Archie Karas: The Rise and Fall Of The Ultimate High-Roller
In 1951, on the small island of Kefalonia, Greece, one of its most famous, and soon to be notorious, sons was born. Anargyros Karabourniotis was born into a life of poverty, his father, Nickolas, was a talented builder who struggled financially, while his mother, Mariana, stayed at home to look after the young boy’s two sisters, and his older brother. So poor were the family, that, in order to avoid starvation, Karabourniotis JR, began to earn some family income by playing marbles with his friends for money.
Due to his son’s marble generated income beginning to outweigh his take from the building site, Nickolas would often beat his son before, eventually, they joined forces and worked together on the site one summer. Aged just fifteen, Anargyros and his dad had an argument while working together which almost resulted in tragedy but would tear the family apart forever.
The row had seen father angrily throw a shovel at son, almost crushing his skull in the process. At this point Anargyros JR decided enough was enough and vowed to leave for America, paying for his voyage by working on the ship at a rate of $60 a month. He left the tiny Ionian island on the ship that would take him away from his abusive father once and for all, before delivering him to a new land where a fortune and new ID would await him.
Months after setting off, Anargyros Karabourniotis docked in Portland, Oregon before moving on again, this time south, down America’s Pacific coastline to Los Angeles, California. There, he found employment as a waiter, the same position he had held on the boat over, and, between shifts, taught himself English.
Just as he had done back home with marbles, Karabourniotis put his natural born hustling skills to good use and made a secondary, but far healthier, income in the city’s pool halls. From there he progressed quickly to underground poker games where he quickly accumulated more than $2 million in a matter of months.
Sadly, for the young man, this was all but gone by the end of the year, as he lost the lot in high stakes games, a financial roller coaster he was to experience a number of times before relocating to Las Vegas with a mere $50 in his pocket on a quest to win it all back, and more. This time under the more familiar name; Archie Karas.
Famously borrowing a cool $10,000 from a wealthy friend he had made in LA, Karas began to rebuild his wealth playing poker and hustling pool, again making millions in a small time. In fact, Karas set a record that still exists today for the longest and biggest hot streak in gambling history, referred to as ‘The Run’. Between December 1992 to May 1995, the Greek lost just once, to Johnny Chan, who took him for $900,000 but even he couldn’t get the better of Karas in the long term. With wealth, came the reputation and as it so often does, attracts other high rollers to sit down at the table with them.
Three-time WSOP Champion, Stu Ungar, was an early challenger but Archie took over a $1m from him. Before long he was taking money from the likes of Doyle Brunson, Puggy Pearson, Chip Reese and Johnny Chan again. Over the course of six months, had built up a bankroll some $17 million deep.
Having seen off all comers in the high stakes poker games, he turned his attention to the craps tables at the Binion Casino. Here, he staked the maximum $200,000 a roll, which had been raised especially for him and lowered after he left. He bet numbers 4 and 10 and, in just two rolls, he had acquired $920,000 which, when put with the rest of his winnings from this two and a half year winning streak, added up to an astonishing $40 million plus.
At the time, Karas kept most of the money with him and regularly had several million dollars in his car, forcing him into carrying a gun with him at all times as well as employing his brother and casino security guards to escort him. This was not a measure he would need to worry about six months later, however.
Archie’s luck couldn’t hold out any longer, however, and what took 30 months to build, took just three weeks to destroy as he lost the entirety of his fortune. Initially losing $11m at the craps tables, he tried his hand at baccarat, a game he had no experience with. This experiment went badly, costing him a further $17 million, so he returned to his first love, poker.
Even his form there had deserted him though and the remaining few millions were lost from the pot, including sizable amounts in returning $2m to Chip Reese. At mid-point of the soul-crushing few weeks, with only $11m left, Karas made a brief trip to Greece to clear his head, before returning to Nevada and losing the rest, including a further $1m to Johnny Chan. He would continue to play in the casinos of Las Vegas, including the World Series of Poker (WSOP) for the next decade and a half before his luck would change again.
On the morning of September 24 in 2013, at the Karas’ family home in Las Vegas, Archie felt the full force of city’s police as they burst into his home by way of a search warrant and arrested him for cheating at blackjack two months earlier. This was the fourth arrest for the Greek, having been arrested by the Nevada Gaming Control Board four times since 1988, again for cheating at blackjack, although he had never seen jail. This time, however, he had been filmed by the CCTV inside Barona Casino in San Diego, California, marking his cards during the game, and things weren’t looking good.
Using tiny dots of dye that he had inserted into a hollowed out casino chip, Karas was filmed discreetly running the chip onto the backs of jacks, queens, kings and aces to gain an advantage over the house, a trick that would net him more than $8,000. Sure enough, the police found the evidence, of the empty gambling chips during the raid and subsequent arrest. Archie pleaded guilty before being sentenced to undertake three years of probation and pay fines of $6,800, his profit from San Diego. He served 73 days in jail before making bail.
Following his transgressions, Archie was placed in the Nevada List of Excluded Persons, often referred to as the Black Book. This sadly, but deservedly, means that there will be no future WSOP entries for Karas, a series in which he has cashed seven times, the largest of which was a $53,783 takedown in 2009. He now faces criminal charges if he were to enter a casino in Nevada.
To this day Karas, 65, remains based in Las Vegas but still returns to his Greece once a year to see his family, which doesn’t include his father who he hasn’t seen since the day on the building site and who died four years after his son departed to seek out his fame and fortune, both of which he found and lost.