Poker pro and old school Las Vegas legend Doyle Brunson once famously said: “In order to be a successful gambler you have to have a complete disregard for money.”
On the basis of this quotation, Robert Gorodetsky could be one of the gambling greats. The only problem being that his ‘disregard for money’ was for money that didn’t actually belong to him. He gambled someone else’s hard earned cash – and lost it all.
In 2017, USA Today splashed the story of ‘Big Rob’ across its sports pages; hailing the (then) 25-year-old college drop-out as ‘the future face of sports gambling’. Three years later and Gorodetsky is heading to prison for two years, charged with fraud to the tune of $9.6 million. That’s some next level ‘disregard’.
Gorodetsky lived the dream. For a few years, he was the king of the high rollers, the boss with a babe on his arm, and a $50,000 watch on his wrist; an Instagram legend, with 170,000 followers and swagger to spare; Drake on his Rolodex, and courtside seats at every NBA game. He was a Las Vegas whale, living the high life from a high limit lounge.
Gorodetsky boasts that his gambling started when he was just 13, with organised poker games at his middle school. He dropped out of college in just three months and began playing professional poker. He was pretty good. Aged 21, Gorodetsky headed to Las Vegas, with a $90,000 bankroll and dreams of becoming a professional gambler.
For the next few years, Gorodetsky would live a lie, claiming his extravagant lifestyle was down to his success at the casino. His sports betting baffled experts who considered it performance art. Gorodetsky said: “It’s hard work. It’s luck. It’s odds. It’s probability. It’s not a magic show. It’s not Copperfield.”
In fact: it was nothing more than guesswork; playing high risk parlays, with little or no research. He claimed a hit rate of 65% but every gambling expert in Las Vegas had doubts. At the blackjack table, Gorodetsky blew more than $1.1 million with utter disregard for his losses. “The thing that gives me the edge is there’s no fear of losing,’’ he said.
The new rich kid of Instagram was a rising social media sensation; always winning, always spending; the Hublot watch, the Ferrari. The chutzpah: “It’s not just gambling, it’s a lifestyle.’’ Gorodetsky was a vicarious guilty pleasure, with shoes – limited edition, $2,500 high tops – that we all wanted to wear.
The truth is: it was all a lie. Gorodetsky wasn’t the sportsbook savvy reincarnation of Frank Rosenthal; or the secret lovechild of Phil Helmuth and Annie Duke. He was a grifter, a conman, a criminal, a fraudster with a great line in the stinky stuff that makes your garden grow.
Gorodetsky pretended to be a highly successful day trader, convincing the father of an ex-girlfriend to make an initial ‘investment’ of $953,000 in February 2014. The money never made it to the stock market. Gorodetsky gambled the cash and lied; claiming the portfolio had more than doubled in value.
In the next three years, Gorodetsky would falsify bank account statements, persuading his victim that sports betting was where the serious money was, all was well, and that the cash was rolling in. In fact: he would embezzle a total of $9.6 million. In April 2021, Gorodetsky swapped his penthouse suite at the Aria for a prison cell. Sentenced by Judge Elaine Bucklo to a 28 month prison term, and ordered to repay the $7.2 million in outstanding losses, Gorodetsky’s brief reign as ‘the future face of gambling’ is over for now.