Gambling is something many in the USA believe is the genes – you’re either a gambler or you’re not! The compulsive desire can start early in many, with a childhood need to get one up on family or friends by betting pennies on anything from a sports clash to who can recite The Star-Spangled Banner word for word. Gambling can be a highly enjoyable pastime so long as you know your limits and, more importantly, you stick to them.
Four Famous and Successful Gamblers in History
There are numerous tales of gambling successes and failures throughout history and we take a look at some of those best gamblers who have made their mark on gambling folklore.
There have been many tales of big names in the business world of kicking back by gambling big – one who did just that was Kerry Packer, one of the richest gamblers in the world. Australian Packer was a media tycoon most famous for turning the sport of cricket upside down in the late 1970s by setting up his own professional cricket competition and attracting some of the game’s biggest names to join. Away from his business interests, Packer was an avid gambler famed for his wins and losses.
In 1999 it was reported he endured a three-week losing streak in the casinos of London that saw him part with $20m, at the time the biggest gambling loss in British history.
However, he was more successful in Vegas, once winning an estimated $25m at the MGM Grand Casino. One famous anecdote occurred when Packer was at another Vegas casino, Stratosphere, and bumped into a Texan oil investor who tried to engage him in a game. When the Texan told him he was worth $60m Packer retorted: “Heads or tails?”
And it’s not just men who loved to pit their mental skills against opponents over the card table, with the daughter of an English schoolmaster one of the most famous gamblers in history in the Old West. Alice Tubbs, or Poker Alice as she became better known, was born in Devon, England before her family moved Stateside in the 1850s. She married a mining engineer in Leadville, Colorado and enjoyed watching him play poker or faro. When her husband died in a mining explosion a few years later, Alice decided to try and make a living using her skills at the tables and was soon in demand as both player and dealer.
She made her way to New Mexico and famously broke the bank at the Gold Dust Gambling House in Silver City.
After returning to Colorado she settled in Creede and became a dealer at Bob Ford’s saloon. She was widowed twice more and opened a saloon during Prohibition in Sturgis, South Dakota, where a particularly rowdy group of soldiers resulted in her firing off her gun that killed one and injured another. She was jailed awaiting trial before her claim of self-defense was accepted, but in the meantime, her saloon had been shut down. On screen, she has been played by Elizabeth Taylor amongst others and is one of the most famous professional gamblers in history.
Sport and gambling are the most natural of bedfellows and many sportsmen have succumbed to the gambling bug – but not many to the extent of renowned golfer John ‘Wild Thing’ Daly. Daly is the two-times Major winner who was never far from controversy, and estimated he’d lost a net $55m on gambling. He admitted it took a look through his tax records to reveal the extent of his losses but in true Wild Thing style, he admitted he had “a lotta fun” losing it. The larger than life character would regularly take up all spots on a blackjack table – playing seven hands and betting $15,000 on each. He was also a fan of the high-stake slots that cost him $5,000 per pull.
One man synonymous with the gambling capital of Las Vegas was a legendary Greek American who turned up on the Strip with just $50 in his pocket. The name of Archie Karas is amongst the most famous, or infamous, in the poker gambling history of Sin City – known as the man who turned $50 into $40million, and then lost everything! Karas’s story, however, isn’t as romantic a tale as it first appears. He wasn’t the naive dreamer arriving in Sin City – he was in his early 40s when he turned up in Vegas and bumped into an old poker-playing friend whom he persuaded to hand over $10,000.
Karas paid him back with interest in three hours, netting himself a healthy profit in the process while playing Razz poker. He then borrowed more money to get himself into a high-stakes poker game. Within a week he had made more than $4million. And he kept on winning, accepting invitations from some high-level names in the game. He took nearly $1m off then World Series of Poker champions Stu Ungar, before taking double that off Chip Reese, known as the greatest poker player alive. Between 1992 and 1995 he made a reported $40m, mainly on poker, and was so good nobody would play against him.
He loved gambling so much he found alternative ways to indulge, which led to him losing all his fortune in just two months on craps and baccarat. Watch how this famous professional gambler won 40 million U.S. dollars and then lost it all.
Photo by Markus Spiske