The wheeling and dealing that takes place at a poker table typically involves only the cards being dealt. In this two-part series, we delve into the chance meeting of two recreational poker players who turned a chatty no-limit game at the Venetian into a multimillion dollar movie production deal.
Randall Emmett is a powerhouse movie executive. As a producer, he has been behind more than sixty movies and has worked with stars such as John Travolta, Al Pacino, Bruce Willis, and Nicolas Cage. But inside this Hollywood big-wig is a devoted poker player. He plays every chance he gets-Commerce, Hustler, Agua Caliente and celebrity-filled home games when he is in Los Angeles, and Wynn, Caesar's, and the Venetian when he is in Las Vegas.
Richard Jackson is a top health care executive. The Georgia resident is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Jackson Healthcare, a leading healthcare solutions provider. His company has been ranked No. 28 in Entrepreneur magazine's Hot 500 list of the country's fastest-growing businesses and one of the Top U.S. healthcare companies by Inc. magazine. Jackson has been playing poker for about a decade, mostly on extended visits to Las Vegas where he has played at the Mirage, Bellagio, and the Venetian.
The Hollywood producer and Atlanta entrepreneur found themselves at the same high stakes no limit hold 'em game at the Venetian last summer. Emmett was doing his best Jamie Gold-chatting up the table, talking a lot of trash, calling everybody out, and teasing the young internet players by calling them "click-clicks" (a term that referred to their adeptness with a mouse). "I was having a good time," Emmett recalled. "I was keeping people entertained." Jackson, by contrast, was mostly quiet. But he thoroughly enjoyed Emmett's table banter, calling it "literally the best show I saw it Vegas. It was just hilarious." Jackson still chuckles as he recalls that table. "Very few times in my life where I laugh till I'm almost crying, it was that funny and it was nonstop. [Emmett] was just doing one liners the whole time."
Even though Jackson was quiet, Emmett noticed him. He could tell that Jackson was a good poker player, but he could also tell that he was somebody who had a career outside of poker. Emmett and Jackson were much older than the "click-clicks" which led to Emmett commenting that "we're just the amateurs and you guys are all the big sharks feeding on the fish." This prompted one of the younger players to ask Emmett what he did for a living. Emmet responded that he was a movie producer. "The click-clicks didn't believe me and then everybody starts Googling me." That included Jackson who learned that the movie producer was who he said he was.
Shortly after Emmett suffered a bad suck out at the hands of one of the click-clicks, "there was a little bit of a lull," according to Jackson, so the two started talking more seriously. "I asked him, how's the economy affecting making movies, financing movies? I said, I don't know anything about the business but I'd be interested in talking to you sometime about it." Jackson asked if Emmett ever considered outside investors for his movies.
Emmett told him the truth. "I said, not really, I just never really pursued a lot of outside investors." Emmett knew that Jackson was in the health care field, but "didn't know he managed a dozen companies and hundreds of employees." But as the evening wore on, they talked exhaustively and Emmett learned more about the Atlanta businessman and liked what he learned. "We really got along and he gave me his card and I gave him my card and he said, let's definitely talk."
Jackson returned to Georgia and Emmett returned to Los Angeles, but that did not end the discussions. They talked on the phone about the structure of a deal. Emmett and his production partner George Furla then flew to Georgia to meet with Jackson-and the deal was concluded.
In part 2 of this series, the deal becomes a movie.