Seeing How the Other Half Lives - 2012 NetJet Poker Invitational at the Wynn
For the first time in many trips to Las Vegas, I failed to jot down notes. Thus, I’ll take a shot at this simply based on my faulty memory, my flight itinerary, and the event agenda. This particular Vegas trip was unique for me as the reason for my visit was to play in the 2012 NetJet Poker Invitational at the Wynn, hosted by Warren Buffet and Steve Wynn. Why was I invited? My company uses NetJets for our corporate plane when not flying commercial. We use it primarily to bring customers into our corporate headquarters and on a more limited basis for significant employee business travel.
NetJets periodically hosts customer events at various locations, including the NetJet Poker Invitational. Our CEO received the invitation and he has done all the travel he cares to do in his career, hates Las Vegas, and doesn’t play poker. He knows I love Vegas and poker so he handed the invitation to me. Since I had already been to Vegas 3 times this year I ignored it until NetJet leadership (their CEO, a very talented and good guy, is from Des Moines where he had practiced law and I knew him from that time and my previous career) made a customer visit to our offices and while there encouraged me to attend.
For the record, other than 2 of 4 nights at the Wynn, the entertainment, the poker tournament, a few meals, and some NetJet swag, this trip was at my expense. None was covered by my company. I’m not complaining but just making it clear that I wasn’t doing this trip at the expense of my company or our customers. Many attendees traveled on their respective NetJet and traveled to and from the airport in arranged transportation (black Cadillac Escalades). I, on the other hand, flew commercial at my expense and paid for my taxi, two nights at the Wynn and other out-of-pocket expenses. With that disclaimer out of the way, on to my trip details!
Caught my flight on my usual Vegas airline, Allegiant. Once again my departure was delayed from the scheduled 9:10 p.m. takeoff. Why do I keep doing this? Simply because it is the only direct flight from Des Moines to Las Vegas. This time, in addition to being delayed for a bit, we had the flight itself extended by an hour or so due to the need to fly south to Texas and then over to Vegas due to major thunderstorms. No problem. Better safe than sorry! Upon arrival, I grabbed a taxi and headed to the Wynn where I checked into the Wynn Tower Suites….sort of a really, really nice hotel within a really nice hotel/casino. It was very late so I played a little video poker and went to bed.
Friday, June 15th
Got up in the morning and worked out. After checking work email I headed downstairs to the pool. The Wynn has a couple of very nice pools along with two private pools that can be accessed by Wynn Tower Suite guests only. It was at one of the private pools that I parked myself with my Kindle and iPod. It was extremely hot so I alternated between reading and periodic dips in the pool. It was a very nice place to hang out and relax with a minimal crowd and great service.
After showering I headed to the NetJet Hospitality room to eat and pick up some NetJet swag. I then ventured to the Wynn poker room and played a 2 or 3 hour session, finishing down around $112. I vaguely remember making, in hindsight, a really stupid play that caused me most of my loss. But I still love this poker room. After reading the thread on PH and how they are using the jackpot drop it has reinforced my strong preference to play at the Bellagio, Wynn, and Venetian where the rake is reasonable and there is no jackpot drop.
Sometime after 5:30 p.m. I attended the NetJet Poker Invitational welcome reception and tournament registration at the Lafite Ballroom. Great food and cocktails at no charge. Warren Buffett was in attendance as a host of the tournament (NetJets is owned by Berkshire Hathaway). I did shake his hand but left it at that as many, many people were walking up to meet him and have their picture taken. I also checked out the prizes going to the top ten finishers in the tournament which included 10 hours on a NetJet Bombardier Global Jet; 6 night Napa Stay Wine & Dine Experience for 2 Couples; His and Her Borshiem Watches; CIRRUS by Cybex Home Gym; Formula 1 Montreal Grand Prix Package; Kwait Shopping Experience; Oscar de la Renta New York Fashion Week Show and Mandarin Oriental, New York Experience; PRIMA Cinema (first-run private home movie screening service); Skibo Castle & Dalmore Whisky Package; and the Wakaya Club & Spa Experience. Individual prizes were valued as high as $50,000 although the NetJet hours on that particular plane were probably worth more.
Following the reception and registration, I attended the NetJet-sponsored Club XS party and cocktails held at the cabanas which was also very nice.
Saturday, June 16th
Once again I got up and worked out in my room. I did check out the workout facility at the Wynn. It was nice but I’d give an edge to the Bellagio on this one. Following that, I headed to the Lafite Ballroom for breakfast followed by the tournament itself at 10 a.m.
The tournament had 240 contestants, including 30 with a bounty on their head. The game, of course, was No Limit Texas Hold’em standard freeze-out format. A few examples of players with a bounty included Warren Buffett himself, the NetJet CEO, and Rip Hamilton (former Detroit Piston and current Chicago Bull). Bounty prizes ranged in value from $2,300 to nearly $11,000. Phil Gordon served as the Master of Ceremonies and provided color commentary throughout the tournament.
This was my first multi-table tournament so my expectations were low. I haven’t paid enough attention to tournament play to know a good vs. bad structure but suspect the structure for this event would fall into the “bad” category as the goal was to have fun and not spend the entire day in tournament play. I’ll let those reading this comment. The structure was $10,000 in starting chips with 30 minute levels with 15 minute breaks at the end of every 3 levels. Blinds started at $100/$200 and worked their way to $50,000/$100,000 in the 15th and last level. Antes started on level 4 at $100 and worked their way to $10,000 in the 15th level. The rules stated that levels may be adjusted to accommodate event time limits (event was scheduled to end at 5 p.m.).
I ended up finishing 51st out of 240. I felt reasonably good about that since I had no tournament experience but did have a decent amount of cash game experience. It probably also reflected my general level of poker expertise vs. that of the field. There were some very good players but also many players that were very inexperienced and simply there for a good time. In thinking about my play, I know I failed to adjust for the fact that it was a tournament with increasing blinds and antes vs. a cash game. Thus, I certainly failed to get aggressive early enough. I went out on level 9 or 10 after getting down to around one big blind. I went all in with AKo before the flop and lost to AA. I did have the opportunity to sit next to Rip Hamilton (a very nice guy) and chat briefly with Phil Gordon (also a very nice guy who did an excellent job as MC/commentator). And I did outlast Warren Buffett and the NetJet CEO!
In hindsight, it was probably good that I didn’t win a significant bounty or finish in the top 10 since winners were responsible for any applicable taxes. I could imagine telling my wife that the good news was I won her several thousand dollars’ worth of jewelry but oh, by the way, we also have to shell out several thousand dollars in taxes on that jewelry. I am fortunate to make a good living but suspect I may have had the lowest net worth of those in attendance.
One of the nice things about the event is that you had the opportunity to do some things a little out of the ordinary. I passed on the chance to test drive a Ferrari but did pick up a nice Ferrari hat. I took advantage of the chance, given the timing of my departure from the tournament, to attend a Louis XIII de Remy Martin Grande Champagne Cognac tasting. I’m not a fan of cognac but I knew from my time sitting at the bar at Sinatra in the Encore chatting with Vin the bartender that this cognac goes for $325 per drink before tip and tax. It was an interesting presentation and it was actually very good. I would never pay that kind of money to have a drink like that but certainly enjoyed the opportunity.
Following that, I headed upstairs to get cleaned up and change to the resort formal dress code for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at the Encore Theatre at 6:30 p.m. The hors d’oeuvres were excellent (as was the scotch) and followed by the poker tournament award ceremony in the theatre itself. I walked into the theatre fairly early and took a center seat in the front row. My wife was unable to accompany me on this trip (she won’t miss it again!) and I sat next to several middle-aged women (which means they were in the neighborhood of my age). The woman next to me was fun (heck, all of them were) and said that since her spouse couldn’t attend would I mind being her spouse for the evening (no, nothing inappropriate, just joking around). She was from Florida and had come to the event with her girlfriend from Wisconsin. She introduced me to her friend and we all had a nice time chatting while waiting for the award ceremony and following entertainment. I told her friend that she looked familiar. She just laughed and said, “no, I’m just a lesbian that’s richer than sh*t!”
Shortly thereafter, the NetJet CEO did the awards for the tournament winners and then Warren Buffett and Steve Wynn came out together and spoke. I knew Mr. Wynn’s eyesight was very poor at best so he took Warren’s elbow when coming out and leaving the stage. It was interesting to hear him talk. He was, of course, very welcoming and very proud of his properties. The entertainment followed. First up was an excellent South African acapella group, Overtone. Mr. Wynn, in introducing them, said that they were recommended to him by Clint Eastwood, who first heard them when making a movie in South Africa. They were very entertaining and quite talented.
Overtone was followed by the highlight of the trip. The feature entertainment was none other than Jerry Seinfeld. He was absolutely hysterical. I literally laughed until I cried. It was certainly fun watching his act while sitting about 5-10 feet from where he was performing. If you have never seen him do stand-up, I highly recommend it. I had seen him several years ago in Des Moines so all of his material was new to me. Superb show.
After the show, I went to Sinatra and had a pinot noir and a scotch at the bar. Vin was there, of course. It is interesting to hear bartenders and wait staff talk about Steve Wynn. They love him. And the person they love even more is his ex-wife, Elaine, who frequently eats at Sinatra. (She is a Board Member of Wynn Resorts and I recently read that she filed suit on June 19th to dissolve a shareholding agreement that restricts her from selling shares in Wynn Resorts.) Earlier in the evening Ms. Wynn had apparently come to the defense of an employee being treated very rudely by a patron.
Sunday, June 17th
Once again, I got up, worked out, and went downstairs for a light breakfast at the NetJet Hospitality Suite. After that I grabbed my Kindle, iPod, and sunglasses and headed to the Wynn Tower Suites pool to relax. It was still extremely hot so I took several dips in the pool. It was nice that they gave you as much bottled water as you wanted. I also ordered lunch and ate by the pool.
Following pool time, I showered and headed to the Wynn Poker Room where I played $1/$3 NLHE for a few hours. I believe I finished up $32 with nothing of note occurring that I can recall. I do remember that getting the floor to bring chips to the table was almost an impossible task. I would have gotten chips before I sat down but had been seated immediately. So there were several of us with few chips and lots of cash on the table. Not a big deal but somewhat inconvenient and harder to judge what people have in front of them. It is one of the few negatives I’ve experienced playing at the Wynn, with the other being cash games being relatively ignored by the floor when called when a tournament was in progress. Still, I would highly recommend this as a place to play, along with the Bellagio and Venetian. All very nice, classy rooms with a reasonable rake, no jackpot drop, and good cocktail service. After poker, I went to Sinatra for dinner and drinks while sitting at the bar. Stephen (?) was the bartender and the service was again excellent and he was fun to chat with. At one point several young couples came in and there weren’t enough seats at the bar (I was sitting in the middle seat). The men were gentlemen and let the ladies take the seats while they stood. As a result, I was surrounded by drop dead gorgeous women dressed to the nines. They were very nice and fun. The guys looked at me, laughed, and said, “you’ve never had it so good, have you?!” I had to agree…..other than if my wife had been with me (you never know, she might read this…). Following the late dinner and drinks, I headed to bed.
Monday, July 18th
I woke up, worked out, showered, grabbed a light breakfast, and packed. I headed out to grab a taxi and was greeted by a long line of black Cadillac Escalades and a couple of Rolls Royce’s picking people up and taking them to the airport. I, of course, humbly grabbed my minivan taxi and headed off to catch my Allegiant flight.
The entire trip was a great experience. Staying at the Wynn for the first time was everything I expected and more, particularly due to being in the Tower Suites. I love the Bellagio but I could be convinced to stay at the Wynn anytime I can get a rate comparable to the Bellagio. It was nice to check this off my Vegas Bucket List. Now I need to bring my wife with me and try staying at the Encore.
The poker tournament was a lot of fun and it was nice to meet Warren Buffett, Phil Gordon, and Rip Hamilton. I was pleased with my first tournament experience. I also thought my cash game play was adequate with the exception of one particularly boneheaded hand on my part. I told my wife to mark Father’s Day weekend on her calendar next year to ensure she is available to come along. I also told my CEO to be sure and pass the NetJet Poker Invitational on to me again next year. And the next. And the next….
Poker results: Down $80
Thanks for posting Pete! I agree about the Wynn....beautiful property. Must've been awesome to be able to meet Warren Buffet and see Steve Wynn. I've been coming to Vegas and staying at Wynn properties for almost 20 years, and I've never seen the guy! lol
Thanks, Jon. You need to eat at Sinatra at Encore or have drink at the bar there. I've seen him there a couple of times. I think it is his favorite restaurant.
Very unique trip report, sounds like a really interesting experience. Thanks for posting. I saw Seinfeld live doing standup MANY years ago, before he was very well known (probably 1991), and remember thinking he was awesome. You sound like me in terms of meeting famous people-- it's nice to meet them, but I feel a little awkward doing more than shaking their hand and saying "nice to meet you." I guess I feel bad for them having to endure what must be lots and lots of people demanding too much of them and being borish and offensive, and I just don't want to be one of those people! I've heard that Buffett is very gracious, though.
Thanks. He was extraordinarily gracious. Shook everyone's had that approached him. Posed for pictures with anyone that asked. Darn impressive for an 81 year old billionaire. He looks and acts like he could be your neighbor and/or grandfather. If you didn't know who he was you would never guess he's one of the richest people in the world and a financial genius.
What an experience, bet you still have goosebumps. If your wife can't go next year, call me-I'll marry you if that's what it takes.
Thanks. That's the first time I've been propositioned since I left Vegas!
Great report... I had heard that about Steve Wynn quite a bit after his properties had sold to MGM but I didn't know that he was still so popular with his employees. He certainly has a first class property.
Thanks. Agree, he does everything first class. His employees do seem to like him based on my experience. He is obviously a polarizing figure. Many seem to love him or hate him. He was, of course, very cordial at this event. I do enjoy visiting his properties.