Famed gambler accused of cheating California casino by marking cards

Archie Karas, who once built US$50 stake into millions, is held for defrauding casino

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 September, 2013, 10:22am

Professional poker player Archie Karas has been arrested on charges of cheating and defrauding a casino after authorities say he was caught marking cards at a California blackjack table.

Karas, 62, best known for reputedly building a beginning stake of US$50 into a US$40 million fortune during a record three-year winning streak, was taken into custody last week from his home in Las Vegas, in the US state of Nevada.

If convicted, Karas, whose real name is Anargyros Karabourniotis, faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison.

"This defendant's luck ran out thanks to extraordinary co-operation [among] several different law-enforcement agencies who worked together to investigate and prosecute this case," said Bonnie Dumanis, district attorney for San Diego county.

According to prosecutors, Karas was spotted by surveillance cameras marking cards - using tiny smudges of dye secretly wiped on to the backs of jacks, queens, kings and aces - while playing blackjack in July at a casino in Lakeside, California.

The marks gave Karas an unfair advantage by helping him identify the value of cards before they were dealt as he chose whether to take another card, or hold, in an effort to reach the winning value of 21 without going over, prosecutors said.

The scheme worked so well that he managed to cheat the casino out of more than US$8,000 before he was caught, district attorney's office spokesman Steve Walker said.

California Justice Department spokeswoman Michelle Gregory said Karas was doing the marking with dye inserted into a hollowed-out gambling chip that he would inconspicuously swipe over the cards while playing through a deck. A search of Karas' home turned up hollowed-out chips from other casinos, but so far no other gambling establishments have lodged complaints against him, she said.

But authorities said Karas had been accused of cheating before.

Karas set the record for the largest and longest documented winning streak in gambling history from 1992 to 1995, arriving in Las Vegas with US$50 in his pocket and going on to amass US$40 million from high-stakes poker.

He subsequently lost most of those winnings at baccarat and dice games in three weeks, according to Tom Sexton, who publishes the online gambling magazine Poker News. Karas returned to the poker table many times, often with backers, and cleaned out many of the best players in the world, according to Sexton.

He is considered by many to have been the greatest gambler of all time and often has been compared to Nick "the Greek" Dandolos, another high-stakes gambler who died in 1966.