When Amarillo Slim Almost Became the Face of PokerStars

Amarillo Slim"You can't teach an old dog new tricks." -- English proverb

In the two and a half months after the collapse of negotiations with Chris Ferguson to become the face of PokerStars, PokerStars hired Steve Morrow as its first cardroom manager and Dan Goldman as the head of marketing. What happened next was one of the most surreal bits of weirdness I've ever been a part of -- the negotiations with Amarillo Slim Preston to become the face of PokerStars. Even more than fifteen years later, I feel like my mind needs a bath after thinking about it again. Since Dan has written his account of the catastrophe, I don't need to go into all that, but there are a couple aspects of the story Dan doesn't discuss, so here are those.

Back in 2002, Slim was the only poker player other than Johnny Chan the general public had any knowledge of, so PokerStars decided to approach him with an endorsement deal. Dan and I didn't know Slim, but my friend The Prince of Docness did. I suppose there is a secret society that larger than life characters like Doc and Slim belong to.

Anyway, during the April-May 2002 World Series of Poker, the timeline of events was Slim met Doc and I, then Slim had a conversation with Steve Morrow, then Slim met Dan, then the world spun off its axis...

Before it all fell apart, Doc told me about the amazing experience of walking with Slim from the Horseshoe Casino across the street to the Golden Nugget. Half the people they passed stopped to say hello, shake hands, have pictures taken with Slim, and make comments. A woman at a $4/8 table waved him over and asked him to "sweat in" the draw she had, and then he shook hands with all the players at the table. Slim said, "What online cardroom do you think that woman would play at for the first time?" Doc even asked him, "Now Slim, you didn't set all this up for my benefit?" And they laughed.

This is what the guy did. Publicly, Slim was the warm, friendly ambassador of poker. In contrast, Johnny Chan's image was like the one put across in Rounders, more cold and intimidating. Slim on the other hand was a showman. On top of that, Slim did interviews with the Wall Street Journal and Sports Illustrated the very day he was negotiating with PokerStars. On the surface, a deal between Slim and PokerStars made sense.

Except it didn't.

As I've mentioned in some of these other poker boom articles, from small things big things one day come. Or in this case, big things didn't come. Slim was a 20th century man who looked at a computer like a 19th century PT Barnum might have. The idea of putting on a show via merely playing poker and using a chatbox was not in his toolbox. He was an old dog who couldn't conceive of learning this new trick.

Who knows what might have happened if Slim were willing to learn to use a computer. Given that these events occurred a year before Slim was indicted for molesting his granddaughter, PokerStars dodged a bullet. But who knows how things might have been different if Slim had made the deal PokerStars? Would he have acted differently? Who would have benefitted and who would have lost out?

Since the PokerStars/Slim deal was structured so the Prince of Docness would get a cut of Slim's share, if Slim would have stayed with PokerStars until his passing in 2012, Doc's share would have been millions of dollars, so I'm pretty sure I know who the biggest losers from the collapse of this deal are: Mark Gregorich, Crazy Mike, Angry Ron, Randy Ohel and other Bellagio mixed game players who missed out on a chance to play with Doc as a rich liveone!

See also Inventing PokerStars, The Most Googled Poker Players During the Boom and The Poker Ecosystem