ASIAN AMERICAN PERSONALITIES
THE 130 MOST INSPIRING ASIAN AMERICANS
OF ALL TIME
PAGE 7 of 7
Chan offers that he's blazed a trail for other Asians who nurse aspirations of becoming high-stakes poker players. "Back then, I didn't have a role model because there weren't any top Asian players." Chan estimates that there are now 50 to 60 Asians on the poker tournament circuit, but maintains that he's still the best of the bunch. "I'm the best player in the Asian community. They're all dreaming they're going to be the Orient Express II."
Johnny Chan is getting antsy. His right leg is visibly pulsing to the tune of "Suspicious Minds" being belted out by an Elvis impersonator on a nearby stage at the Four Queens casino. He yawns, tosses a bad hand, leans back and drapes his left arm over a vacant chair. "Let's kick it up to three hundred, six hundred," he growls. The four other players at the table ignore him, apparently content with betting limits of $200 and $400. "These cards are hot!" announces one of his foes, an intense younger fellow clad in T-shirt and blue jeans. Chan says nothing. He's lost about a half-dozen hands straight. While waiting for a hand to be settled, he pulls out a small pen knife given him by Steve Wynn, owner of the Golden Nugget and the Mirage Hotel. Chan performs a quick trim of a fingernail and flicks the remnant from the table. Finally, he's had enough. "Let's take a run out to the Mirage," he says.
The Mirage Hotel, with its constantly erupting volcano, white albino tigers and tropical-forest ambience, is the quintessence of Las Vegas flash and glamour. This is where Chan plays poker when he's on The Strip. On this night he's looking for Roger King, chairman of King World Productions which syndicates TV heavyweights like The Oprah Winfrey Show and Wheel of Fortune. Cutting a swath through the parade of tourists that jam the casino, Chan heads straight for the poker room where he hopes to engage King in some high-stakes action. The dozen or so tables are packed, but King is nowhere to be seen. King is shooting craps, Chan is told by a poker room attendant. Without looking surprised at this development, Chan retreats to a corner to make a few calls on his portable phone.
A few minutes later, without playing a single hand of poker, he's ready to leave. He came here to play poker with King and the other games don't interest him. We climb into his dark-blue Mercedes 500 SEC and head back downtown. Someday, muses Chan, he'll start his own casino. In fact, the day may be sooner than later. "It won't be long," he says. "I'm working on that very hard." Owning a casino would be a natural progression for Chan. He started out as an underage Vegas gambler when he was 16, became a poker pro when he was 21 and sits high atop the ladder of pros on the good side of forty. Along the way he's learned the ins and outs of the industry. "You can ask me anything about casinos and I understand," he says. "A percentage, anything, on blackjack, slot machines, baccarat."
It's well after midnight as Chan maneuvers his car through the intersection of Fremont Street and Casino Center, where the Horseshoe, Golden Nugget, Four Queens and Fremont hotels square off in a circus of blazing lights. "I'm going to drop you off here," he says. "I've got a few errands to run." Errands? At 1 a.m.? "Gamblers are a different breed," Chan had said earlier than evening. "It's a great life. Nobody tells you what to do." Pulling away from the curb quickly, Chan's sedan spins through a cold, light mist and disappears into the night.
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“They're all dreaming they're going to be the Orient Express II.”
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