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Double or Nothing: How Two Friends Risked It All to Buy One of Las Vegas' Legendary Casinos

Overview

If Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn had come of age at the end of the 20th century looking for an all-American adventure, they probably would've headed for Vegas.

They'd have been hard-pressed to go on a wilder ride than the one taken by Tom Breitling and Tim Poster to the top of the famed Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino.

Call them the Odds Couple.

Breitling is the kid who lives ...

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Double or Nothing

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Overview

If Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn had come of age at the end of the 20th century looking for an all-American adventure, they probably would've headed for Vegas.

They'd have been hard-pressed to go on a wilder ride than the one taken by Tom Breitling and Tim Poster to the top of the famed Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino.

Call them the Odds Couple.

Breitling is the kid who lives next door if you grow up in Burnsville, Minnesota. He never saw a hundred dollar bill or The Godfather until he went to college.

Poster comes from a family of oddsmakers who reach for the Doritos on football Sundays and scream for the point spread. He was whistling Sinatra and booking games at his Las Vegas high school.

Their unlikely friendship began in college over an $8 veal parmigiana sandwich that led to a partnership in a hotel reservation business. Starting with a desk, a chair, a pillow, and a telephone, Tim and Tom grew a company that they sold during the dot.com boom for $105 million. This allows Tim to pursue his childhood dream of owning a casino and bringing back the glory days of Vegas.

When Tim ups the odds and raises the limits to give gamblers the best game in town, a craps player nicknamed "Mr. Royalty," who's on one of the hottest winning streaks in history, heads for The Nugget. When he begins to take Tom and Tim for millions, the partnership is put to the test. But Tim refuses to back off on the odds or the high limits, telling his partner, "It's a ballsy proposition here. It's gonna be a roller coaster ride. But we don't have a public company to answer to. It's just you and me."

When Mr. Royalty rolls twenty-two consecutive passes and rakes in a mountain of chips, he takes Tim and Tom to the brink. They must figure out a way to hold up The House.

Just as they do, the roller coaster ride really gets rolling—and the ride becomes crazier than they'd ever imagined.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Tom Breitling hadn't set out to be rich. As a young man, he just wanted to be a sportscaster. Somewhere along that path, however, his dream became derailed, and he left his entry-level job at a Barstow, California, TV station to join an old college roommate in a small online venture. Fast-forward a few years, and Tom and his buddy are buying Las Vegas' legendary Golden Nugget for a cool $215 million. They eventually sold the casino for an even more nifty $130 million profit. Double or Nothing demonstrates that unbelievable success stories can be quite true.
Associated Press Staff
“[A] fantastical story…. The book is full of interesting tidbits…. But the big “aha!” in the book might be the realization that they sold out too soon. It will be interesting to see the next trick up Breitling and Poster’s sleeves.”
Associated Press
“[A] fantastical story…. The book is full of interesting tidbits…. But the big “aha!” in the book might be the realization that they sold out too soon. It will be interesting to see the next trick up Breitling and Poster’s sleeves.”
Las Vegas Sun
“[A] delightful and insightful travelogue...Breitling presents a tale of a remarkable friendship interwoven with indelible portraits of various players…. But the book is more than a series of memorable characters…It also provides details of gigantic transactions that make you a fly on the wall of boardrooms with legends.”
Esquire
“Tom Breitling’s inspiring and jealousy-inducing story of the entrepreneurial bravado that led him and a friend to own The Golden Nugget.”
Andre Agassi
“Beyond all of the colorful stories in Double or Nothing, beyond the eye-opening success of two young American entrepreneurs, there is the most important story of all: a story about friendship and loyalty.”
Tony Bennett
“Tom Breitling and Tim Poster are the ultimate American entrepreneurs. Tom has a great story to tell.”
Bob Costas
“For whatever misguided reasons, Tom Breitling says he grew up wanting to be me. Instead, he wound up owning The Golden Nugget and making two deals each worth upwards of a hundred million dollars. Looks like he grew up to be A-Rod instead.”
Ben Mezrich
“A great read, and a true rags to riches American success story…The narrative goes down smooth as a good scotch, with a rhythm that would have made Sinatra proud!”
Norm Clarke
“There’s no shortage of nuggets in...Double or Nothing. Breitling reveals the tense times with his Golden Nugget partner, Tim Poster…,and the hardball deals.... Masterful writing and reporting by co-author Cal Fussman take the reader on the wild ride that made [Breitling and Poster] millionaires in their 30s.”
Esquire
“Tom Breitling’s inspiring and jealousy-inducing story of the entrepreneurial bravado that led him and a friend to own The Golden Nugget.”
Esquire
“Tom Breitling’s inspiring and jealousy-inducing story of the entrepreneurial bravado that led him and a friend to own The Golden Nugget.”
Las Vegas Sun
“[A] delightful and insightful travelogue...Breitling presents a tale of a remarkable friendship interwoven with indelible portraits of various players…. But the book is more than a series of memorable characters…It also provides details of gigantic transactions that make you a fly on the wall of boardrooms with legends.”
Publishers Weekly

In less than a decade, friends Tom Breitling (the conservative one) and Tim Poster (the risk taker) founded a successful Internet travel business and sold it for millions. Then in 2003, the pair bought the legendary and past-its-prime Golden Nugget casino for $215 million. "Las Vegas has always been a magnet for anyone who wanted to take his life to a new place," Breitling explains. "It embraced anyone who wanted to take a risk and wanted to make it better." His account of those heady, hardworking times features a doomed reality show; an arrogant, very lucky gambler dubbed Mr. Royalty; and appearances by the likes of Steve Wynn and Andre Agassi. It's astounding, with such volatile circumstances and a Vegas backdrop, that Breitling's book is so bland. His average-guy approach loses its flavor quickly as his narrative trades insight for clunky, oft-repeated metaphors in which the author compares himself to a point guard in basketball. What should be a story of two young guys trying to steer a risky business in America's playground reads too often like a business seminar transcript with hint of a scandal. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060835835
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/18/2008
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Breitling is the president of Breitling Ventures, a private investment company. A graduate of the University of San Diego and a mentor at the Andre Agassi Preparatory Academy, he lives with his wife in Las Vegas.

Cal Fussman is a writer at large for Esquire. The author of After Jackie: Pride, Prejudice, and Baseball's Forgotten Heroes, he lives with his family in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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Read an Excerpt

Double or Nothing
How Two Friends Risked It All to Buy One of Las Vegas' Legendary Casinos

Chapter One

Holding Up the House

"Royalty is coming."

Well, Johnny D. didn't say it exactly like that. Mr. Royalty is what we'll have to call a guy whose real name I can't tell you. The House doesn't reveal the identities of its gamblers. But Mr. Royalty is a good cover. There's plenty of truth and irony in it.

The truth is Mr. Royalty was able to swagger into The Golden Nugget carrying a pillowcase stuffed with hundred-dollar bills over his shoulder because of the royalties he was making off a line of video games that he'd created. If you're a man between eighteen and forty, you know his games. You've probably played them. One of his games grew so popular, rumor is he sold it outright for $40 million.

The irony in the name is that there's nothing regal about him. Even when he was winning millions at the craps table, he could be a five-alarm asshole. The dice never seem to come back to Mr. Royalty fast enough. "Gimme them!" he'd bark at the croupier. "Don't mess up my rhythm!" When he was losing, he'd abuse everyone around him—not even the cocktail waitresses were immune.

Mr. Royalty had been thrown out of quite a few casinos around Las Vegas. The owner of one hotel swore that even if he had a crystal ball showing Mr. Royalty losing $20 million at his casino over the next year, he still wouldn't let him through the doors. And my partner, Tim, was definitely conflicted about having Mr. Royalty at The Golden Nugget.

Tim has been described as a throwback—the oldest young man on the planet. Eventhough he was thirty-six and this was October 2004, he lived his life to the tunes of Frank Sinatra. That was one of the reasons Tim and I bought The Golden Nugget in the first place. We'd try to restore it to the glory of the Sinatra days and at the same time bring some color to a faded downtown.

Sinatra was now buried under a tombstone inscribed with the title of one of our favorite songs: "The Best Is Yet to Come." But an old friend of Frank's was still around. So we'd brought in Tony Bennett to sing at The Nugget. We had the cast of The Sopranos in our swimming pool. We set up a reality TV show around our casino with the same producer who'd made "You're Fired!" one of the most popular phrases in America. The idea was to create a buzz that would make people want to leave The Strip and take the twenty-minute drive downtown to be at The Nugget. Most of all, we wanted The Nugget to be the spot in Vegas to place a bet.

If every other casino was offering gamblers five times odds, Tim figured we'd give them ten. If your limit was $50,000 a hand at your hotel, Tim might let you play for $100,000 a hand at The Nugget. The strategy was pretty simple. We'd give you a better chance to win than anybody else and let you bet more.

When you throw that kind of chum into the water, you're going to attract sharks like Mr. Royalty. We didn't want his profanity, but we sure wanted his pillowcase. And more than that—we wanted the action.

We wanted people to tell their friends how Mr. Royalty had come with stacks of hundred-dollar bills that had been wrapped in plastic, vacuum sealed, and trucked direct from the U.S. Mint. When other high rollers got a whiff of mint in the air, they'd want in on the action, too. There are less than a hundred gamblers in the world with more than a million-dollar credit line. At one point, four of them came to visit us on a single weekend.

There was only one problem. We were gambling. We were still building up our clientele. And we needed a few others betting like Mr. Royalty that night in order to make the percentages work for us. The numbers were still in our favor—even with the special odds Tim was cutting Mr. Royalty. But we wouldn't have to sweat out a run of luck if others were betting big at the same time. Because then, even if Mr. Royalty did win big, percentages pretty much guarantee that together the others would lose at least enough to balance the books.

So we were vulnerable that night. We were vulnerable to one wild wave of luck.

And it just so happened that Mr. Royalty was on the Bonzai Pipeline.

He'd pulled up at The Nugget one night at the end of September in his $350,000 Maybach and six hours and three minutes later walked out with $4,753,200 of our money.

A week later he came back in for three and a half hours and took us for another $1.5 million. But let me give you an idea of how insane his touch had become. Before he even got to the dice pit, he sat down at a slot machine and hit a $100,000 jackpot.

Tim and I had taken the keys to The Nugget only ten months earlier. In less than ten hours, Mr. Royalty had basically wiped out what was going to be a great third-quarter profit. To us, that was more than just a figure on a spreadsheet. It was a number that told the world we weren't just a couple of kids who got lucky and hit the jackpot during the dot-com boom. It told the world we were entrepreneurs who knew how to make a business soar.

That number was now gone. The critics in the press who sneered whenever Tim and I took a risk that flopped would now have more ammo. And we didn't need Ed Borgato, the man who tracked our finances and who was eating dinner with us that night, to remind us that in two weeks we owed our investors a $7.5 million interest payment. But he did anyway.

Double or Nothing
How Two Friends Risked It All to Buy One of Las Vegas' Legendary Casinos
. Copyright © by Tom Breitling. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Holding Up The House     1
The Wise Guy     15
The Square     33
In-credible!     46
Are You Ready for This?     61
Smashing Through     76
Substance Is Everything     90
Who? Me? Tom Corleone?     104
Steve's Blessing     118
The Bait Is Too Strong     131
Fly Me to the Moon     145
Fifty-Foot Heads     158
Two Porterhouses and a Vegetarian     171
The Gambler     185
Project Goldfish     201
The Odds Couple     216
The Best of It     234
Acknowledgments     239
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 4 of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2008

    A good rags to riches story

    I'm a sucker for a good 'rags to riches' story, and this is one of the better ones I've read. Tim Poster and Tom Breitling start a room reservation service in Vegas that becomes TravelScape, which is then sold to Expedia for $105 million. They then buy the Golden Nugget, turn it into the showplace of downtown Vegas, and sell it for $113 million profit the next year. The book feels very much like having a friendly conversation with Breitling over a drink. He tells about the joys and trials of trying to remake a casino under the all-seeing eye of 'reality TV' and finds out just how 'real' it is. He explains how - and WHY - his partnership with Tim works. All in all, it's a great read about a great friendship.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted October 15, 2008

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    Posted December 8, 2009

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    Posted December 9, 2011

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