Edward O Thorp, the 84-year-old inventor of card-counting, was once the target of a suspected Mob hit. The revelation comes in Thorp’s new autobiography, A Man for All Markets, published this week.
In 1964, Thorp believes that Mafia-connected owners of the Dunes were so incensed by his ability to beat them at blackjack, they tried to have him rubbed out. But not before they slipped him a Mickey Finn to disrupt his winning streak.
Speaking to the New York Post this week, Thorp recalled the night he claims he was drugged by casino staff.
Winning at blackjack, as usual, Thorp says he waved away several offers of free cocktails before finally accepting a coffee.
Within minutes, he lost his ability to focus and count cards. One of his companions that night, a nurse, noticed his pupils had become dilated in the manner of someone who had been drugged.
Car Primed for Death
The next day, he decided to give the Dunes a miss for a while, and headed instead for the Sands. After winning around $2,500, he was thrown out, with no reason given. After retrieving his car from the Dunes’ valet, he and his wife headed off home, back to Arizona.
“We went down a steep hill and the accelerator locked,” he said. “Thinking fast, I geared down as low as I could, put on the emergency brake and switched off the engine. It turned out that the linkage between the gas pedal and whatever made the car go faster had been tampered with.”
Thorp was an MIT mathematics professor when he became interested in developing a mathematical model for winning at blackjack, which had always been considered unbeatable.
After a year running computer simulations, Thorp developed the theory of card-counting as we know it today, presenting his findings at a math conference in 1961.
“I had no intention of proving it,” he said, “until the casinos made clear that they thought I was an idiot, and the Washington Post wrote that my findings were a scam. That pissed me off mightily.”
Thorp won a handsome sum at the card tables of Las Vegas but, after the Mob tampered with his car, he got the message. He gave up card-counting and moved to Wall Street where he developed a new model for predicting market fluctuations, and made a fortune.
But he got his revenge on the casinos too. Two years after the strange incident at the Dunes, he published his opus on winning blackjack, Beat the Dealer, which inspired countless budding counters to flock to Vegas to try out their new skills.
To this day, Thorp’s disciples are still escorted from the casinos of Las Vegas, just as he was from the Sands in 1964.