On Feb. 21, 2011, the popular electronic musician Deadmau5 played a set at XS, a swanky nightclub at the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Hotel Resort. Typically, the artist showcases a mix of progressive house music, but on this night, he slipped in an unusual song selection — Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Even stranger than having a DJ in a mouse get-up swing the turntables to an ’80s classic was the square-looking white guy in the background who entered the stage as the nightclub’s graphics screamed, “Don Mother F—ing Johnson.”
Of course there’s a story behind this — and it involves powerful Hollywood talent agency William Morris Endeavor, a gambler who once won nearly $6 million in a single night of blackjack, another Las Vegas celebrity and one outrageous offer. The tale is now the subject of a pending dispute in a Nevada federal court.
And this story isn’t staying in Vegas. According to court papers filed by WME, here’s what happened … A couple of years ago, WME agent Joel Zimmerman traveled to Las Vegas to book a gig for his client — not named in court papers, but no doubt Deadmau5 as a video below will attest. (In an odd coincidence, Deadmau5’s real name is also Joel Zimmerman. They aren’t the same guy.) There, Zimmerman met with Jesse Waits, a big-time Vegas local who is co-owner and managing partner of XS, one of the most esteemed nightclubs in the world. Prior to booking the engagement, Waits introduced Zimmerman to Don Johnson, identified as being an important Wynn client known to spend $100,000 to $500,000 at nightclubs on any given night. Johnson is also described as the CEO of Heritage Development, which would make him the same high roller who, in a four-month spree, won $6 million at the Tropicana, $5 million at the Borgata and $4 million at Caesars, and has been written about as “The Man Who Broke Atlantic City.” He’s also apparently a friend of Jon Bon Jovi’s.
During the night of Deadmau5’s performance, WME says that “Johnson made the following offer to Zimmerman — if the Client played a song by a certain musical artist during the Engagement, Johnson would pay $200,000 for the Client’s service. Zimmerman then spoke with Waits, who vouched for Johnson and assured Zimmerman that Johnson could be trusted to pay the $200,000 if the Client accepted the Offer and played the requested song.”
Zimmerman relayed the offer to Deadmau5: $200,000 to play Bon Jovi. The musician “accepted the offer and played a song as requested by Johnson,” and according to the court documents, the famous blackjack player went on stage “without being invited” and began dancing. The screen behind Deadmau5 announced “Don Mother F—ing Johnson,” which WME points out was “controlled by XS.”
So here’s what allegedly happened next: After the concert, Waits accompanied Zimmerman to collect the $200,000 from Johnson, who was seated at a high-stakes blackjack table and “appeared to be losing a lot of money.” When the money was requested, “Johnson screamed at Waits and refused to pay. After Johnson’s security approached the table, Zimmerman and Waits left Johnson’s hotel empty-handed.”
The next day, Johnson left Las Vegas in his private jet. WME, though, didn’t want to risk upsetting Deadmau5, among the many electronic artists now bringing sizable commissions to the agency. So Zimmerman told Waits that in order to preserve his agency’s relationship, it would need to follow through with the $200,000 payment. “Waits said he would contribute $50,000 toward the $200,000,” says WME’s legal papers. “The WME Parties contributed the remaining $150,000.”
The story might end there if not for a lawsuit brought by Waits against Zimmerman in June. Waits took the WME agent to court for allegedly failing to pay back a $50,000 loan. Zimmerman and WME hit back with counterclaims the following month detailing what had happened one night in Las Vegas.
It’s not unusual for outrageous offers to wind up in court. For example, there was the attorney who once promised $1 million on television to anybody who could prove it was possible to fly from Orlando to an Atlanta hotel in less than a half hour. There was also the R&B artist who offered $1 million to anyone who could find his missing laptop. Those cases dealt with unilateral contracts. Here, WME asserts that Johnson’s $200,000 offer for a song to be played at a nightclub were intentional and negligent misrepresentations on Waits’ part. The agency has also brought an equitable indemnity claim against Johnson.
In reaction to the counterclaims, Waits filed a motion to dismiss what he termed to be an “incredible story.” “It seems odd that the third-party claim against Johnson does not seek to recover WME’s $150,000 by way of claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, or indemnification,” said the motion to dismiss. “Instead, they want to recover it from Waits for having misrepresented Johnson’s intention to perform.” Waits said it was wrong to infer that he knew Johnson had no intention to pay the $200,000. That might be true, but three weeks ago, the judge in the case said WME’s claims “are no more or less credible than Plaintiff’s claim in the Complaint that he made a $50,000 oral loan with such indefinite repayment terms. … And although it may seem odd (it does) that Counterplaintiffs do not seek to enforce Johnson’s alleged promise under a breach-of-contract or quasi-contract theory, that has no bearing one way or the other on whether the alternative theories … are viable.”
The judge dismissed the negligent misrepresentation counterclaim, but allowed WME’s other legal theories to survive, rejecting the argument that Waits’ statement about Johnson being a reliable man who would be good for $200,000 was merely “opinions or predictions.”
According to the latest court papers, the parties have reached a tentative settlement but have yet to finalize it. WME declined to comment and it has until Oct. 17 to file an amended counterclaim.
DOWNLOAD ON DMS