In one single six month period spent in Las Vegas, Archie Karas, with only $50 in his wallet, borrowed $10,000 stake money from a friend and fellow gambler, turned it into $30,000, repaid the loan plus 100% interest, and went on to turn the remaining £10,000 into $17,000,000.
Over the next two years he went on to increase his bankroll to $40,000,000. Such stuff dreams are made of, but that wasn’t a dream. It has gone down in history as the biggest winning run in the history of gambling and has been mythicised as ‘The Run’
As you might anticipate from a man who famously said:
“You’ve got to understand something. Money means nothing to me. I don’t value it. I’ve had all the material things I could ever want. Everything. The things I want, money can’t buy: health, freedom, love, happiness. I don’t care about money, so I have no fear. I don’t care if I lose it”, he did go on to lose it. But that isn’t the point. This is a brief history of Archie Karas, gambler extraordinaire.
Born in Greece 1951 with a violent father who christened him Anargyros Karabourniotis, a bit of a mouthful hence its shortened form. A fifteen year old run away, he worked his passage to Portland USA as a waiter on board a ship. He made his way to Los Angeles where he waited on tables at a restaurant next door to a pool hall where he spent his spare time perfecting his skills at pool and poker. Such was his success at both of them, by the age of 18 he had decided that he would never need to work again.
However, there were rough passages on the journey. Having amassed a huge bankroll, he went on to lose his $2,000,000 fortune playing high stakes games in the local casinos. Such were his losses that he was reduced to his last $50. Undeterred, he drove to Las Vegas determined to get back in the game. That was the start of ‘The Run’.
Having repaid his $10,000 loan with interest, he went on to win $1,200,000 playing pool against a fellow pool and poker player with stakes as high as $40,000 a game. The pair went on to play poker where over the next few days Karas won a further $3,000,000 playing to $8,000/$16,000 Limit 7-card Stud.
Three months later he had increased his bankroll to $7,000,000 but was running out of people willing to play with him. Those that dared included some of the best poker players in the world who he took on at Binion Horseshoe’s poker tables.
The first of these was Stu Unger, 3 times WSOP champion. Unger was soon down by $1,200,000. Next up was Chip Reese, widely acclaimed as the best cash player in the world. It took just 25 games before Reese had lost $2,000,000. A string of other players followed and by the end of that notorious six months Karas was up $17,000,000.
Now having run out of poker players willing to take him on he turned his attention to craps. His run continued. Playing for huge stakes against the casinos, he quickly increased his fortune my tens of millions of dollars. The logistics of moving that level of cash around became a problem; armed with two guns, he regularly carried $3,000,000 to $5,000,000 around with him.
Too close to the sun
Soon he had made $40,000,000 but like Icarus he was flying dangerously close to the sun; his wings melted and he came crashing down to the ground. Over a three week spree in 1995 he blew $20,000,000 playing craps, $17,000,000 playing baccarat, then switching back to craps, he lost the rest, his final $2,000,000.
From then on in, it has been a bumpy road. A year subsequently he made $1,000,000 at the Desert Inn casino, then an additional $4,000,000 at the Horseshoe, but then managed to lose the whole lot the following day. The rot had set in and soon Karas’ reputation was in tatters. It became public knowledge that on several occasions he had been arrested for cheating at blackjack in numerous casinos. He had been accused of marking cards at Nevada’s Flamingo Reno in 1988; he was arrested in 1992 for cheating at River Palms Casino and at California Club in downtown Las Vegas in 2007. On each occasion he managed to plea bargain his way out of serious trouble.
Bankruptcy followed. With credit card debt in excess of $250,000 Karas filed for bankruptcy in 2008.
Found guilty for cheating and fraud
In September 2013, Karas was arrested for cheating and defrauding a casino after being caught marking cards at a blackjack game in California. Spotted by security cameras after winning $8,000, he was charged with burglary, winning by fraudulent means and cheating. Found guilty he was sentenced to three years’ probation.
But probably the worse punishment was being placed on Nevada Gaming Control Boards List of Excluded Persons, which means that he is effectively banned from all casinos in the state. He still lives in Las Vegas; his mother has even paid him a visit there, but he misses the action of high stakes gambling.
Now 65, Archie Karas has lived a different kind of life from most of us. Does he regret some of the decisions he made? We will probably never know. An admirable man in many ways, he was also the architect of his own downfall. But can anyone really judge him? We can only imagine what it might be like to win and lose $40,000,000 in such a brief interval; if, as he said, he never cared about money, losing it all was an irrelevance to him. Perhaps the story doesn’t end there; at 65 he has plenty of time for at least one more chapter. But for certain there won’t be another run like the last one; that was unique and is unlikely to be repeated by anyone. Maybe.