There are a few fun reasons to work in the gambling industry. If it weren’t for my pesky conscience, there’s a good chance I’d have found my way back by now. Truth be told, I live in hope that a genuinely responsible company will stumble across the blog and bring me on board. Sadly, I’m not sure such a thing currently exists.
There are few businesses with such scope for innovation and improvement. I genuinely miss obsessing over a new idea for a product, promotion, or feature, and it makes me a little bit sad that I probably won’t get to flex those brain muscles again.
And there’s hardly ever a quiet moment. The regulatory landscape of gambling changes so often and unpredictably that you always need to be on your toes to fight a fire. Maybe that sounds awful, but I loved springing into action to solve problems. Even when it happens at peak pub time, like it did when the US Department of Justice seized all of our domains around 6pm on Black Friday.
But I’m not here today to talk about such important and consequential factors. This is a shameless fluff piece. Today I want to talk about the best unexpected side benefit of working in gambling – the celebrities.
In their constant mission to normalise and glamorise gambling, the big casinos and bookmakers have an almost bottomless chequebook for paying famous faces to tout their products.
On that front, I was probably a bit unlucky with the timing of my PokerStars career. Soon after I left the strategy changed to pursuing full-blown A-listers, instead of the mostly F-list poker pros that clogged up Team PokerStars for years.
If I’d stuck around a bit longer, I’d probably have found myself propping up a Monte Carlo bar with Kevin Hart, Neymar, Usher or one of the Ronaldos (fat and regular). Nonetheless, I did okay. Here are some of my favourite encounters.
Becker in the Bahamas: In addition to making me give away a Lamborghini, our German marketing team loved to shoehorn Boris Becker into everything.
On this occasion we gave players the chance to play a heads-up poker match against Boris in the Bahamas. Most of them had earned their place from freerolls, which meant they were a mishmash of rubbish players from all around the world. Most of them were too young and too not-German to know they were up against an iconic bankrupt tennis commentator.
For Boris’s part, he was pleasant enough, but seemed fairly confused by the experience. He had probably been told when and where to turn up, but not what was actually required of him. I don’t think he’d played much poker, let alone heads-up poker, so the quality of the games was dire.
I spent most of my time shuttling back and forth getting him Diet Cokes, like the well-paid professional marketeer I was.
Coren at the Cannon: This one doesn’t get any kudos in the poker community because everyone on the UK circuit must have encountered Victoria Coren at some point. She’s been a successful degenerate gambler for years. But normal people might be impressed because she’s a genuine household name now, married to another household name. Double points.
I came across her a few times during her tenure with PokerStars, but the first time was at a staff party at the Loose Cannon poker room in East London. She seemed a bit rude and disinterested in meeting anyone on that occasion. And all the other occasions.
Herring in Soho: There was a staff tournament in a London nightclub and a few big names were invited to increase the prestige of the event. WSOP champions Moneymaker (lovely guy), Raymer (lovely but kind of boring) and Hachem (funny but irritable) were the headline attractions, but I was more interested in 90’s comedy legend and Serie 10 Taskmaster Champion Richard “Moon on a Stick” Herring.
For some reason, I got each of them to mark/crease a joker that had been discarded from one of the decks in use. I don’t know why, but I was very proud of my weird souvenir. Now I look back and cringe. I haven’t seen that card for at least ten years.
Shane and Jennifer at PH: I got to meet Aussie cricketing legend Shane Warne during a charity tournament in Las Vegas. It was a gratuitous trip to meet our top spending play money players during the WSOP. I was too star-struck at the time to form any meaningful sentences, but he was good enough to shake my hand.
At the same event I was seated next to squeaky-voiced actress Jennifer Tilly at the tournament’s feature table. She was mostly good fun, but constantly live streaming to Facebook, so slightly annoying.
Alice at the Leonard: This one was not in the line of duty but did happen during a work trip. I’d requested a twin room because I had planned a night out and my friend needed a place to stay. The only place that could accommodate was the Leonard Hotel, and luckily for me, that’s where Alice Cooper likes to stay.
I was horribly hungover at breakfast, but I found myself seated at the table next to the shock rock god, who was happily discussing a movie that he’d seen the night before. The latest horror/thriller/slasher? Nope, it was Toy Story 3. We are not worthy.
He finished up before me, so I wolfed down my fry-up and scuttled after him. We had a very nice ten-minute chat in reception and my hangover was cured.
Good ol’ JR on the Phone: Finally, a nerdy one, but my favourite. Whilst I was running the PokerStars Play Money product, I ran an acquisition campaign on the podcast of legendary wrestling commentator Jim Ross.
He spent four weeks promoting an online tournament that he would host and play, then announce the name of the winner the following week. The problem was that he had never played online poker.
So I spent an hour on the phone to a 60 year-old technophobe from a hostel in Copenhagen. We got the software downloaded, got him logged in, then played a couple of play money Sit & Go tourneys. He was an absolute gentleman and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
As a bonus, the podcast production company unexpectedly threw in some freebie adverts on their other podcasts. So weeks later, when I was listening to Stonecold Steve Austin interview Jake “The Snake” Roberts, I was stunned (pun intended) when he performed a live read of copy I’d written for JR. I can’t count is as a celebrity meeting, but Steve Austin has read out my marketing material. Massive.
Finally: Some other honourable mentions must go to hurdler Colin Jackson (who was wandering around the office for some reason), Comedy Dave (Chris Moyles’ long time sidekick who was in the staff canteen to help celebrate a charity thing), Lee Evans (at the urinals of Ronaldsway Airport) and Usain Bolt (chilling at Heathrow baggage reclaim).
So if you like star spotting, get that CV updated. You could be hanging out with Chris Kamara before you know it.