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Baldwin is Still Winning

At a time when Las Vegas is all abuzz about the implications of Steve Wynn’s fall from grace, I am reminded of his rise as a visionary who took a glitzy casino into the Wild West downtown Las Vegas recruited World Series of Poker Champion Bobby Baldwin as an executive and took him up the corporate ladder to there, making him president of the Golden Nugget. For Baldwin, the rest has been an unending storied history.

Well schooled in accounting matters, and people reading skills, Baldwin went on to become president of Wynn’s first  property on the famous Las Vegas Strip– Mirage Resorts, and then at Wynn’s crown jewel Bellagio, before joining the C-Suite of the behemoth MGM Company where Wynn’s arch rival Terry Lani was the CEO.

When MGM took aim at the Wynn properties and acquired them– lock, stock, and barrel, Baldwin remained a winner, moving up a higher corporate ladder in the MGM infrastructure.

Wynn was forced into a sale, taking a pretty penny and a non compete that also put him off the casino building grid for years. But once freed from his non compete agreement, Wynn was back in the saddle, and recognized, once again as one of Las Vegas’ most imaginative and effective casino visionaries–with plenty of political clout.

Last week, Steve Wynn resigned his position of Chair of the National Republican Committee and then as Chairman of the Wynn Hotel and Casino. He announced his resignations amid allegations of  sexual misconduct in the workplace, acknowledging , only, that the accusations had caused a public relations disaster for him and the properties that bear his name.

Baldwin has long since departed from Wynn’s business operations, but he was a winner for Wynn and a bigger winner in the world of MGM. Baldwin’s winning ways are no accident of fate. His decision strategies have been artfully refined over the years, undoubtedly  perfected by paying careful attention at poker tables–where he is still a threat to younger poker wizards.

As a woman who has worked and played in male dominated worlds, including casinos from Las Vegas to Macau, and routinely in the company of casino moguls and poker players, I have learned there are plenty of good and bad male role models around–in both categories.

I have known Steve Wynn casually for more than 30 years-well enough to watch him take his poker lessons in the 80’s and to share a few group meals at charity dinners in Las Vegas; not well enough to have any personal clue or opinion about him as to alleged sexual improprieties with the Company’s massage therapists–some of whom worked on my ever -aching feet. I have had a bit more personal experience with Bobby Baldwin–enough to know that I was very fortunate to make his acquaintance.

By the looks of the first poker table I visited (in downtown Las Vegas), I suspected that it would be “slim pickins'” to find a few good men! But Baldwin turned out to be one of many men associated with poker that have taught me crucial negotiating skills and the power of keen observation.

But I made a few interesting connections; one was Jay, a businessman and elite poker player who introduced me to Bobby. I instantly took the measure of the man as smart, well-mannered, focused, skeptical, determined, and– a skilled “people reader. He exuded inner confidence.

I don’t know Bobby Baldwin well, but I certainly have experienced his winning ways. At the Grand Prix of Poker, way back –in 1985, where we were both invited to play in a Charity Invitational, Bobby crippled me –unceremoniously. He played a pair of sevens as if they were Aces–because he knew I would fold to his big raise! And then he toughened me up by  warning me to hunker down and study how best to play each  hand. Bobby Baldwin’s sage words have proven applicable, everywhere!

Baldwin has the world on a string! 

Bobby Baldwin

My hours were numbered at the final table of the Grand Prix. Bobby eventually knocked me out in fifth place, taking advantage of another moment of inexcusable distraction on my part.

I tracked Bobby down to thank him for the thrashing and promised to take his words to heart.  And you better believe, I have done so!

The high profile C-Suite executive of MGM and former winner of the World Series of Poker Championship had already begun his rapid trajectory to the top of the corporate ladder, noting, “The only difference between the poker room and the boardroom is the shape of the table.”

Weeks later, we met up at a formal charity event in Las Vegas. He complimented my gown and then kidded me, about being distracted at the final table of the Grand Prix, whispering, “It pays to watch hands when you are not in them.”

Following Bobby’s suggestion, I began to approach card tables and conference tables with more focus, taking pains to avoid a more blunt accusation of the attention span of a gnat!

I  created exercises to develop my power of observation, more acute acute hearing and awareness of people’s speech and silence–both at the poker table and in business meetings. As I developed these skills, I made more confident analyses of risk reward ratios,  and I found myself in fewer jams–everywhere.

Master deal makers are distinguishable from the rest by their people-reading expertise and negotiating savvy.  Bobby’s advice resonated  deeply for me. I learned, slowly and methodically how to become a far keener observer and a more informed listener by paying attention when others don’t.

Accurate “people reading and negotiating savvy are crucial calling cards in any power poker game. And, women come to the table with the innate advantage of more highly honed natural intuition.

If I had to guess how Bobby Baldwin came to hold the world on a string, I would make a ladylike wager that his secret “sauce” is his power of concentration and attention to facts and behavior that others miss regularly.

Decades after the Grand Prix Poker Tournament and the gala charity affair,  that brought me into the casino world of Steve Wynn and the poker world of Bobby Baldwin I was visiting  the late Terri Lanni, Chairman of MGM. By this time, Bobby had become president of MGM. He popped into the chairman’s office and joined us for a casual chat.  I reminded him that he crushed me with a par of sevens, while attempting to convince him I am no easy target anymore. But I will still run in the opposite direction if I see him at a poker table. Did I mention, he is still winning?