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Larry Flynt's Big Score

The Original Hustler is a Master of Stud

by Bob Pajich |  Published: Apr 11, 2007

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When Larry Flynt was a little boy, he didn't dream of becoming the porn king of the universe. He didn't dream of glossy pages filled with some of the most graphic photos of a woman's body ever mass-produced for mankind. He certainly dreamt of money (we all do), but there was no way to fathom the millions and millions of dollars that would come his way by introducing the world to the beaver shot, which seems to offend just about as many people as it delights.

No, when Larry Flynt, the Sultan of Smut, was a little boy, he dreamt of at least two things not associated with women: getting away from his dirt-poor Kentuckian roots, and owning a casino.

"Well, to tell you the truth, I always loved casinos, and I always had the fantasy of owning one," Flynt said. "So when this place became available in Gardena, I thought I could make it profitable and at the same time give me an opportunity to play cards with my friends. It was terrific that it worked out that way."

Flynt's poker-playing friends are champions and multimillionaires themselves. Chip Reese, Phil Ivey, Barry Greenstein, and Ted Forrest are regulars in his game, which, with a $200,000 minimum buy-in, is the biggest seven-card stud game in the world. Flynt himself may have had the greatest night a stud player ever had when he took home $1.1 million against these guys in February. And he did it right on the floor of Hustler Casino, just a few feet from the small-stakes limit players sweating over $25 pots.

The Hustler
In the late '90s, he earmarked about $40 million, bought the old El Dorado Club, hired a bunch of bulldozers, and tore the sucker down. He then built a Las Vegas-style casino just a freeway tear away from Hollywood, drenched the L.A. airwaves with advertisements, and rented 100 billboards targeting locals who were thinking about Las Vegas but didn't want to cross the San Gabriel Mountains.

The casino, bought with publication money and opened in June of 2000, has supplanted the magazine business at Larry Flynt Publications (LFP). LFP now publishes only the porn mags Hustler, Barely Legal, Taboo, the video game magazine Tips and Tricks, and the boating magazine Hot Boat. Flynt still owns a handful of Hustler Clubs, and LFP got into the video porn industry about a decade ago, but the casino is now the leading earner at LFP, which is somewhat of a pleasant surprise for Flynt.

"I would've been satisfied if I made a couple million dollars a year down there. And this year, we're going to make over 20," he stated.

Things are going so well at Hustler Casino that a major expansion just took place. The Crystal Room, which opened in February, will pull double-duty as a poker tournament and conference room, and will enable the Hustler to spread bigger tournaments, which will keep it competitive with the mega-cardrooms that are found all over Southern California. With upward of 70 tables – more could be added if necessary – and thanks to a tremendous ad campaign, the Hustler is always one of the busiest casinos around. The expansion was overdue.

"People came in, and they got disgusted because they couldn't get a table, and they would just leave; and, you know, that's not good for business at all. So we had to expand to be able to accommodate the customer," Flynt said.

The cardroom spreads everything from $2-$4 limit all the way to $5-$10 no-limit (with a $500 minimum buy-in), but it is also home to Flynt's game, which fills the casino with players when it takes place just about every weekend.

Mr. Flynt
In Flynt's corporate headquarters, located in a 10-story building on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, bronze statues of both men and women dot corners everywhere. Pastoral paintings as large as billboards hang on the walls and the whole place looks a little bit like parts of Bellagio, except that all of the employees move through the wide and airy hallways quietly, as if there's a baby sleeping somewhere nearby. Not one nipple, rendered or real, was spotted.

In his office, Flynt sits behind a desk wider than a king-size bed. An average suburban ranch-style house could fit inside his wing, and Flynt looks small in the room, sitting in his wheelchair, behind all the pictures and editorial cartoons framed on his desk. The only indication of how Flynt built his empire of wealth lies in two neat rows of the latest glossy magazines produced by LFP.

His speech is deliberate and slow, and as distinctive as a trademark. A stroke years ago put a minor slur to it, but he is clearly still the boss here. Now, say what you will about Flynt and exploitation, Flynt and racism, Flynt and anti-Semitism, or Flynt being a misogynist or a sexist pig or anti-Christ (and plenty of people have stepped up and called Flynt many things, from an American hero for his First Amendment battles to the world's biggest scumbag for his livelihood), there's no denying that he has left his mark on the history of the world.

Whether that mark is a yellowing bruise on America's thigh or a cause to celebrate is for others to decide. He is to be taken at face value here. Larry Flynt is Larry Flynt. He has lived an intense and bewilderingly fast life. He's been married five times. He ran for president and governor of California. Flynt's angered at least one person so much that he shot Flynt in the spine. He's seen things and done things – sexual things – that would make Caligula blush, and those things helped make Flynt an obscenely rich man.

High-Stakes Poker
For the last decade, Flynt has stayed on the edge of life by playing in a seven-card stud game with some of the greatest poker players alive today. His game at Hustler Casino is open to the public, but rarely does an uninvited guest take a seat at table No. 55 in the far corner of Hustler's spacious poker room. Not many stud players could afford the minimum buy-in of $200,000, let alone the stakes. The ante is $1,000, as is the bring-in. The stakes are $2,000-$4,000.

This game was originally held at Flynt's mansion in Los Angeles, but when the Hustler Casino opened, he moved it there. Unlike the high-stakes games played elsewhere, his high-stakes table sits in the same room with the rest of the poker regulars of Southern California.

Patee McGuire, one of Hustler Casino's floor managers, starts setting up Flynt's game on Wednesdays by calling from a list of the regulars that always includes Greenstein, Reese, Ivey, David Oppenheim, Stephen Wolf, and others. She then lets Flynt know who will play and the days the players are available. The game usually starts at around 4 p.m. one day on the weekend, and rarely lasts longer than eight hours. Flynt doesn't play when he's sleepy, so when that happens, the game ends. Without Flynt, the whale of the game, the sharks aren't interested in playing.

"I normally don't play over six, seven hours, but those guys, when they get going, they want to play all night. I don't think you should play when you're tired, it's one of my rules," Flynt said. "It's hard to get up and leave the table when you're losing a couple hundred thousand."

The guys he's talking about include Doyle Brunson, Gus Hansen, Eric Drache, and Bobby Baldwin, as well as Reese, Ivey, and Oppenheim. Nonpros who have graced the game include Jerry Buss and former governor of Kentucky John Y. Brown, who is Flynt's friend.

Flynt isn't anything if he isn't a natural showman. Fundamentally, his whole empire was built on the notion that people love to watch. Whether it's sex or high-stakes gambling, people generally can't turn away. His poker game is the same way. McGuire says that on the nights when it's known that Flynt and the rest of the guys are going to be at table No. 55, the 70-table poker room swells to capacity. McGuire usually has to spread another four or five games just to accommodate the players.

"They idolize the table," she said.

One Thursday night in February, those fans got a heck of a show from Flynt. That night, he sat with a handful of the game's regulars and won more during that game of stud than possibly anyone else in the history of poker. In one night, Flynt took $1.1 million from Ivey, Reese, Forrest, Wolf, and Oppenheim.

"I've played poker all my life, but the last 25 years, I've played consistently," Flynt stated. "I never dreamed about getting involved at a professional level, it just kind of happened."

He's involved with it heavily because of two things: his desire to play against the best players in the world and his extremely deep pockets. Flynt claimed that he didn't know the term "whale," which some players use to describe a live, rich player in a game. Instead, he said he is the "mark" in this game, and it has everything to do with the mounds of money that Flynt has stashed everywhere.

"I think they all come looking to play with me because I have deep pockets, you know," he said. "I just laugh at them. For years I've always managed to hold my own. You see, you don't have to win all the time, and I don't win all the time, and nobody wins all the time. But if you can win 56 percent of the time, you're a winning player."

Stud
Texas hold'em bores the hell out of Larry Flynt. To him, it's as exciting as baccarat. Although he says that discipline and patience are a big part of his stud game, he can't stand sitting there waiting for a hand in hold'em, only to see the flop force him to muck. He rarely plays it. Seven-card stud is his game.

"You see, the whole nation got duped with this hold'em because of Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim, Johnny Moss, and Benny Binion, who built the Horseshoe in Vegas. They came up from Texas and brought the hold'em game with them, and when Benny decided to have the World Series of Poker, they decided to make hold'em the official game," Flynt said. "But if you talk to anybody who really likes to gamble and who gambles extensively, they'll tell you that stud is their preference."

Flynt's reasons are clear.

"It requires more skill. In hold'em, wherever your position is and however cheap you can get in, the flop basically is going to determine your hand 80 percent of the time, so there's really not much of a decision that a player has to make, unless he's in a situation where he figures he could bluff the other guy out or something. To me, hold'em is not a challenging game."

Flynt doesn't need money. To him, several thousand dollars is literally tipping money. The last time Flynt played to win money because he needed it was in the Navy, which he joined after he was booted from the Army for being only 15. Just as it is now, it was always stud then. The stakes – loose change – were quite different. The players in his current game are also a lot different than his Navy buddies.

The caliber of players Flynt invites to his game is so good because he figures, what the hell, he might as well play against the best if he's going to play against anyone at all. By all accounts, Flynt is a fantastic stud player. He even came close to winning a WSOP bracelet in stud in 2000, when he finished eighth in the $5,000 event. Even so, it's hard to believe that Flynt, who understands his role as mark, is up in the game.

That doesn't mean the players show up to his game only to fleece the king of porn.

"Larry's game is a fun game," said Chip Reese, one of the original members of the game and who some call the best stud player in the world. "His reputation – the way most people see him because of Hustler – is deceiving. He is very non-judgmental, a fair guy. And his stud game is improving all the time. There are not a lot of high-stakes seven-card stud games around, so I look forward to Larry's game."

Flynt credits his big win with recent adjustments he has made to his game. One thing he's done is reset his standard of starting hands, he said. A student of poker (he said that he's read every poker book out there), he got sick of consistently being even and decided to revamp things.

"For the last couple of months, I've been readjusting my play, my strategy. The biggest thing that a poker player can have is discipline, so I don't chase hands. If I don't have a hand, I don't chase it trying to make anything. And I also don't play small pairs, unless I have a huge kicker. So I think that's raised my play a great deal," he stated.

One of the few women to play with Flynt is poker champion Cyndy Violette. Although Flynt says he has a policy of not backing players (it never worked for him), he buys Violette's way into his game.

This is what she had to say about playing with Flynt: "When I play in Larry's game, he puts me in. Then he tells me exactly how he wants me to play. It's like I can't play my own game. I feel like a racehorse with a 100-pound weight on its back, and it's very frustrating."

Greenstein, who lives in Southern California and is a regular in the game, said this about Flynt and his game: "Larry's a very good seven-card stud player. The conversation at his games borders on the outskirts of decency, as opposed to other poker games."

That's just a bonus for players like Greenstein, who has taken more money off people like Larry Flynt than anyone could imagine. Flynt usually buys in for more than the $200,000 minimum. He says that he's often up around two or three hundred thousand one night, and then it swings the other way the next time, and he's down three or four hundred thousand. It's been that way for 10 years, and, despite Flynt's changes to his game, will probably continue like that until Flynt calls it quits. The big-time players will come around as long as Flynt will have them. He will sit there and battle with these guys in the sheer spirit of competition. Poker is a passion to Flynt. He loves sitting there with the best and butting heads. God, or somebody, please save his soul. spade

Lizzy Harrison contributed to the story.