Bobby Baldwin has stood at the center of the poker universe for more than four decades. The 67-year-old poker pro and 1978 World Series of Poker Main Event champion turned casino executive, who championed the game before the boom and beyond it, is now stepping out of it.
On Thursday, MGM Resorts International announced that Baldwin will be leaving the casino and gaming giant later this year. Baldwin is currently Chief Customer Development Officer of MGM Resorts and CEO and President of CityCenter in Las Vegas, Nevada.
According to an MGM statement:
“Few have played a more central role in the growth and transformation of the gaming industry than Bobby, and his contributions over more than three decades are immeasurable.”
As far as the game of poker is concerned, that ain’t the half of it.
A poker player first
The Tulsa, Oklahoma native first stepped into the poker spotlight when it was anything but bright. He won two bracelet events at the 1977 WSOP.
A year later, he won the 1978 WSOP Main Event. Back then, it came with the title of World Champion, but just a $210,000 first-place prize. At 28 years old, Baldwin was the youngest winner in WSOP Main Event history. The record has since been broken.
In 1979, he won his fourth WSOP bracelet. Three years later his career as casino executive began when Steve Wynn hired him at the Golden Nugget in Downtown Las Vegas. By 1984, Baldwin was Golden Nugget president.
When Wynn opened Mirage in 1989, Baldwin was its first president, and the property soon began hosting the biggest poker games in the world. In fact, in the legendary 1998 poker film Rounders, actor Matt Damon’s character correctly referred to the property as the center of the poker universe:
“The poker room at the Mirage in Vegas is the center of the poker universe. Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Phil Hellmuth, the legends consider it their office. Every couple of days a new millionaire shows up wanting to beat a world champion. Usually they go home with nothing but a story.”
A new center of the poker universe
The legends moved their office to Bellagio (pictured) after it opened in 1998. Baldwin became Bellagio president and the highest-stakes poker games on the planet moved to Bobby’s Room, a glass-encased salon at the back of the poker room named for Baldwin himself.
Poker’s popularity boomed in the early 2000s and the poker room at Bellagio became the place to make or break the game’s top players.
Wynn left Mirage Resorts to start Wynn Resorts and Baldwin became Mirage CEO. When MGM bought the company and it became MGM Mirage, Baldwin took the helm of its new CityCenter project.
The massive casino resort project opened to the public in 2009 with ARIA Resort & Casino as its focus. ARIA’s poker room launched with a Bobby’s Room of its own, named Ivey’s Room, after top poker pro Phil Ivey. However, the poker room clearly had Baldwin’s signature all over it.
Nosebleed cash games still play out at Bobby’s Room in Bellagio, but ARIA has become the home for some of the biggest buy-in tournaments in the world. Plus, the ARIA poker room has become the preferred Las Vegas destination for many poker players. In fact, it’s fair to say ARIA now shares the title of center of the poker universe with Bellagio. It’s no stretch to say Baldwin is a big part of the reason why.
A commitment to the game
Poker’s popularity may have waned since it’s peak in the mid-2000s, but Baldwin’s commitment to the game has not. Several poker rooms built in the wake of the boom have closed, with casino executives coming to the realization slot machines earn more per square foot than poker ever will.
However, Baldwin has always found a way to see value in treating poker players well and keeping them coming back.
Baldwin leaving MGM behind could possibly mean MGM leaving poker behind. It could ultimately mean Bellagio and ARIA cease to be the center of the poker universe. The poker world will have to wait and see.
MGM thanked Baldwin for all he has done for the company and all he has meant to the industry. It wished him the best for the future. Poker players can only hope MGM’s future includes honoring all he has done for poker by continuing to support the game in the manner he has.
Although, with rumors that Baldwin’s exit at MGM comes after years of internal tension that may have surrounded his dedication to poker over almost everything, there’s no guarantee it will.
In fact, with Baldwin not at the center of the poker universe anymore, that center may soon be hard to find.