Sexton's Corner, Vol. 38: Archie Karas, Part 8 – Mini-Streaks
When Archie Karas lost his $40,000,000, there were rumors he must have gone off and committed suicide. No one saw him around Las Vegas for four or five months. After all, how much strain and pressure could any one man's brain take, if he was still alive? He would have had to feel like Steve McQueen did in that scene from the Cincinnati Kid, when he lost to The Man's straight flush with aces full. It would be a feeling of total devastation! However, Archie "The Greek" Karas was not only alive, but set to return to Las Vegas to perform a few more miracles, or perhaps more correctly, mini-streaks, that most of the public knows little about to this day.
During my interviews with Archie, I asked him, "What in the world did you do and where did you go after losing all that money in 1995?"
Archie answered, "First of all, I've won and lost huge amounts of money my whole life, and I've learned to deal with it, because I'm a true gambler. Losing $40,000,000 was my biggest test, but nothing keeps me down. I went to LA and borrowed $40,000 from a good friend about four months after my streak. I decided to return to Las Vegas, and went to the Desert Inn to shoot dice. I took that $40,000 and in five days ran it up to $1,000,000!"
I said, "Archie, this fascinates me. You're telling me four to five months after you lost the $40,000,000 you returned to Las Vegas on borrowed money and ran it up to $1,000,000 the first week?"
Archie continued, "Tom, once I won the $1,000,000 at the Desert Inn, I took it downtown to the Horseshoe, and played sky high again. Within a few hours I won $4,000,000 more at the dice table, which meant I ran that $40,000 up to $5,000,000 the first five days I came back to Las Vegas! What was funny, I had been flirting with this gorgeous cocktail waitress back at the Desert Inn, and when I was shooting dice there on the fifth night, I asked her for her phone number. She said she might lose her job for that, but told me to remember it as she passed by me at the dice table serving me a drink, and suggested I go to the restroom and write it down right away. She must have thought I was some successful computer guy or something, just getting lucky at the dice table. By this time I was up about $1,000,000 at the Desert Inn, and thought if I go down to the Horseshoe to play big, I might win a few million quick, before returning to meet her when she got off work. We rendezvoused for a very memorable date that night when I returned to the Desert Inn.
"When she dropped me off later in the Desert Inn parking lot, she asked me, 'By the way, what do you do?' I said, 'I'm a professional gambler.' She said, 'Oh no, not that… that's terrible, and will never do. I hate gamblers!'" Archie continued, "I was totally dumbfounded as I told her I thought winning $5,000,000 tonight was a good thing. You would have thought I had the plague or something, when I told her I was a gambler, like she must have had a bad experience in her personal life with a gambler or something. She dumped me out in the parking lot, and drove off with her tires squealing, while my mouth was open in disbelief! As she drove off, I quietly muttered to myself, 'But I won $5,000,000 tonight.'"
Archie's story made me laugh as I said; "Now that's what I call a night's worth of unbelievable action in Las Vegas!"
Archie joined me in the laughter, and said, "Isn't that that truth!"
Archie went on. "The next day, I wasn't even going to play, but I owed a guy $150,000 and was supposed to meet him at the Horseshoe to pay him. He didn't show up, so I found myself gambling back at the dice tables again. I didn't even want to gamble, but there I was, shooting sky-high dice again. By the time the guy showed up to get his $150,000, I told him, 'You're too late. I lost the $4,000,000 back I won last night.' He had the saddest puppy look in his face, probably thinking to himself, 'Why didn't I get here on time?' I ended up losing the last $1,000,000 left after dinner. The guy I owed, I told him I had some case money in another box at the Mirage, and I ended up paying him $75,000 the next day, out of the $100,000 case money that I had left in the world. I paid him the balance of $75,000 back later on, after another mini-streak I got going."
In reflection, Archie said, "Gamblers are always looking for excuses, but this beautiful woman truly threw my head upside down, as I returned to the Horseshoe and quickly lost that $4,000,000 back to them, followed by my last $1,000,000 after dinner. What happened was I went to dinner for a couple of hours, and when I returned, I couldn't believe it, as the Horseshoe had lowered their limits from $300,000 per bet to $50,000 per bet. Reality set in for me, as I realized the Horseshoe was going to make sure I didn't run up any huge scores on them anymore. As the tables got cold, I soon lost my last million. As I left the Horseshoe, that night, I knew I would have to pay the one guy at least $75,000. I went from $5,000,000 down to $25,000 overnight and my up-and-down struggles continued!"
I asked Archie, "Was the reason you would head down to the Horseshoe when you won money elsewhere because it offered such higher limits?"
Archie said, "Exactly. The higher limits were always the lure, almost like a magnet drawing me down there. The higher limits gave me a chance to win millions instead of thousands! When I would go broke I would get back in action with a backer, and would make him money most of the time. Then I would take my winnings and venture out to the dice or baccarat tables to try and win millions again. This was a recurring pattern my whole life.
"One of the most impressive parlays I made happened a few years after my losing the $40,000,000. I was returning from LA with $1,800 in my pocket and stopped about 40 miles outside Las Vegas close to Stateline, and gambled at the Gold Strike Casino. I lost $1,600 pretty quick and got something to eat. I thought what am I going to do with $200 left? I might as well go gamble with it. I shot dice and ran the $200 up to $9,700, and decided to head on in to Las Vegas. I first stopped downtown at Fitzgerald's and immediately won another $36,000. They were letting me bet $1,000 with $2,000 odds. Next I felt it was time to go to the Horseshoe, where I ran my $36,000 up to $300,000 the first day back in town. The next day I won another $300,000 at the Horseshoe, and by the third day I had won a total of $980,000 from that $200 start!
Archie continued reflecting all the way back when he was just 19 years old. He said, "I drove to Las Vegas from LA, and won $180,000 shooting dice. Back then in 1978 that amount of money seemed like $3,000,000!
Moss versus the Greek, part two: Archie squares off against the legendary Johnny Moss in 1994
I asked, "If you weren't 21 yet, how were you able to play anything in the casino? Didn't any one ask you for your ID back then?
Archie said, "Back then everything was different. Nobody ever asked me for ID. I won a lot of scores in my 20s and 30s, where I played at the Dunes and Stardust. I hit them all up and down the Strip, from the Riviera to the Tropicana. I moved to Las Vegas when I was 28 in 1980, and commuted between LA and Vegas depending where the action was. In 1978 I played lowball and five card draw and ran my bankroll up to $4,000,000 at the age of 26. I ended up in a few months losing it back playing dice in Las Vegas up and down the Strip. I always gambled the highest limits most of my life, and would win a mountain of money, before going broke. With a stake horse I would do this over and over again. The reason I'm bringing this up is some people think I got lucky that one time from 1992-1995 to accumulate over $40,000,000. I have won and lost fortunes most of my life for 40 years. My mindset is full speed ahead, with no regard for the amount of money that I'm betting. The lack of fear about going broke was always my secret to winning big in more mini-streaks than I could ever count. In my mind it was easy to start over and just win another mountain of money!
"I actually won $2.5 million more back at the Desert Inn down there over about three more months, after I won and lost that $5,000,000 over night. It wasn't long before the Desert Inn said I wasn't welcome to play dice there anymore. After going broke in 1995 from my big streak, I had a lot of mini streaks over the next two to three years. For instance, I won $1,200,000 at the Las Vegas Hilton, $500,000 at the Tropicana, and $2,000,000 more at the Bellagio in 1997. Between 1995 through 1998, I had multiple mini-streaks that added up to a lot of money. I would get backed and win $100,000 to $400,000 many times. Half of each win would go to an investor, and I might take my end and shoot it up on a dice table, trying to get my millions back. One night in 1997, my brother Pete was visiting, and I started out with $10,000 and ran it up to over $600,000. That night I started out shooting pool and won $100,000. Then I went down to the Horseshoe and beat a well-known poker player heads up for another $200,000. I next took the $300,000 I won from the $10,000 start, and won another $300,000. So, from that original $10,000 in the morning, we ran it up to $600,000, and enjoyed a nice comped dinner. After my $40,000,000 major streak, I came back and amazed a whole lot of people, who were around, while I scored many, many mini-streaks! I've made a lot of other people money!
"The problem started to be when they would cut me off and say, 'We don't want your business anymore.' This unfair pattern of getting barred from the pit began to follow me, as the casinos would treat me as though I was John Dillinger or something. The only thing I was guilty of was winning a lot of money on the dice tables. Most casinos had never seen anything quite like me. For them, it was just easier to say, 'We prefer your not playing here anymore.' When I played for over two years at the dice tables at Binion's Horseshoe, you can believe Jack Binion was too sharp to allow any player to cheat him or do anything funny. He was surrounded by the experts of experts. To this day, this is why Jack Binion respected my play. He knew I was gambling with him and playing on the square.
"As to the other casinos barring me from the pit over the years, not one of them — who would routinely cuff me for trespassing — had any evidence to convict me of any felony. Believe me, if they had any evidence to support their claims, they would have prosecuted me and had me sent to prison."
At this point I said to Archie, "To tell you the truth, I've seen many people told their play is not welcome. With casinos, it is a one=way street. They don't have to give anyone a reason to have them '86'd'. Customers who might be winning have no recourse, when a casino tells them to stop playing there. I remember I got kicked out of a small casino on Paradise Road called the Ambassador Inn in the early eighties playing blackjack. I was betting $3 to $5 bets, and the next thing I realized, I was surrounded by three security guards. A pit boss came over to me and said, 'Sir you're going to have to leave. You know what you are doing and so do we. You can do this the easy way or the hard way.' I stood up and looked at the security guards and sort of laughed, because I was only winning $3, and I don't even know how to count cards! I wished the other players still playing at the table good luck, as they were going to need it. I left totally bewildered why or how this could even happen. There was nothing I could do about it, so I just laughed it off on my way to work. For you though, you have been choked off from playing dice, blackjack, or baccarat from every casino in Las Vegas, except a few left!"
Archie replied, "Tom, that is exactly right. First, I had the major streak, followed by about three years of mini-streaks, and the last ten years the casinos have slowly, one by one, choked me off from even having a chance to win. They won't let me play. Most will allow me to play poker, only because I'm playing the other players and not the casino. Today there are only a few casinos that will allow me to play in the pit, and I call it Custer's last stand. I suppose once I start winning there, the same scenario will unfold, and I won't be welcome there either."
"Tom, you're the first person I've told my real story to, as I realize now it won't be long before I'll have no place to shoot dice, play baccarat, or play blackjack. I previously thought by keeping a low profile, I would be allowed to play in the casinos, but this has not been the case. I'm not looking to go get into disguises to just try and survive. I felt when I met you, you were the one I could trust to tell my whole story to. I know now, with the poker boom out there that passed me up, it will be my answer. Poker has always been my bread and butter anyway."
Stay tuned for Part 9 that will talk about Jack Binion and what he has to say about Archie, along with an interesting comparison of Nick "The Greek" Dandolos and Archie "The Greek" Karas. Our last story on Archie will be called "Archie's Comeback" in Part 10. Archie's unique story has been quite an experience to present in my column. The positive reaction I've received from the readers has been overwhelming. All of your support, in discovering what actually happened to Archie Karas in his legendary story, has been deeply appreciated.
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.