Steve Wynn and Bobby Baldwin deserve credit for the poker explosion in Las Vegas.
Baldwin, under Wynn, opened three rooms as president of the Mirage and controlled a third of the poker revenue in Nevada. Baldwin is one of those rare breed of people in the gambling world who has achieved great success both as a legendary poker player and as a successful casino executive.
Poker Hall of Famer Baldwin won the World Series of Poker Main Event in 1978 at the age of 28 becoming the youngest winner in its history at the time. The record was broken in 1980 when Stu Ungar, 27, became the Main Event champion. Joe Cada currently holds the record for youngest WSOP Main Event winner ever. He won the event in 2009 at the age of 21. Baldwin went on to win four WSOP gold bracelets all between 1977-1979, an impressive record for any poker player.
In the 80s Baldwin transitioned to the casino business when he became a consultant for the Golden Nugget and was named its president in 1984. In 1987 he was selected to head the Mirage, which opened on November 22, 1989 on the site of the former Castaways, which was owned by Howard Hughes. All the way back in 1980, Wynn envisioned building the first major resort in Las Vegas in 25 years at a time when tourism in Las Vegas was in decline.
Wynn used the working name “Golden Nugget on the Strip” for this project. This ultimately became The Mirage, which was the most expensive hotel-casino at the time and set the stage for the implosion of the old casinos and the rise of the mega-resorts that dot the Las Vegas Strip today.
Baldwin would help lead this march into the modern gaming era. In 2000, he was named chief financial officer of Mirage Resorts under Wynn and upon the merger of Mirage Resorts and MGM Grand, Baldwin became CEO of the Mirage Resorts subsidiary of MGM Mirage.
A major part of this dream team on the poker side was Doug Dalton, who got his start in poker operations in 1978 helping his friend Chip Reese run the poker room at the Dunes. Dalton was hired by Baldwin to work in the Golden Nugget poker room, where he worked until 1988. He was poker manager of the Mirage in its golden years from 1994-1998, then became the director of poker operations at the Bellagio until 2012.
When Steve Wynn opened the billion-dollar Bellagio in 1998 on the site of the legendary Dunes casino, it ushered in a new standard of luxury in Las Vegas. A poker room had to be built that would match Wynn’s high standards. Separated from the main floor by two glass doors, Bobby’s Room offers privacy for its high-stakes players, but always has one glass door open as Nevada law prohibits private games in casinos.
Dalton tells the story of how they originally were going to call Bobby’s Room, Chip’s Room, but Reese personally nixed that idea by saying people would rather play with Bobby than him. It was decided to make the game in Bobby’s Room a $20,000 buy-in, and the idea really took off. Crowds would gather to catch a glimpse of their favorite poker stars playing in the “big game” and get their pictures taken with the legend of poker. Pots in this game have reportedly exceeded $1 million. Bobby’s Room added glamour to poker that it had never seen before.
Dalton says they decided to open the room the same day Steve Wynn was opening his new Wynn resort. He got a call from a Wynn executive who told him, “Doug, some day you will be retired on a beach somewhere and regret this day.”
With Wynn as the visionary, Baldwin was a poker icon who had the power to make sure poker stayed front and center in Las Vegas. These modern poker pioneers helped set the stage for the poker boom that was about to come. Poker was poised to become a global phenomenon in the new millennium, and the rest is history.
Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiard marketing expert, best known for inventing the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has over 30 years experience in the gaming industry and is co-founder of Crown Digital Games. Twitter @thechipburnerRobert can be reached at [email protected].