Me and Trump – It’s Personal

In March 2013, a year after moving to the Las Vegas valley, I landed a job at a startup called Ultimate Gaming. UG was about to launch the first ever legal, online poker software in the United States, known as Ultimate Poker. I was happy to be on the ground floor of this unique venture. Never having worked in the tech industry, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I soon came to love it there. I enjoyed my bright, friendly and funny coworkers and the attractive loft warehouse we worked out of, with its polished granite floors, high ceilings with exposed ducts, walls of floor-to-ceiling windows and ergonomic chairs. I loved the break area, with its vending machines stocked with semi-nutritious drinks and snacks, the wide-screen TV, a standing vintage video game and green felt card game tables.We were well-paid, had great medical and vacation benefits and were often provided free meals.

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Entrance to Vegas HQ – Photo by A. La Canfora
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Employees hard at work, razor scooter transport at the ready – Photo by A. La Canfora

This was no Mickey Mouse venture. Though we were a relatively small operation — the total number of employees in all of our locations combined was around 150 — heavy hitters had been imported from Apple and the world over to create our software. Local Vegas business icons, the Fertitta brothers — our founders — had reportedly invested tens of millions of dollars in UG. We were told that if successful, we’d be a huge boon to the post-recession, stagnant Nevada economy. Governor Sandoval even paid us a visit to cheer us on, slap some backs.

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Dana White of UFC, UG’s partner, showed up to give us a loud pep talk. Also pictured CEO Tom Brietling -Photo by A. La Canfora

I settled in, rolled up my sleeves, worked hard. Months passed. I looked forward to going to work each morning. I felt valued and respected. I handled unruly gamblers’ technical issues, beta tested our apps, copyedited our websites and software. I was taught the ins and outs of poker by some of the world’s top pros and developed an appreciation for the game. I even won one of our weekly employee poker tournaments, that included staff from our offices in Oakland, California and NJ. While the work could be stressful and the hours sometimes very long, it was a wonderful day job for an artist/musician/photographer/poet such as myself.

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Gleaming glass and granite alongside used UFC wrestling matt decor – Photo by A. La Canfora

Later that year, our CEOs partnered with Donald Trump in anticipation of the legalization of online gambling in New Jersey the following year. UG set up a base of operations inside the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. We launched our poker software and online games website in NJ, where we struggled amongst a sea of competition.

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A NJ promo

In the fall of the following year, things were going well for me and I was given a raise. I was thrilled, envisioning all the ways my life would improve, all the photo junkets I’d take, all the opportunities now open to me. I couldn’t be happier. It was the first job I’d had in many years where I was willing to settle in, stay the course and grow with the company.

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View from Vegas HQ, looking towards the Strip, over fake NY – Photo by A. La Canfora

But sinister forces were at work and not long after I received my raise, Trump filed for bankruptcy for the Taj. As a consequence, all of our NJ employees were immediately laid off and our New Jersey operations shut down. A month later came another wave of lay-offs in our Vegas headquarters. I was now out of a job.

Ultimate Gaming closed for good immediately thereafter. To be fair, we most likely would have closed down eventually, as our software was problematic and there was a lot of competition flooding the field. But Donald Trump’s bankruptcy filing hastened our demise and I was blindsided. Had I known that our company was in for eminent demise, I’d have made plans accordingly.

To say I was devastated is putting it mildly. I lost not just my livelihood but my friends. Many of my coworkers had relocated from elsewhere for their jobs – from Silicon Valley, Austin, Vancouver, the UK, Washington, etc. Most of these people fled Vegas and went home after the closing, leaving me alone in Sin City to lick my wounds. I spent that winter unemployed and miserable, scrambling to stave off eviction and to pay my bills on-time.

Now that man who helped me lose a job I loved, who helped plunge me into misery over the 2014 holiday season, is going to be president of the United States. He’s not MY president.

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