World’s Most Notorious Gamblers: No.3 – Archie Karas
Archie Karas is a legendary figure in gambling, with a rise and fall that’s reminiscent of some improbable Hollywood movie – except it really happened. Starting off with just a fistful of dollars, in two and a half years the Greek had made a $50 million fortune – but alas, he didn’t know when to stop.
Born Anargyros Nicholas Karabourniotis in 1951, at the age of 42 Karas took it into his head to attempt to win a little money in Vegas, starting off with the modest fund of $50.
Perhaps this was less a whim than Karas’ last throw of the dice; before embarking on his Vegas run, Karas was hardly some wide-eyed innocent.
An immigrant who found work as a waiter in Los Angeles, Archie’s attempt to make some extra dough came first as he tried to take the role of a pool shark, before he settled on a career as a poker player, where he claims to have made $2m – before losing the lot.
Well, not quite the lot. With $50 to his name, Karas drove to Vegas – and somehow managed to procure a $10,000 loan from a pal. Karas’ poker-playing ability soon trebled that amount – and to give him his due, he promptly paid £20,000 back to the chum who had lent him the loan in the first place.
That was just the start of what would come to be known as ‘the run’ – the longest, most successful winning streak in the history of casino gaming. With $10,000 left to play with, Karas headed to the pool tables – where he started off playing for $10,000 a game. By the time he finished, the amount he and his opponent was playing for had risen to $40,000 a game – and Karas finished the session with $1.2 million.
Over the next few weeks and months, Karas would frequent Binion’s Horseshoe, playing poker with such success that he wound up winning millions more at poker, beating some of the biggest names in the game including the likes of Johnny Moss, Stu Ungar and Doyle Brunson. Karas’ luck (or arguably, skill) never ran out here – but his opponent’s patience did. So with poker action thin on the ground, next Karas turned to the dice.
Playing craps for $100,000 a roll, Karas is said to have continued to keep winning big, winning millions a day ‘til his bankroll hit the extraordinary $40m mark. Most men would surely have quit well before it got to that point; alas, Karas perhaps believed he had become unbeatable.
Having taken two years of steady poker and craps action to amass an incredible sum, the player saw his entire bankroll run out in the space of three weeks. In one night he is reputed to have lost $11m playing craps, while he tossed away another $2m playing poker. And somehow, Karas also gambled away a mindboggling $17m playing baccarat.
Even after all that, Karas still had millions – but his love of risk won out over his instincts to quit while he was still ahead, and by the end of this rapid reversal in fortune, the man who lived to gamble found himself down to his last $1m.
After that, Karas slowed down, but he continued to play for money – until 2015, when he was added to Nevada’s notorious ‘black book’, becoming one of 33 players banned for life from every gaming establishment in the state. Karas had been caught marking cards, his reputation – such as it was – ruined. It was a pretty ignominious ending for a man who had once built a $40m fortune from next to nothing.
Karas would escape jail, with the court handing him three years’ probation instead; little has been heard of the gambler since. But whatever his fortunes these days, Karas had the balls to try to take Vegas for everything he could take – and for two and a half years, he took plenty. Salut, Archie…
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