ON THE BUTTON: With the Duke of Fremont

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The Duke of Fremont is a world traveler, treasure hunter and pro poker player from Las Vegas. He’s known around Vegas for his love of classic cars, fancy suits and poker. The Duke also hosts a yearly celebrity charity tournament in Las Vegas called Pinstripes and Polka Dots. Our Mike Owens caught up with him to talk about his life.

How long have you lived in Las Vegas? I’ve lived in Las Vegas a couple of times. I’ve been in Las Vegas almost 15 years this time.

What’s an average day look like for the Duke? I lead a charmed life. For the most part, I can do as I please. It’s like living a role in a vintage movie and I’m writing the script. Many days when I arise, I have no plans whatsoever and I go wherever the day leads me. Other days I have commitments, which I take very seriously, and I do what I have to do to fulfill them. An average day usually starts very early, however I generally don’t wish to “see and be seen” before late morning.

Was it a difficult journey to get where you are now? Yes. Although I’ve always been very proud of my family, my heritage and my history, I was born into a family of very modest means. I left home the night I graduated from high school. I then attended the University of Missouri, obtaining a degree in fine arts, majoring in English literature. While attending the university I had several revenue streams in those days. I played poker when I had a bankroll and managed to do quite well. I was a professional drummer and earned a substantial amount of my income performing up to seven nights a week. I was always passionate about toy soldiers, coins and other collectibles, so I also picked up extra cash buying, selling and trading these items.

Upon graduation, I worked a nine-to-five for six months or so, realizing this was not the life for me. I went off to Europe in the fall of 1974 and soon drew the conclusion that the world owed me nothing. Since I wasn’t born rich and knew I had to earn a living, I decided I might as well do something I was passionate about. I decided to start my own company and on Jan. 1, 1975, I started Ron Wall Miniatures. I created, sculpted, produced, painted and marketed military miniatures specializing in American military history.

What is your game of choice? Although my game of choice today is $1-$2 no-limit Texas Hold’em with no cap, over the years I played many forms of poker: draw poker, five-stud and seven-stud to name a few. I am not known in the tournament world but in the ring-game arena. I usually buy in for massive ridiculous amounts of money and play a very tight game.

Is it true you folded pocket aces preflop once in a big cash game? I’m sure I have. However I’ve also bet $30K preflop on the same hand. I believe the longer I play the more conservative I become. A while back another player asked: Duke do you ever gamble? I immediately replied, “Never with my money, only with my life.”

Can we talk a little about your cars? I love the late 1930s pre-WWII era. My original vintage cars are from this “Golden Era” of history. The big, voluptuous body, the wide white wall tires, the dual side mounts, the suicide doors, the running boards, and fancy chrome hood ornaments are but a few of the items that make these elegant rides so sexy, but classy at the same time. That’s a tough combination. I currently own a 1936 LaSalle and a 1938 Buick Century.

Can you tell us about your Pinstripes and Polka Dots charity tournament? This year the third annual event will fall on Oct. 25. The doors will open at 6 p.m. and the action will begin at 8. It’s a celebrity event and there will be a bounty on all the “Chosen Familia” celebrities, such as WSOP champion Tom McEvoy, poker player extraordinaire J.J. Liu, former Chicago Bulls basketball star Michael Brown, and Mark Hall Patton, administrator for many museums and authenticator celebrity for Pawn Stars to name a few. For a modest $100 entry fee, you can be a part of this exciting Downtown, Las Vegas tradition and be assured a substantial amount of the buy-ins and rebuys benefit the Clark County Museum Guild.

What would you recommend someone to see while they are in Las Vegas? Everyone will have a different tale to tell after visiting Las Vegas. Though I love the entire valley, I highly recommend visiting downtown to see the “New Old Vegas.”

Do you have any advice for our readers to improve their bankroll-management skills? Don’t get discouraged. Poker is a tough proposition at best. I’ve been playing the game for over four decades and still consider it a challenge even when I’m on my game. As I’ve said many times before: I’m not the worst poker player in Las Vegas; I’m the worst poker player in Las Vegas that still has a bankroll.