,864
These ten great tournament players have won a lot of money in their tournament careers, but it pales in comparison to poker's only $10 billion player. So who is this mystery player, who has had $10 billion at his finger tips? Remember, $10 billion is absolutely mind-boggling.
Here's the answer: The Mirage cost $620 million, the Bellagio cost $2.7 billion, and Project City Center will cost, when complete, $7.0 billion. The value of these properties alone exceeds $10 billion!
The explanation to all this begins in 1978, when Bobby Baldwin won the 1978 WSOP Main Event. Remember, Doyle Brunson won back-to-back WSOP titles in 1976 and 1977, the last two years when it was winner take all. When Bobby won in 1978, it was the first year the WSOP Main Event prize was distributed to more than just the winner. The total prize in 1978 was $420,000, with only $210,000 going to the winner. This distribution precedent of the total prize money being paid out to 10% of the field has grown today, 30 years later, into multi-million dollar purses, with millionaires being created of the final nine players each year in the WSOP Main Event, along with the winners of many other events. Bobby started something pretty popular in 1978 that many fortunate players are enjoying in today's tournament world!
This article is about the amazing career of Bobby Baldwin, who started out as a poker player from Tulsa, Oklahoma. When I first met Bobby in 1978, he was sitting inside the Dunes Hotel in a lounge, wearing a black leather jacket, and looked like the prototypical pro poker player. Of course, that was exactly what he was then….. a great poker player, who earlier that year had won the prestigious WSOP Main Event. He didn't work in a casino yet… he was a young, pure poker player, and one of the best! The Dunes, of course, is where the beautiful Bellagio sits today, and who would have ever guessed back then that Bobby Baldwin would soon wow the gambling world, running as CEO and President, three of the world's greatest casino properties: The Mirage, the Bellagio, and Project City Center.
I don't think running these fabulous properties does his story real justice. Bobby literally was responsible from the ground up in all three of these properties, right from when the bulldozers began grading the sites! It is hard to imagine the thousands of decisions that fell on his shoulders, from contractors, various bids, work schedules, personnel, budgets, and a multitude of other categories, the handling of each of which kept the bankers, Steve Wynn, and MGM Grand happy. For my money, what Bobby Baldwin has accomplished in Las Vegas has to be the most amazing performance by any poker player we will ever witness in history. Yes, winning gold WSOP bracelets is impressive, as Bobby won three early in his career. One has to wonder if Bobby didn't get sidetracked running $10 billion worth of first-class casinos… just how many WSOP gold bracelets would he have won over the last 30 years?
Bobby graduated from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, OK with a business degree, and was quickly noticed by Las Vegas legend Steve Wynn after Bobby stormed the Las Vegas poker scene. Steve decided Bobby was going to be his eyes and ears over the next twenty years, noticing there was something special about Bobby's abilities. Steve needed a strong, sharp, right-hand man to join him on this magical ride into Las Vegas poker lore. Steve knew his eyesight would diminish each year, as he had retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that would severly narrow his vision, constantly bothered by bright light. Steve tested Bobby first, by placing him on the floor, as a supervisor at the downtown Golden Nugget. Within a year, Bobby was promoted to be president of the casino! Bobby's performance there was so brilliant, he earned the promotion of being named president and CEO of Steve Wynn's next project, one that truly changed Las Vegas forever, the Mirage. Bobby was at the helm for two years before the Mirage opened in 1983.
The Mirage would cost $620,000,000, and would require almost $1,000,000 per day in revenues just to break even. The naysayers and critics said this project would probably fail, as no casino in 1983 was making a $1,000,000 per day. Boy, were they ever wrong, as they had totally underestimated the vision and skills of Steve Wynn and his right-hand man, Bobby Baldwin. What a great team they made, as the Mirage was so successful, it started a ten-year building boom that brought Las Vegas into the ultra-modern era.
I've said this before, but it bears repeating. Steve Wynn had one sign on his desk for years, bearing a quote by Jonathan Swift: "Vision is the art of seeing things invisible." Steve lived by this credo in every sense of the word, not just in his vision of the project he was building, but in his captain he placed at the helm, Bobby Baldwin. The former poker player, turned CEO, did a spectacular job. As a result, Bobby was next promoted to be CEO and President of the $2.7 billion Bellagio, which officially opened in 1998. To this day, the Bellagio sets the bar as Las Vegas's all-time gem.
When Steve sold the Bellagio to the MGM Grand, first making sure stockholders made a profit, Bobby had a very tough decision to make. Would he follow Steve into his next project, the Wynn Casino, or would he accept the very lucrative offer Kirk Kerkorian and the MGM Grand made to him to continue to run the world's greatest hotel as its president and CEO. Bobby's success and past performance had earned him an incredible opportunity with the MGM Grand. His reputation as a hands-on CEO put him at the top of the class. The compensation package offered was off the chart and much deserved. Bobby's important decision to accept the MGM Grand's offer has set the stage for him to now be in charge of the richest casino project in the world.
Bobby Baldwin's unbelievable saga continues to soar, as the MGM Grand has now tabbed him to be the President and CEO of the City Center project. City Center will sit on 66 acres of land between the Bellagio and Monte Carlo, and will be a city within a city. It once again promises to bring Las Vegas to heights never dreamed possible before. Again, the task of overseeing this project from the ground up was given to this incredible former WSOP Champion. The accolades Bobby receives for all of his contributions to the success of Las Vegas are well deserved!
Take a peek into the future to see what City Center will offer, by visiting the Bellagio today. From the valet, walk straight through the front door underneath Dale Chihuly's $10 million chandelier, straight towards the $20 million flower garden. Right before you enter the garden, look to the left, where a free exhibition is available to see, highlighting a scale-model, showcase display of the $7 billion City Center project. It is truly an amazing undertaking, but under good hands under the direction of Bobby.
Our hats are off to poker's only $10 billion player, Mr. Bobby Baldwin! He is one of the most amazing poker players to ever grace the green felt, one who went to business heights that are unimaginable. Bobby is in Poker's Hall of Fame, and will certainly be in Las Vegas's Hall of Fame, as one of its all-time movers and shakers. I hope to bring you Part 2 of this story between now and when City Center has its Grand Opening… stay tuned!
The Cab is Parked,
Tom Sexton is a featured columnist for PokerNews.com. Tom attended the University of Oklahoma on a full gymnastic scholarship, where he was captain of the team four straight years, becoming the first NCAA All-American and Big Eight Champion in OU's gymnastics history in 1968. The Sexton family is well established in poker and includes Tom's brother Mike, the World Poker Tour commentator and poker's "First Ambassador", as voted by his peers. Tom welcomes your thoughts and comments about any of his articles. His e-mail is TSStarbuck1@aol.com.