Double or Nothing book coverDouble or Nothing is the story of how two friends hit it big in the dot com era, and then went on to purchase the legendary Golden Nugget Casino. Written by Tom Breitling in a casual, informal style, their story deals with the ups and downs of a fourteen year period that in some ways mirror my own experiences over the last 15 years (although in my case without the vast riches that went along with the story).

The coolest part about the whole thing is that Harper Collins is making it available for free until April 3rd online. Read Double or Nothing at Harper Collins.

For me, the interesting part about this story was the timeline stuff. I came of age during the dot-com boom. I had been aware of the internet around 1993, surfing around via Archie, using Kermit, Veronica, and Gopher. We initially terminaled in to the internet, but later used Trumpet Winsock to get online, and even then it was a cryptic mess of protocols and navigation nightmares. A far cry from my always on, wireless connection that I’m writing this on.

The guys founded Travelscape in the 90’s, and figured out a then-brilliant business model which allowed them to sell discounted hotel reservations, get the money up front, and pay for the hotel room when the customer actually used it, thereby earning them interest on the money as well as the initial fee for the hotel room.

They eventually moved their phone based system online, and owned the market. The company was one of the few online ventures actually making serious money in the dot com boom, and because of that they were unable to do an initial public offering (the banks didn’t want to finance an IPO on a company that was making money and therefore had a predictable upside, when they could bet on all of these companies losing millions of dollars which could go nowhere but up).

After being offered in excess of $100 million on two different occasions but having the deals break down in negotiations due to the pair’s no-nonsense tactics (and no real need to sell the business), they eventually sold the company to Expedia.

This is where the story gets good.

They decide to buy a casino, look at a couple, settle on one, get involved with a reality TV show, start turning the hotel around, nearly lose their shirts, and sell the casino for a huge profit within a year.

While there were a few too many sports analogies for my liking, but reading about the history of Las Vegas is so interesting, and it made me do a ton of Wikipedia investigating, where I found that more than half of the hotels that we visited on our first trip in 2001 were less than two years old.

My overall opinions of the book are that it was incredibly interesting to me due to my personal experiences during this period, but your mileage may vary depending on your own experience. If you’re interested in what makes an entrepreneur tick, the dot com bubble, or want to know a little about Las Vegas, this book comes highly recommended.