One Night in Vegas: How Richard P. Blankenship Closes Deals in the City of Sin
![Alt Text](https://images.squarespace-cdn.com/content/v1/56c346b607eaa09d9189a870/1603196933581-UKTJU2TS23WY8PA0OEKW/image-asset.jpeg) Richard Blankenship is a 29-year-old entrepreneur based in Las Vegas. He is a cofounder and Chief Revenue Officer at Prizeout, a financial technology company. In December 2019, before the outbreak of the pandemic, we spent an evening with him to learn how he balances business and pleasure. The doors to the Aria open, and I’m already behind. Richard Blankenship, the evening’s host, is a dozen strides ahead of me, paying no mind to the casino floor to his left, the hotel check-in lines to his right, or the forty-foot ceiling above him. He strides through the Aria lobby unphased, as if it’s the atrium of his home. In some ways it is. I catch up to Blankenship, and he tells me he leased a condo for three years above the Aria at Veer Towers. His poker media business, Poker Central, broadcasts from the PokerGo studios across the street. He asks if I’ve ever eaten at Catch, the Vegas location of the eponymous Catch LA, and the restaurant we seem to be approaching from across the Aria’s lobby. “It’s so convenient, living upstairs,” Blankenship says. “I eat here pretty often.” That’s an understatement. It’s a Friday night, and Catch is packed. A dozen of the restaurant’s patrons wait in the floral-lined entryway, taking turns shooting photos in front of the restaurant’s sign. They are dressed to the nines, risqué perhaps for dinner, but it’s Vegas and they certainly won’t have to coat-check at the club tonight. Blankenship pauses at the entrance, offers to take a photo for a twenty-something woman and her date, and continues through the crowd to the restaurant’s check-in stand. 29-year-old Blankenship approaches in his standard eveningwear: Yeezy 350s, black Lululemon joggers, and the flagship black shirt from CUTS, a menswear company Blankenship seeded. Another half-dozen people wait at the check-in stand, but the hostess recognizes Blankenship and waves our group of five forward. There is no reservation, just a note in the system by Blankenship’s name that reads “Always accommodate.” The group is standard for Blankenship. We’re joined by his friends Mark Eteson, the night’s headlining DJ at Hakkasan Nightclub, and Jonah Vella, a music industry videographer. The guest-of-honor, though, is entrepreneur Steven Borrelli, who has flown in from Los Angeles for the weekend. Borrelli and Blankenship first met ten years ago as fraternity brothers at San Diego State University. They both harbored entrepreneurial ambitions, and their friendship was instant. As their careers progressed, they stayed close. In 2017 Borrelli’s menswear brand CUTS Clothing launched and was inundated with orders. Borrelli needed capital for inventory and turned to Blankenship for support. “I knew Steven was brilliant in the direct-to-consumer space,” Blankenship says. “This was an opportunity to invest in a fast-growing ecommerce business run by a close friend. I wrote that check without hesitation.” Borrelli gives Blankenship something of an investment update between the appetizers that arrive in waves at the table (no one ordered, when you’re with Blankenship the food just comes). From Borrelli and Blankenship’s conversation, the future of CUTS sounds bright. The company is expecting tens of millions worth of sales in 2020 and is expanding its product line. “There were some tough moments early on,” Borrelli says. “Launching the site and receiving more orders than we imagined was validation of all the design and branding work we had spent so much time on. Now that the company is successful, I can look back on the stress I felt having to fill those orders with a smile. I can do that though because of Richard. He believed in us when we needed it most, and that’s part of why we’re doing so well today.” It’s 10:00 pm, but even Vella, who is fighting jetlag from a European tour, looks fired up. Vella motions to a passing waiter, and a few minutes later a round of espresso martinis arrive for the table. A dozen courses and a few hours later the group has grown. Mark Birnbaum, the owner of Catch, has stopped by to greet Blankenship. Sam Simmons, Blankenship’s partner in Poker Central, and Joey Ingram, host of the #1-rated poker podcast, join for drinks. They celebrate a deal they’ve made for Ingram to appear in upcoming Poker Central programming. A stream of DJs and music producers pass through to wish Eteson well on his headline set, ask Vella about the European tour, and greet Blankenship. At some point, the espresso martinis are replaced by off-menu cocktail shots (think Moscow Mule). Blankenship and Simmons break off their conversation for Blankenship to make a toast: “Never above. Never below. Always side by side.” Blankenship announces that he and Simmons have secured an allocation in Tik-Tok rival Triller’s series B. It’s clear that some of the members of the group don’t even know what Triller does, but that doesn’t stop them from volunteering their own money to follow Blankenship into the round. No due diligence. No negotiation. Just total trust in Blankenship, whose investment track record so far speaks for itself. Around 12:30 am Eteson hoists his DJ bag and signals to Blankenship. The group, now a dozen-strong, rises and heads for the exit. The valet sees Blankenship coming through the Aria’s glass front doors and flags a stretched limousine. We walk past the partygoers queued at the cab stand and slide into the car. Blankenship’s style of business is casual. At no point was there an agenda, and at no point did the conversation pivot to business. The focus of the night was on friendship, and if an opportunity arises to do business with a friend, Blankenship seizes it. He says, “Some of the worst advice I ever got was not to work with friends. Steven Borrelli is one of my closest friends. He was one of my first friends in college, and he’s one of my closest business confidants. That’s someone I want to be in business with.” Prizeout, Blankenship’s latest company, is a financial technology platform that allows users on partner websites to cash out via gift cards. The company and its 28 employees are headquartered in New York. Not Blankenship, though. He returns to New York often for management and board meetings, but he’s turned Las Vegas into a destination for his partners, clients, and investors. “I love being in this city,” Blankenship says. “Look at tonight. We had an update meeting for one of my investments, we celebrated a content deal for the poker business, and we announced an allocation in another investment. And none of it felt like work. It was just a dozen friends having a good time together.” As we enter MGM Grand, Blankenship turns his attention to his friend Eteson. “Do you see the crowd?” he asks. “Three lines from the club entrance into the casino. The place must be packed.” As we approach the entrance to Hakkasan, every host lingering in the VIP section comes to the nylon rope to wish Eteson well and greet Blankenship. The club’s artist manager whisks us to a private elevator. He leads us down a neon-lit hallway, past a kitchen, and to a door. “On in two,” the artist manager says, before he throws open the door revealing the DJ booth of Hakkasan Nightclub. Eteson and Blankenship lead us into the darkness. As the opening DJ cues his final song, the group mills around. Vella, the music industry videographer, takes charge. He pours drinks for the group and shares stories from Eteson’s last headline (something about a cowboy boot and monopoly money). Blankenship is on the periphery, though. He’s seated next to Eteson on a couch behind the DJ booth, their conversation inaudible to us, the two of them quietly sharing a laugh. After playing host to the group earlier in the night, Blankenship knows his place. This is Eteson’s moment, and all he wants is to support his friend before he takes the stage. Blankenship gives Eteson a close handshake, and Eteson rises to take his position behind the DJ decks. The club plunges into darkness, and the volume quiets. Eteson turns to us, puts his finger to his lips as if saying “shh,” and mouths “watch this.” White light floods the stage, and the name “Mark Eteson” appears on the club’s LED screens. Eteson flashes us a Cheshire cat grin, and the vocals of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” stream through the club’s speakers. The late December crowd joins in singing, some even swaying side to side. As the chorus comes to a close Eteson calls into the mic “Let’s go guys,” and fades in the horns and kick drum of Fisher’s mega-hit “Losing It.” The snare drum rolls in the buildup, Mariah sings “All I want for Christmas is you” one last time, and “Losing It” drops. The CO2 cannons in front of Eteson hiss to life, coating the roaring crowd in white smoke. The lights shift, casting a purple glow across the lingering haze. Blankenship turns to me and shouts, “Hell of a night, right?” Eteson’s headline set lasts two hours, and every fifteen minutes or so someone passes through the DJ booth. Many of them greet Eteson, posing for a photo on stage, but just as many greet Blankenship. An executive from Caesar’s entertainment. A tournament poker player. A private equity investor. After a while, I stop keeping track. It doesn’t matter. Not here. Not with Blankenship. We are all just friends, having a roaring good time.