The history of gambling, in Las Vegas and elsewhere, is awash with ‘rags to riches’ and, indeed, ‘riches to rags’ stories, but none is quite as dramatic, on both counts, as the story of the gambler popularly known as Archie Karas. Born Anargyros Karabourniotis in Kefalonia, Karas had already won, and lost, millions of dollars playing high-stakes poker in Los Angeles before arriving in Las Vegas with a mere $50 to his name. Having secured a loan of $10,000 from an associate – whom he repaid, double, with 24 hours – Karas embarked upon the longest documented winning streak in gambling his story. Between 1992 and 1995, he played high-stakes poker against some of the best players in the world, including Stu Ungar and Chip Reese, and amassed $40 million. However, when his fortunes took a turn for the worse, they did so catastrophically; in the space of two months, he lost the whole £40 million playing baccarat and craps for astronomically high stakes, as was his custom. Looks like he should’ve stuck to poker, or in this, the internet age, pokieslistings.com to keep his baalnce balance moving in the right direction.
Of course, plenty of other people have gone from poverty to wealth, and vice versa, as the result of gambling activities of one form or another. Historically, Charles De Ville Wells, later dubbed ‘Monte Carlo’ Wells, was one of the men who broke the bank at Monte Carlo. In 1891, using what he described as an ‘infallible system’, Wells turned $4,000 into $1 million, or the equivalent of about $28 million by modern standards.
Much more recently, in 2005, 92-year-old World War II veteran Elmer Sherwin achieved what he called his ‘life’s dream’ when winning the progressive jackpot on a Megabucks slot machine for the second time. Sherwin won his first Megabucks jackpot, $4.6 million, at the Mirage, on the Las Vegas Strip, in 1989 and thereafter actively pursued winning it again. His persistence finally paid off when, sixteen years later, at the Cannery Casino in North Las Vegas, he lined up the ‘Megabucks’ symbols again and won $21.1 million for his $3 stake. There have been some massive Megabucks slots wins over the years, so Elmer has joined an elite group.
On the darker side, former Fry’s Electronics’ executive Ausaf Umar ‘Omar’ Siddiqui reportedly spent $162 million – $65 million of which he defrauded from his employer – in Las Vegas in a three-year period from 2005 onwards. Siddiqui was subsequently charged with money laundering and wire fraud. In a similar vein, in what was later described as a ‘year-long gambling binge’, Chinese businessman and celebrated high-roller Terry Watanabe lost nearly $127 million, mainly playing blackjack, badly, at Caesars Palace and the Rio in Las Vegas in 2007.