For years, Phua has navigated the globe in an ultra-long-range business jet, its tail designation -- N888XS -- a nod to the Chinese belief in lucky number eight and the overindulgence that often accompanies a gambling windfall. With billions of dollars reportedly at hand, Phua has erected a gaming empire, touching down in Hong Kong, Las Vegas, London, Melbourne and anyplace in between where there are casinos, nosebleed poker games and gamblers ready to place max bets on the world's most lucrative sporting events. ... an unassuming 51-year-old Malaysian and the reputed principal owner of the world's largest sportsbook, IBCBet. ... What follows is the story of Phua's rise from a Borneo numbers runner to the biggest bookie around -- as well as the most powerful figure in poker. And how the FBI finally hooked him, only to watch him walk away a free man. ... According to trade estimates, IBCBet handles roughly $60 billion of betting per year. With a 1 percent take, the book clears $600 million annually. An IBCBet source in Manila says Phua owns 70 percent of the enterprise. ... By 2013, Macau's annual gaming revenue had grown to more than $45 billion. This growth -- which Adelson and Wynn publicly fronted -- was propelled in part by Phua, who for the moment remained unknown to those located anywhere but at the center of the industry.
“It’s been this way for the last seven years,” since President Obama got into office, says Mike Moore, Westside’s account manager at RSR Group, a large national gun-and-ammunition wholesaler based in Winter Park, Fla. Moore and others in the industry marvel at the staying power of what they call “the Obama surge”—elevated sales driven by the (unfulfilled) fear of tougher federal gun control. ... “There’s four things selling guns at the moment,” says Rocky Fortino, one of Hopkins’s employees. “One: ‘I’m afraid they’re going to make it harder to buy a gun, so I better get one now.’ Two: ‘I’m afraid of home invasions and other violent crime.’ Three: ‘I’m afraid of mass shootings.’ And four: ‘I’m afraid of terrorism.’” ... With an estimated 300 million firearms already in private hands and surveys showing that a third or so of American households possess a gun, one might assume that the consumer market is saturated. “It’s not,” Hopkins says. “Gun owners are buying more guns, and lately we’re seeing some first-time buyers, too.”
Most gamblers were still asleep, and the gondoliers had yet to pole their way down the ersatz canal in front of the Venetian casino on the Las Vegas Strip. But early on the chilly morning of Feb. 10, just above the casino floor, the offices of the world’s largest gaming company were gripped by chaos. Computers were flatlining, e-mail was down, most phones didn’t work, and several of the technology systems that help run the $14 billion operation had sputtered to a halt. ... Computer engineers at Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS) raced to figure out what was happening. Within an hour, they had a diagnosis: Sands was under a withering cyber attack. PCs and servers were shutting down in a cascading IT catastrophe, with many of their hard drives wiped clean. The company’s technical staff had never seen anything like it. ... The people who make the company work, from accountants to marketing managers, were staring at blank screens. “Hundreds of people were calling IT to tell them their computers weren’t working,” says James Pfeiffer, who worked in Sands’ risk-management department in Las Vegas at the time. Most people, he recalls, switched over to their cell phones and personal e-mail accounts to communicate with co-workers. Numerous systems were felled, including those that run the loyalty rewards plans for Sands customers; programs that monitor the performance and payout of slot machines and table games at Sands’ U.S. casinos; and a multimillion-dollar storage system. ... In an effort to save as many machines as they could, IT staffers scrambled across the casino floors of Sands’ Vegas properties—the Venetian and its sister hotel, the Palazzo—ripping network cords out of every functioning computer they could find, including PCs used by pit bosses to track gamblers and kiosks where slots players cash in their tickets. ... This was no Ocean’s Eleven. The hackers were not trying to empty a vault of cash, nor were they after customer credit card data, as in recent attacks on Target (TGT), Neiman Marcus, and Home Depot (HD). This was personal. The perpetrators wanted to punish the company, or, more precisely, its chief executive officer and majority owner, the billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Although confirming their conjectures would take some time, executives suspected almost immediately the assault was coming from Iran.
If Las Vegas is the most profligate place on earth, where chance is king and the future is routinely gambled away, it is also possibly the most frugal and forward-looking American city in one respect: water. And now it’s trying to leverage that reputation by turning itself into a hub for new and innovative water technology. ... In the thirstiest city in the nation’s driest state (it gets just 4 inches of rain a year), water is the last thing Las Vegas wants to gamble on. After 16 years of drought, water levels in nearby Lake Mead, the city’s primary water source, have dropped so precipitously that white rings have formed on its banks. Las Vegas, like a bankrupt gambler who suddenly realizes that things have to change, has responded with a host of water conservation measures. ... The water industry is by nature risk averse, since a mistake can have catastrophic health consequences (see Michigan; Flint). But with more pressure on water supplies around the United States and the world, innovation is increasingly important. Las Vegas’ focus on water—and the constant pressure on its supply—has driven years worth of public experimentation, establishing the area’s umbrella water utility, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, as a nationally recognized leader in water quality treatment. The utility boasts a state-of-the-art laboratory that produces ground-breaking research and a roster of scientists who routinely publish in major academic journals.
Mercier did some quick arithmetic. He figured if he wanted to sit out and not play the last two hours of the NLHE tournament, he’d need about 40,000 chips to survive all the blinds and antes he’d forfeit. He was given 15,000 chips when he entered. If he could turn his 15,000 chips into 40,000, he could leave this tournament and go play the Pot-Limit Omaha and the Triple Omaha events in the Amazon Room simultaneously and know he had enough chips to play the second day of the NLHE. He had done this before, but only online, where it was possible for him to play in 10 tournaments at once. This wasn’t online. This was real life. To pull this off — three high-stakes tournaments at once — it would require more than just spinning up his stack and sprinting down the hall. It would require his brain to work on overdrive. He’d need discipline, focus, and a reliance on instincts he’d never tapped before. It didn’t really matter how hard or stupid it was. He had no choice. And he had 40 minutes — no, now 39 — to make it happen.
Carleo wasn't without models for how a man might get ahead in life. "My father, my stepfather, my uncle – they all had money. Nice suits, nice cars, nice houses," Carleo says. "But they all worked hard to get it. Me, I didn't have time for that. I was too impatient." ... Eventually he began plowing all his money into buying up rental properties, signing for loans with balloon payments that would kick in after a couple of years. When the financial crisis hit, Carleo was left holding the bag on a series of underwater mortgages. Now deeply in debt, he was forced to sell his own house and let the properties go into foreclosure. In May of 2009 he filed for bankruptcy. A few months later Carleo scraped together $30,000 by liquidating what remained of his possessions and made the 12-hour drive to Vegas to start his new life. ... By robbing the Bellagio, Carleo had achieved something he hadn't been able to do in a decade of striving – he had made himself a millionaire. But, because he had stolen chips instead of cash, he was really only a millionaire inside the Bellagio casino. He would have to park his car in the casino's garage, ride the casino's elevator and walk the casino's marble floors under the watchful eyes of thousands of cameras. He would have to hand the casino's chips to the casino's cashiers and hope that they would give him money rather than call the police. And because trying to redeem too many chips at once might bring unwanted attention, he would have to do it over and over again.
He flips through some speech notes. "A simple talk," he promises, though this evening is a culmination of a much longer story, which SI will cover in depth over the next 10 months. It starts with an impatient Army brat paired with a locally rooted family, both rich and motivated enough to make history. Success required the financial might of Las Vegas Boulevard's neon properties, of course, but also support from much of the area's almost 2.2 million residents: ironworkers laying rebar, electricians wiring marquees, lawyers, bartenders, singers, the Pawn Stars star.... The expansion fee alone cost $500 million—more than 1.5 times what Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota and Columbus combined paid in the NHL's last round of expansion—most of the outlay pulled from Foley's personal fortune. The ultimate reward will come next fall when the first puck drops. ... Three years ago, when expansion to Las Vegas was just talk, none of this really seemed possible. The NHL was still regrouping from its partial-season lockout of 2012--13, and business-side rumors focused more on relocation than growth. The area behind the New York-New York roller coaster contained offices and parking lots, not a $375 million arena featuring a velvet-roped nightclub in the rafters offering bottle service.
It has always been easy to underestimate Mark Davis. After all, he is known for his wacky bowl cut and silver-and-black suits and for managing the Raiders from the bar at a P.F. Chang's. Since his Hall of Fame father, Al, died six years ago, Davis has been an afterthought in league circles, easy to malign and hard to take seriously. ... Adelson considered the Raiders' move a chance to help him shift a windfall of public money away from a competitor's convention center renovation -- and a chance to enhance his legacy by delivering an NFL franchise to his home city, sweetened by a stake in a gleaming, state-of-the-art $1.9 billion domed stadium and, perhaps, a piece of the team. ... What no one could see then is that, after making good on his word by delivering an American-record $750 million in public funds for the stadium and pledging $650 million of his own money, Adelson would end up furious a year later, feeling that Mark Davis -- the goofy Mark Davis who "surprises people if he can roll out of bed and put on his pants," as a team owner says -- had completely and utterly fleeced him.