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Thursday, April 17, 2008

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

Double or Nothing is Tom Breitling’s side of an incredible story of how he and longtime friend, Tim Poster, created an internet travel business from scratch and sold it in just a few years for a $100 million profit. Even more incredibly, they used much of that money to help finance their purchase of the Golden Nugget casino and made another $100 million only one year later when they, in turn, sold that business to a Texas restaurant king who badly wanted into the gambling business.

Breitling’s account is one in which he describes himself as the conservative one in his friendship and business partnership with Tim Poster, an old school friend of his who carried an image as an extreme risk taker even in high school. Ever the gambler, it was Poster who invited Breitling to join him in the fledgling travel business that ultimately financed the pair’s entry into the Las Vegas casino scene as young owners of the legendary Golden Nugget casino. Breitling’s role in both businesses was usually to be the one to “put on the brakes” in order to slow down some of Poster’s more rash and overambitious ideas. The partners were well-matched, and the combination of their individual personalities and deep respect for each other created a highly successful business team.

Breitling tells his story in a conversational style that makes for easy reading but he focuses so much on his relationship with Tim Poster, and how much they have meant to each other over the years, that the more interesting aspects of the story are disregarded. Readers expecting to find behind-the-scenes details on the operations of a major Las Vegas gambling casino will be disappointed to find little of that in the book. There is considerable detail on the sale of the casino, including bits of gossip about the new owner and his family, but not much is revealed about the nature of the gambling industry itself.

One of the book’s most interesting characters is the unnamed “Mr. Royalty,” a big time gambler who went on a roll lasting almost a year and who caused Breitling and Poser great anxiety as they watched him take their new casino for some $8 million, finally forcing them to lower their betting limits in self-protection. Readers like me who realize that the gambling industry is based on one gigantic scam perpetrated on a gullible public will likely find themselves rooting for Mr. Royalty in what becomes his very personal competition with the Golden Nugget owners. The book begins and ends with a description of that epic battle.

Double or Nothing is an interesting book, especially if read as a business book, but the story is not as impressive as I imagined it would be. Breitling and Poser are brash risk takers but the book exposes enough of their childishness to leave the impression that they are also two of the luckiest businessmen on the planet.

Rated at: 2.5

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