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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now – Bob Stupak

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

On September 25, 2009, Bob Stupak passed away, but not before leaving a huge impact on Las Vegas.  A few stories I’ve done for the “Where Are They Now” series have documented truly unique people and truth be told, all of them have been interesting in their own way.  Also, if you have ever been to Las Vegas, you have probably realized that the city is one of the more unique places you have ever seen, if not the most.  So what made Bob Stupak amazing was that he was both a truly unique person, and was also responsible for the way Vegas has been shaped today.
 
Bob Stupak was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on April 6, 1942 to Florence and Chester Stupak.  Young Bob got a good glimpse of how to run a successful gambling operation straight out of the womb.  His father Chester was already known as the leader of the underground and illegal gambling operations in the city of Pittsburgh.  For the most part Chester was able to run all of his operations without much trouble from the local police.  From the time Bob was born until his father died in the 1980’s, his underground gambling ring was known by all of the local area policemen, but because he never bothered anyone outside of the ring, and with the help of a little bribery money, they more often than not looked the other way.  Bob often said that from a very early age he realized the importance of getting to know, and getting on the good side of, people in high up positions.

Taking after his father, Stupak began running illegal card games while in high school.  In fact, Stupak looked for any way he could make a little money, from the card games, to selling things, to participating in bets usually involving his motorcycle.  One of his motorcycle stunts nearly cost him his life as a child, and again as an adult.  From an early age, Stupak realized he would never hold a conventional job and one of the most popular quotes from Stupak states, “I never had a steady job, all the jobs I had were self-inflicted.”  Some of the other “self-inflicted jobs” he held as a young man including a lounge singer under the name “Bobby Star,” which included a brief recording contract, and he even joined the Natural Guard.

When Stupak was of age he decided to move to Las Vegas, intrigued with the thought that a man can come to the city poor, and leave rich.  Stupak didn’t come without a plan though.  Stupak was the originator of the 2-for-1 coupon books that now appear in every casino and restaurant in Las Vegas.  Stupak sold these books, making a small fortune, and the success of the coupon books led him to try out his business in another country altogether – Australia.  In Australia the company thrived, but eventually the Australian government asked him to leave for “questionable business ethics.”  What those questionable business ethics were exactly are unknown, but Stupak naturally returned to Las Vegas, where maybe some of those things would be overlooked, and where he had already found a bit of success.

In 1974, using most of his money from his coupon book venture and money from some of his dad’s friends, he bought a piece of land north of Sahara on Las Vegas Boulevard that had previously been the site of a car lot.  Friends of Stupak told him that the land wasn’t worth much and no matter what he built on the spot it wouldn’t attract people away from the casinos downtown.  That did little to deter Stupak, so on March 31, 1974 he opened “Bob Stupak’s World Famous Historic Gambling Museum.”  Stupak later joked that the name of the casino was ten feet longer than the actual casino, and he wasn’t far off.  The casino had just a few table games, and 15 slot machines.  It also was known for adding wacky rules to conventional table games.  Regardless, the casino floundered, and just a month into it being opened he had money troubles.  In what has been called suspicious circumstances, the casino burned down on May 21, less than two months after opening.  The insurance company eventually gave Stupak the insurance money, after a lengthy investigation, which said the official cause of the fire was a faulty air conditioner.
 
Undeterred, Stupak would open a space themed casino in the same spot in 1979.  This casino was much more successful, generating 100 million a year during its peak.  Despite the casino doing well, Stupak had a dream of building the “world’s tallest sign.”  After waking up one day to see the sign in front of Vegas world had been knocked down, he had the thought that building the biggest building in Vegas would surely create a buzz, and in return, make lots of money for him.  Inspired by the Sydney Tower from his days in Australia, he started building the Stratosphere.

The building of the Stratosphere, met all kinds of trouble from the beginning, but the most tragic of those events was the motorcycle that nearly cost Stupak his life.   Twenty one years to the day after opening his first casino, Stupak was driving his Harley-Davidson when he collided with a vehicle going 60 MPH in a 35 MPH zone.  Nobody thought Stupak would survive, especially when a friend who saw the aftermath of the accident said his head had swollen to the size of a basketball.  Miraculously, Stupak awoke after a 5-week coma and after a few months made a recovery.

In a bittersweet period of his life, Stupak got to see his wish of the Stratosphere being opened in 1996, but the problem was nobody was stopping to dine or gamble, only stare at the building which remains the tallest observation tower in the United States.  The building went bankrupt, causing Stupak to sell his share.  Shortly after going bankrupt the casino was sold to new owners who have since made it not only profitable, but one of the most popular spots to stay due to it being roughly in between the big hotels on the strip and the old downtown area.

During his career as creator and casino owner he was also quite the poker player.  In 1989, the same year he bet $1,000,000 on the Super Bowl (he won) he won a World Series of Poker Bracelet in the $5,000 Deuce to Seven Draw event, earning $139,500.  Of the eight cashes he made at the WSOP, five of those were final tables.  Even late in his poker career Stupak proved to be a force on the tournament circuit.  Between 2003 and 2008, his last year playing tournament poker, he made the money on the World Poker Tour eleven times, including a 4th place finish at the 2003 L.A. Poker classic with a $10,000 buy-in.  For his career, Stupak made nearly one million dollars on the tournament circuit.

Just weeks ago Stupak lost his battle with leukemia.  The amount of press that came out with news of his death was a testimony to what he did for the city of Las Vegas.  Prominent people, including Senator Harry Reid, with whom Stupak was friends for over three decades, spoke on the effect he had on the city, calling him both a visionary and a true legend.
 
Stupak is survived by his three children.  Nicole, from his first marriage while in Australia, and Nevada and Summer from his second marriage, with lasted from 1971-1985 with Sandra Joyce Wilkinson.

*Read Billy Monroe’s Blog *

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