Fear and Loathing in California

Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo en route to California

Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo en route

California was like being in a movie, every day a new scene from Gonzo script writer. I was nomadic between Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Malibu in rented U.S. sports cars (late model Camaros mostly but also Mustang, Charger and 1 Corvette). At that time, I had no permanent U.S. address because I was renting hotel rooms too, via Priceline. I would park the car on the roof of the Beverly Hills Hotel and use the guest computers in the lobby, near the front desk, to log in and bid for my next muscle car (with GPS for under $20/day). Back then 4 star rooms could be won by bidding for 3 night stays but L.A. was much cheaper on the weekend due to business travel on weekdays, and Vegas was $50 for the Hilton, plus I would stay one night each week in Malibu and one night in Beverly Hills, so I drove back and forth, across the desert to Vegas each week for about 6 months.

Malibu was the center of my focus as that’s where my best prospects were living, so I returned weekly to stay on the fabulous estate where poker parties were being held weekly, and on another night in Beverly Hills, at a mansion belonging to a friend named Jack (from Vegas) that I had met in Miami. Jack held amazing three table, all-night poker tournaments in his leased mansion and was a celebrity poker player in Malibu or L.A. also Jack was trying to help me find investors for a start-up online poker company. Meanwhile, every time I would return to Vegas it was in pursuit of strategic partners for online gambling affiliates and to meet gaming company operators, which was always very interesting (to me), as I enjoy the operations of casinos more than playing.

I only ever played in one poker tournament, the one that I was hosting in New York City, as a founder of Reefer Poker, we were in a joint-venture with High Times Magazine for the cover of the magazine issue; “Toker Poker” for which we awarded a quarter pound of “Sour Diesel” as the prize.

Reefer Poker Tournament Prize

The entire time I was in California I never once played poker or wagered a bet in Vegas. My poker skills are not worthy of wasting money on and for some odd reason, some say it’s because I’ve never really had the money to lose, I have never found a thrill or rush from gambling, although I admit that it does feel nice to win money. It’s just that I was on a mission to land investment funding for Reefer Poker and the money I was spending on weed, food, rental cars, gas and hotel rooms was money (i.e. expenses) that was being paid for by investors because the poker site was not generating enough positive cash flow (at that time) and we didn’t have much investment capital, or never enough is often the story with start-ups.

One thing about Reefer Poker that was impressive, was our organizational structure and how we communicated. Excellent leadership from a seasoned pro that loved poker and knew every nuance of both the game and the online operation/management systems but more importantly the CEO was able to inspire team members and motivate everyone involved through consistent conference calls, instant messaging, constant updates and an almost super-human effort with attention to detail, all the way from investor relations with multi-millionaires about stringent investor demands to a disgruntled poker player disputing a fifty cent losing hand and everything in between. We had assembled an ace team and even recruited outstanding talent and at the end of our first year we were gaining traction in building a brand, with 40,000 registered players and over $100,000 on deposit and growing. Reefer Poker was ready rock and roll.

MasterCard and Visa both acted simultaneously to deal a death blow to the Internet Gaming industry. Reefer Poker would never recover from the loss of payment systems, it was the one thing we had no solution for. The players were kind and didn’t panic and we did the right thing and made sure that every single player was paid out in full and all of our affiliates and channel partners, a network which we had expended enormous effort to develop and something we had the most pride in was; Reefer Partners were all paid. Never the less, the entire operation had to be liquidated and the assets (players) sold to another operator.

Reefer Poker was the most exciting business I ever launched and the lesson I am told; is that nothing is a failure, just a step along the way to success.

California Photo credit: vinnie bezoomny on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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