There have been many tales of gamblers going on amazing runs at the casinos of Las Vegas. However, there may be none more staggering than that of famed punter Archie Karas.
Karas started ‘The Run’ with a mere $50 in his pocket and racked up more than $40 million in winnings. But that’s not where the story ends.
Remarkably, Karas then managed to lose it all and end up with nothing, before being banned from setting foot in a casino.
The Poor Kid
Even as a kid Karas wanted to help his family. The best way he felt he could do that was to bring in some extra money by hustling the kids in the playground. He would regularly bet on games of marbles, where he would usually come out on top.
Karas was born on the Greek island Kefalonia. He wasn’t from a wealthy family and his father worked a job in construction. His relationship with his father was always strained and their financial situation didn’t help.
As their financial situation worsened, Karas’ relationship with his father deteriorated to the point that it became violent. It was around then he decided that he wanted more from his life. Karas made the decision to leave home and set his sights on the USA.
The Vegas Wannabe
It took Karas two years working as a waiter on a ship for him to save up enough money to be able to move to the US. He ultimately landed in Portland, Oregon, before hitchhiking down to LA.
He took another job as a waiter, however he worked right next door to a bowling alley. That was where his career in gambling really got started.
Out the back of the bowling alley there was a poker room and some pool tables. Both of these games were new to Archie, but it didn’t take long for him to start finding an edge at both. He began spending hours there, honing his skills and hustling the other locals.
During this period Karas had some decent runs, both up and down. However, he ultimately ended his stint with $50 dollars in his pocket.
Despite this lack of money, he had learnt the ropes and was ready to take his skills to the next level, and that meant Las Vegas.
Archie arrived in Las Vegas and realised that $50 wasn’t going to get him far. He recognised a friend and asked him for a $10,000 loan, which ultimately set him on his way.
Within hours, Karas had hit the Razz tables and had doubled his initial stake. By the end of the night, he had made $20,000. He paid back his friend and gave him the extra $10,000 for having faith in him. It was the type of gesture that showed the type of person Karas really was. He truly never cared about the money.
Over the years he had developed a keen eye for games that he felt he had an edge. He spent a fair bit of time scouting opportunities around Las Vegas. In doing so, he came across two businessmen who regularly bet big numbers on 9-ball pool.
Karas challenged them to a game with stakes of $5000. They ended up playing against each other for the next two and a half months and the stakes got as high as $40,000 per game at one point.
Towards the end of the marathon session, Karas was up around $1 million, however, he could feel that his luck was turning. So he suggested they move on to another game – Poker.
The Poker Player
Karas was an all-around hustler, however poker was the game in which he shone the brightest. He had honed his skills in the backroom of the bowling alley and wasn’t afraid to take on anyone, including world champions.
Karas continued his battle with the two businessmen at the poker table and again he got the better of them. The stakes got up into the millions when they finally walked away.
His big run was starting to get attention and many felt that he was just on a lucky run. As a result, there was no shortage of big-name poker players ready to step in and try and take some money from him.
The first was Stu Ungar, a famed gambler in Las Vegas. However, after battling Karas, he ended up losing around $1 million and walked away.
Next in line was another big name, Chip Reese. He too fared poorly and coughed up around $2 million to Karas.
His run kept going and the big-name opponents kept on stepping up to play him. Doyle Brunson, Johnny Moss and Puggy Pearson all tried to curb his run of cards, yet all failed to do so.
By the end of his marathon poker run, Karas had won nearly $17 million, and it had come from many of the biggest names in poker at the time.
Karas was hot and he felt that nothing could stand in his way, so he moved on from poker to the craps tables. He liked craps because he felt he could win a million dollars with the roll of a dice.
So he headed over to one of his favourite casinos, the Horseshoe, where he could get some bigger action. It was here where his demise began.
He started well and his bankroll kept growing, however, his luck ultimately turned around. He managed to lose around $11 million playing craps in a short period of time, giving back much of his poker winnings.
To try and stem the bleeding he again took on champion poker player Chip Reese, but this time Reese got the better of him and won around $1 million.
The final nail in Karas’ coffin came when he tried his luck at Baccarat and lost it all.
Over the course of his massive run, it’s said that Karas won and lost $40 million dollars. It’s one of the most famed stories in gambling history.
Karas has had a controversial gambling career outside of his famed run as well. He did, in fact, win six gold bracelets in the WSOP, which goes to show you that he was a highly skilled poker player.
However, his career came to an end when he was banned from setting foot in casinos over a number of scandals, including marking cards. That ultimately found him on the infamous Nevada blacklist, never able to set foot in a casino again.