The mystique and intrigue that will forever surround the legendary story of Archie "The Greek" Karas includes the sky-high stakes for which Karas played dice at Binion's Horseshoe. These were the highest limits in the world then, and most likely forever. No corporation that owns a casino in today's world would have the moxie or courage that Jack and Ted Binion displayed, when they ran Binion's Horseshoe in the 1992-1995 eras.
The story behind the scenes is one of the most fascinating dramas in the history of Las Vegas, which caused the Binion family to hold numerous meetings regarding how to handle this giant of giants in the gambling world, who consistently played these limits at the dice tables for over two years. Archie came closer than any other human being on the planet of winning the entire casino!
Of course, Benny Binion died on Christmas Day, 1989, and his sons, Jack and Ted, were in charge of the hotel during this period of time. Jack was President of Binion's Horseshoe from the time he was 26 in 1963. He would always have the final decision on everything done as majority stock owner. Shortly after the Archie Karas run, Ted left the scene, first after troubles with the Nevada Gaming Commission, and later, unfortunately, with his own murder in 1998. That left Jack Binion completely in charge up and until 1998, when after a protracted legal battle with his sister Becky, he decided to go to Tunica, Mississippi to open his own Binion's Horseshoe Casino, after success with several riverboat casinos. Jack's interest was bought out, but he kept a 1% interest in the hotel, to maintain his Nevada gaming license. Becky Binion officially took over Binion's at that time.
Will Jack Binion forget Archie Karas? Never would be a pretty safe guess, even though Jack went on to greater success in the business world, with his opening and selling of his own Horseshoe in Tunica, Mississippi and riverboat operations to Harrah's for about two billion dollars.
Either way, Jack was smart enough to know he would be the winner, whether Archie ever decided to cash out or lost all of his money. During this period, Binion's Horseshoe continued patriarch Benny's philosophy of taking the world's highest limits to new heights for the biggest gambler in the world to fire away at, day after day, week after week, month after month, and as it turned out, for over two years. The connection between Jack Binion and Archie Karas is intertwined in Las Vegas gambling lore forever, since without Binion's wilingness to allow the high-stakes action, Archie's story would have been incomplete. They both took the highest risks imaginable. Archie says, "Jack was very big before I came along, and his reputation grew even bigger after coming out on top of our high-stakes battle. Jack has certainly earned my respect, and I felt my story was always a big part of his future successes!"
One fact is clear: When Jack's sister took over Binion's Horseshoe from 1999- 2003, she lowered all the high betting limits, and discontinued the Horseshoe's philosophy entirely of offering the highest limits in the world. She sold the $1,000,000 display of the $10,000 bills on display inside their famous plexiglass horseshoe, located inside the casino's entrance and symbolic of the casino offering the world's highest limits. A few years later Behnen was forced to sell the hotel for about $50,000,000, minus necessary debts that needed to be paid off. It is ironic in that this figure is just about the amount Archie had accumulated at one time during his famous streak.
Let's go back in time to about 1993, and revisit Archie Karas's journey. Here's how Archie related this part of his tale:
Tom: Archie, how high were the beginning limits at the Horseshoe for shooting dice, and how did they stack up against the rest of the town in 1993?"
Archie: In the beginning, Binion's Horseshoe already had the highest limits on the dice tables. They would let you bet up to $20,000 per bet. That meant I could bet $2,000 on the pass line with $20,000 odds, $2,000 on the come with $20,000 odds, or place $20,000 on all the numbers, except the 6 and 8, where I would take $24,000 odds. I also would be allowed to buy the 4 and 10 on the layout. At that time, a few of the other casinos in Las Vegas might let you bet up to $5,000. Even then, Binion's Horseshoe had betting odds on the dice tables about four times higher than its competitors.
Tom: Archie, how did you progress from $20,000 limit on the dice tables to $40,000 and beyond? The mystique or mystery of your gambling exploits on the dice table is in the high limits you played at. Tell us the sequence, in your own words, of what happened.
Archie: I told Ted, 'I want to play some dice, but the limits are too small. You give me bigger limits and I'll start playing dice with you.' He said, 'How much do you want?' and I said, 'At least $40,000/$80,000.' Ted said, 'I'll talk to my brother and I'll let you know.' At this point they agreed I could bet $40,000 on the pass line and come with $80,000 odds, and I could buy the 4 and 10 for $40,000. I won $1.7 million at this limit very quickly one night, and with the 2.2 million I picked up from Chip playing poker about the same time, I had an $11,000,000 bankroll built up! At this point I said, 'Well, I have a lot of money now, so I need a little bit bigger limit.' Ted asked me, 'How much do I want?' I said I would like to be able to bet $100,000. 'OK,' he said, 'let me talk to my brother.' Jack came back and said, 'You got it. You can bet $10,000 or $100,000 flat bets with $100,000 odds.' So I played a lot at that limit and won a few million more. I wasn't buying the numbers at this point, so I asked them if I could buy the numbers at $100,000. So they gave me that. When I asked to buy the 4 and 10 for $200,000 they wouldn't let me, so I stopped playing for a while.
About two weeks later I was at the top at the steakhouse eating, and a floor man, named Rick, came up to tell me, 'I got you the limits you want.' I said, 'What limits are you talking about?' He said that I could buy the 4 or 10 for $200,000, even if they are the point. I went straight down there to play and in less than five minutes I rolled a 4 for the point, with $10,000 flat bet and $100,000 odds. I immediately bought the 4 for $200,000, and immediately rolled a 4! When that one roll returned $920,000 to me, Jack flew downstairs and said, 'No more, no more buying the numbers for $200,000. Archie can only buy them for the $100,000.' I was always asking to raise the limits even higher, and this led to my meeting with Jack Binion at the steakhouse.
Tom: What happened at the steakhouse meeting with Jack?
Archie: Jack met me at the steakhouse and said, 'What do I have to do to get you to play?' I said, 'Well Jack, I need to gamble. I don't want to knit around with my money, to grind me off. I want to be able to bet $300,000 per bet.' Jack said, 'You got it Archie, but when you choose to bet this high, it will have to be on the pass line with no odds, and $300,000 on the come with no odds. You can buy the 4 or 10 anytime for $100,000.' Although I asked Jack to let me bet higher at $500,000 per bet, he would always tell me, 'Archie, I'm doing the most that I can right now.' That meeting at the steakhouse would be the last time Jack would agree to let me bet any higher, and it is what I had to work with.
Karas: A million a roll, or more
Tom: My brother, Mike Sexton, said he saw you lose $1,000,000 in about five minutes at the dice table in 1993. He said you bet $10,000 on the pass line with $100,000 odds, and bet two come bets the same way. You sevened out on the fourth roll each of three successive times in a row, losing $330,000 each time to lose a quick $1,000,000, including the one $10,000 hard way bet you had made! Poof, your million dollars was gone in five minutes! He was amazed at how nonchalant your disposition was, as you shrugged your shoulders and quietly walked away. Just another day at the office! What was the most money you ever won in one night? Do you remember your biggest losses?
Archie: Do I remember my biggest losses? What do you think? I lost $7,000,000 in one night on three different occasions, $7,500,000, $8,500,000, and $11,000,000! The most I won in one session was $12,000,000, but that night I was already stuck $4,000,000 first. So I netted $8,000,000 for the evening. I went up and down for over two years, winning $5,000,000 scores on the dice tables on many occasions!
Tom: The night you lost $11,000,000, is there anything that stands out in your mind in reflection, that you might do over?
Archie: The night before I had a bad dream about my ex-wife, and shouldn't have left the house the next day. On top of that, I only got a few blocks from my house on the way down to the Horseshoe, before I got a speeding ticket. That was my second warning to take the day off from shooting dice. When I got down to the casino, I lost $2,000,000 very fast, like in about a half an hour. As it turned out, I had forgotten the other keys to my money boxes that day, and I didn't feel like driving to any of my banks to get some more money. So I said, 'Go ahead and drill my other boxes open. It's okay, because I want to gamble!' Binion's was only too happy to comply with my request, and they even paid for the locksmith's bill. I had $9,000,000 more from the other boxes, and when the night ended I had my biggest loss in one day on the dice tables… $11,000,000! Looking back now, I should have called it a day after I lost the first $2,000,000, and just come back another day. I don't blame Binion's Horseshoe for the drill job. I can only blame myself for my own mistake.
Stay tuned for Part 7 on Archie Karas, which highlights a $30,000,000 mistake that happened within a three-week stretch during his amazing two-and-a-half-year run. At the end of the $40,000,000-plus fortune he won and then lost, I asked him if he remembered what he did with his last $1,000,000. His answer simply amazed me, as it certainly will you, when you read it in next week's article.
The Cab is Parked,
Tom Sexton is a featured columnist for PokerNews.com. Tom attended the University of Oklahoma on a full gymnastic scholarship, where he was captain of the team four straight years, becoming the first NCAA All-American and Big Eight Champion in OU's gymnastics history in 1968. The Sexton family is well established in poker and includes Tom's brother Mike, the World Poker Tour commentator and poker's "First Ambassador", as voted by his peers. Tom welcomes your thoughts and comments about any of his articles. His e-mail is TSStarbuck1@aol.com.