Vincent Van Patten’s love of gambling started in high school. He was his school’s bookmaker at age 14. He ran craps games, could decipher the Daily Racing Form and was a self-described degenerate gambler.
At 16, he discovered a love of poker. But to play in real games he needed a disguise.
“I loved poker and gambling so much, I had a fake beard and mustache made,” Van Patten told Gaming Today. “I’d drive down to Gardena, Calif., and get in those games at 16 years old — you had to be 21 to play. But that’s how much I loved it.”
Often, he won. But when he lost, taking off the beard and mustache hurt a little bit more.
Van Patten was in Las Vegas recently for the World Poker Tour’s Tournament of Champions tournament. He has been on the WPT’s television broadcasts as an analyst for 15 years. But he had other business on this trip — business that is very dear to his heart: his new movie, 7 Days to Vegas. Van Patten and the film’s producer, Adam Weinraub, were also planning the film’s September premiere.
Weinraub, who owns an Orange County, Calif., business that specializes in security-related tools like lock picks and key machines, also got an early start in gambling. He is a former WPT tournament winner and took part in the recent Las Vegas event.
Tiger Woods’ foundation works with the WPT. Weinraub and others were invited to a clinic where Woods hit balls and answered questions. Weinraub took the opportunity to ask Woods about another crazy bet: James Anducci’s $85,000 wager on Woods to win the Masters.
“Everybody’s asking, ‘How do I stop my slice?’ and all these typical golf things,” Weinraub recalled. “I didn’t really care about those. I’m a gambler.”
Weinraub knew he wanted to ask Woods about the Anducci bet (and his subsequent $100,000 wager on Woods to win golf’s other three Majors) but wasn’t sure he had the guts. But then he had an opening. “F*****g awesome bet,” Woods said when Weinraub asked what he thought of the Masters wager. Woods, who subsequently missed the cut at the PGA Championship in May, said of Anducci’s Grand Slam wager: “He was a dumbass on that one.”
“I don’t know if he meant for it to be comedic at the time,” Weinraub said of Woods’ response. “But his timing was just perfect. You couldn’t have scripted that.”
Weinraub’s video of Woods’ colorful answer went viral on Twitter and created an unexpected source of publicity for the small-budget film.
Van Patten is the lead in 7 Days to Vegas. He also wrote the screenplay — together with screenwriter Steve Alper.
“I always wanted to write a gambling picture — or a poker picture — about the fun,” Van Patten said, “because (most movies about gambling) never show that. They show the seamy side.”
Both Van Patten and Weinraub believed that there weren’t a lot of gambling movies that got the gambling right — Van Patten mentioned Robert Altman’s California Split as an excellent exception.
7 Days to Vegas wasn’t to be a poker movie, strictly speaking, Van Patten said.
“Molly’s Game was about those poker players. Rounders was about a poker guy,” he said. “This is about a poker game, but it’s about the people and the bets they make — and the craziest bet of all time, that he could walk from L.A. to Las Vegas in seven days. You see a few (poker) hands being played, but it’s in the background, it’s irrelevant, which I liked. Having the big game and making it to the (World Series of Poker), that’s not very interesting to me as a viewer.”
The movie’s poker game is loosely based on a home game — and the characters who frequented it — that Van Patten hosted in the 1990s. The players were a mix of celebrities — Vince is the son of the late Dick Van Patten, star of the ’80s sitcom Eight is Enough — and gamblers.
“It got bigger and bigger until we went to Beverly Hills with it, and then it got very big,” Van Patten said. “This is like 2001 to 2005. It became the biggest underground game in L.A., maybe the world at one time. And I ran it. I didn’t make money on it. I gambled in it — with all the ups and downs — and I played with all the big movie stars. This was the big game.”
Van Patten said he had no plans to write about it until a few years ago after he and his wife saw a movie — he declines to name it — that he felt wasn’t very good. Afterward, his wife, soap opera star Eileen Davidson, convinced him to write his movie.
Van Patten brought in Alper, a longtime writing partner of his, and the two went through numerous drafts over the next couple years, dramatizing the cast of characters who frequented his legendary home game.
“There were so many funny guys, funny characters,” Van Patten said. “That’s what I wanted to write about. That’s what’s in this movie.”
He calls it “The Hangover meets The Sting.”
The big bet at the heart of 7 Days to Vegas, made with first-time director Eric Balfour at the helm, involves a 280-mile walk — the film’s original title was Walk to Vegas — from California’s San Fernando Valley to Las Vegas. Van Patten, an actor by the age of 9, drew on both his worlds — Hollywood and gambling — when he developed the screenplay.
Van Patten’s character, Duke, is an actor whose career has devolved into making informercials when he starts hosting a profitable poker game with his wife. The eponymous bet comes in the form of a challenge from a British film director, played by Ross McCall, who wagers that Duke can’t walk to Las Vegas (while wearing a suit!). The payout: $1 million.
There are a number of Van Patten family connections in the movie. Davidson plays his on-screen spouse. His older brother James Van Patten plays Duke’s brother Carl. (The character Duke is named after Van Patten’s real-life son.)
Professional poker players Phil Laak and Antonio Esfandiari make cameo appearances, as does actress Jennifer Tilly, herself a serious poker player.
“In professional tournament poker, there aren’t that many characters,” Van Patten said. “You see guys who take it very seriously, and that’s exactly what I didn’t want to show. I know there’s another side of it where there are characters that are just crazy, crazy, fun-loving, interesting people who — it’s not just about poker — they will bet on anything.”
Van Patten and Weinraub met at a poker tournament. After they became friends, Van Patten sent Weinraub the script. Weinraub, who’d never worked on a motion picture before, was immediately enthralled.
“It started with the script. I loved the script,” Weinraub said. “As a gambler, I thought it was fantastic, and that’s why I wanted to get involved in it.
“I know that we made a great movie. It really is. It’s a fun movie.”
The film was screened in Palm Springs, where, Weinraub reported, there was a line around the building of people trying to get in. Most of the audience stayed for a post-show Q&A session, he said.
Screening the film with eccentric cast of characters at the Palm Springs International Film Festival made sense. In addition to acting, Van Patten, who is fit and youthful-looking at 61, was a professional tennis player (ranking as high as No. 26 in the world) in the 1980s. Sonny Bono lured Van Patten to take part in a celebrity tournament in 1987 to raise money for his film festival idea.
“We played Sonny’s tournament a few times to raise money,” Van Patten told the (Palm Springs) Desert Sun. “No one thought anything of it at the time. ‘A film festival? Good luck, Sonny.’ The first time he did it, he raised $10 grand or $12 grand, and the next thing you know, it grew so beautifully.”
Three decades later, Van Patten’s most personal film project played at what’s now an established festival.
7 Days to Vegas is expected to premiere in selected theaters in Las Vegas — as well as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York — on Sept. 20. The filmmakers will be in Las Vegas for a special premiere for the gambling world four days later. It will also be available on streaming services on Sept. 24.
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