Archie "The Greek" Karas has a story that will be etched into Las Vegas gambling lore forever. As time goes by, the historical significance of him hitting town in December of 1992 with $50 in his pocket and running it up to over $40,000,000 in about two years will likely never be matched. There may be high rollers like Kerry Packer who come and go, but mathematically, none of them who might win millions had a starting bankroll of $50! It's why so many people are mesmerized by Archie's story. Any other huge scores in Las Vegas since Archie will be by a multi millionaire, and more likely a billionaire, not one guy who comes to town with just enough money to fill up his gas tank one time!
In gambling, Archie's talent was chopping down all of his opponent's heads up, be it shooting pool, playing poker, or shooting dice. Archie views himself as a modern-day gladiator who faced the biggest gambling giants in the world. As in boxing or ultimate fighting, the end usually comes at some point down the road, when you finally lose. Archie survived his battles with Stu Ungar, Chip Reese, Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan and so many of the other greats. Archie's toughest opponent, waiting in the wings, was Mr. Jack Binion, the owner of Binion's Horseshoe. It is impossible to beat the house in the long run, if you play long enough. That is the biggest lesson we can all learn from the Archie Karas story. The trick has been and always will be: knowing when to pull up and walk away the winner. It sounds easy enough, but for the true gambler, which describes Archie Karas, it is the hardest lesson of all to learn.
Archie's legendary battle with Jack happened because Archie got out of the gate so fast, and as he won more and more money, he insisted on always raising the betting limits. Jack Binion had the nerve to take on Archie, while the other casinos basically dove for cover behind their normal betting limits. If you read these chronicles on Archie Karas in "Sexton's Corner" up to this point, you've seen the cat-and-mouse game that Archie and Jack played wth the progression of betting limits. Each believed they were getting the best of it. Archie was blindsided by the fact he was so lucky for almost 18 months, winning all the $5,000 chips ($18,000,000 worth) in the casino, to the point of Jack being forced to counter by minting larger $25,000 chips.
In a reflective moment during previous interviews with Archie, he said, "Tom, when I started playing with the $25,000 chips, I never won." Looking at it logically, a handful of twenty $25,000 chips is half a million dollars, just as an entire rack of $5,000 chips was a half a million dollars. When you hold racks of chips, it seems like a lot more money to a person. When Archie wanted to make a $300,000 bet on the pass line in dice, he would have to make three motions of stacking twenty $5,000 chips next to each other. When Archie was playing with $25,000 chips, he only needed to pick up 12 chips with one hand and place his $300,000 bet, instead of pushing the 60 $5,000 chips. After all, betting 12 chips doesn't feel like quite as much.
Jack Binion was very smart and sophisticated about what was going on. Raising the betting limits from $20,000 to $300,000 on the surface seemed to Archie to be a victory as far as having a real chance to win the casino. There was no player in the history of Las Vegas that ever got a casino to increase their betting limits 15 times higher than normal. Jack, however, understood that Binion's Horseshoe had way the best of it, if any player was only allowed to bet any amount with no odds. Betting $300,000 on the line with no odds, and $300,000 on come bets with no odds is equivalent to betting $3 on the pass line and come with no odds. In the end, you can't win. The other fact Jack factored in was his accurate read in the personality he was dealing with in Archie. He believed Archie would never pull up winner because he was a true gambler who loved the action. This was a chess match of sorts, and Jack felt he had Archie in checkmate, but Archie didn't know it. It would only be a matter of time, before Archie would go on a downslide and lose his $40,000,000 back to the Horseshoe.
Just last week, I was out at night with Archie at a place called the Rum Runner, and there were a lot of world-class pool players there for a big tournament. The first thing I noticed was every one there knew Archie, and said hello to him as he passed by. Remember, Archie's story is not only legendary in poker and dice, but shooting pool as well! As we sat at the bar watching a couple of players shoot nine-ball for $500 per game, Archie said, "Tom, do you see that guy on the other side of the bar in that white shirt and tie?"
I said "Yes", and Archie began to tell me about him.
"That was the classiest pit boss I ever saw in Las Vegas," started Archie. "He was at the Desert Inn, when I won all that money during my mini-streak period. Normally, pit bosses are my enemy, but not this guy. Come on, I want to introduce him to you." Archie brought me over to meet him, and he was happy to see Archie, as they shook hands and reminisced about the old days in Las Vegas. Archie then introduced me to him, and said, "This is Tom Sexton, a good friend of mine. He is writing my whole story on PokerNews.com in his column, Sexton's Corner."
I gave him my calling card, as he said he would love to read the stories, and then I listened to what he had to say. He basically confirmed all the stories that happened at the Desert Inn when he worked there, but the thing that really caught my ear was when he said: "The thing that amazed me about Archie's story was I had to spend an hour with my colleagues and bosses to convince them we had the best of it! Regular high rollers could play $10,000 flat bets, with $50,000 odds. We would only allow Archie to play $30,000 flat bets with no odds." This was a smart pit boss that understood what Jack Binion did in winning the $40,000,000 back from Archie. Only Jack was doing it at a rate ten times higher, at $300,000 flat bets with no odds! This pit boss was very respectful to Archie, and it was interesting to observe the mutual respect he and Archie had for each other, even though they were on opposite sides of the fence, he representing the house while Archie was the daring gambler or gunslinger trying to beat that same house.
The Desert Inn was where Archie won the $1,000,000 in five days during his comeback mini-streak, before he went down to the Horseshoe to play higher. Over a period of several months, Archie won another $2,500,000 from the Desert Inn, and had to do it betting flat odds! I asked Archie, "Is that the reason you were 86'd from the Desert Inn, you won too much?"
Archie said, "No, the real reason is some executives from the Las Vegas Hilton came to work at the Desert Inn, and I had beaten them for $1,200,000 earlier and they barred me."
Archie began to open up about how he has been treated by many of the casinos in Las Vegas. "Tom, what these casinos have done to me is wrong. What do they want to do, just beat little old ladies out of their social security checks each month? With the money I've won and lost, my legendary story is good for their business. I played them with my own money, and gave them millions in free advertisement, while many others have tried to do what I did. I've literally helped them make millions of dollars in winning their customers' money. I just feel I deserve a lot more respect, rather than being told, 'Sorry, your play is not welcome here.' This isn't true about Jack Binion, of course, which is why I admire him so much. He may have out-maneuvered me, but he gambled with me and earned my respect. It isn't true about Kenny Epstein either."
I then asked, "Who was Kenny Epstein?"
"He used to be a partner in the Barbary Coast, and today he owns 51% of the El Cortez, I've heard. Several years ago I was at the Barbary Coast playing dice, and Kenny Epstein came over to introduce himself. He was very excited to meet me and said, 'Archie Karas, what a pleasure it is to meet you. Your gambling story is the biggest story ever in Las Vegas. Would you mind signing an autograph for me? In fact, will you do it for everyone at the table? Your story is the greatest story of all time. When you're done shooting, will you be my guest at Michael's Restaurant?'" Archie continued, "It was nice to meet an owner who appreciated my gamble."
I asked Archie what limits they let him play and he said, "$2,000 with $4,000 odds."
"Did you win?"
"Yes, I won about $140,000 there, and Kenny couldn't have treated me nicer. We had a great dinner and conversation, and he said my play was welcome there any time. In fact, right to today, I can go to the El Cortez and play, and get comps up in the steak house. Kenny is one of those great owners who understands the value of allowing me to play at his casino."
I said, "It sounds to me like other casinos should take a play out of Kenny's playbook, and welcome you with open arms. What you did in the past may never be repeated, but your picture and story should be posted in any place you have ever played! Customers would love to read about it, shake your hand, and go home to tell about when they met Archie 'The Greek' Karas!"
The name of this article is "According To Jack," which is, of course, a reference to Jack Binion. I want to finish this story with some miscellaneous quotes from Jack about Archie, and the contrast of the story up to this point, combined with Jack's thoughts, completes the intriguing puzzle of Archie "The Greek" Karas:
According To Jack:
"Archie has more gamble in him than anybody I've ever seen. He was either going to win the Horseshoe or go broke. Nobody had ever won that much from us, and definitely not in the whole town."
"Archie didn't cheat, and I don't think he ever tried to cheat. The sheer amount of money he won causes you to be cautious. It is only good business to make sure everything is what it is supposed to be, and he is playing on the square. We tried to make sure the dice were absolutely square, and that they were our dice. At the ends of the dice table are little diamond mounds, to make sure the dice bounce randomly. That way you really don't know where in the hell the dice are going to go. No, Archie wasn't cheating. If he was, he would probably still be down there shooting."
"Even if a person does nothing wrong, some casinos will ask them not to play there anymore. They might say he is running too good. He is too dangerous. I don't know if you have ever heard of Kerry Packard. Certain places didn't want him to play anymore. Leon Parrish was another gambler that a lot of casinos wouldn't let play."
"When a player can run a toothpick into a lumberyard, it makes him a tough and dangerous player. Archie fits this bill exactly, which is why so many places are scared to take him on. I'll tell you the truth; Archie truly believed he had the magic touch. Finally the sizzle was over with and the odds reversed themselves. He grounded up and then grounded down, but it took over two years! You could tell the way Archie talked; there was no pull up in him."
"I'll tell you another thing: Archie never sat down to examine how much goods, say $22,000,000, might buy. He never did want to calculate it. Archie just wanted to gamble. He loves to gamble and shows it. Nobody speaks of it, but there is a thing called gambler's ruin. If Archie's goal was to win the Horseshoe and he succeeded, he probably would have kept on going."
"Of course we gave Archie the respect a winner of this type would be expected to get. We catered to him pretty good. Archie had his own table, and he would call and let us know. It might be several hours until he arrived, but his roped off table would be waiting for him. Archie didn't want anybody sweating him. I guess Archie was ahead of us for over 18 months. He won all the $5,000 chips in the casino, and we had to mint a bigger $25,000 chip to get him to cash the $5,000 chips in!"
"No other gambler had ever done that to us before. Of course, in the end Archie lost, but it is worth repeating, Archie had more gamble in him than anybody I've ever seen. Archie was going to either win the Horseshoe or go broke. He took a good run at it; I will say that for him!"
Archie and Jack in front of the Horseshoe back in the day
With these quotes from Jack Binion, I would only add, to me one of the most amazing parts of Archie's story is how long he lasted playing almost every day for over two years. Most high rollers come to town for a day or two and give it their shot. If they ever tried what Archie actually did, betting millions every day for two years, they inevitably would go broke for sure within a few weeks. Archie Karas's story is a true and legendary high-roller tale that will probably never be topped. Stay tuned for the final chapter of Archie's story in Part 10 next week, as we talk about Archie's comeback.
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.