Archie Karas

This is the tale of someone who only had $50 in his pocket but had the guts to go to Vegas and gambled like there’s no tomorrow. The most amusing part is that this person managed to grow that $50 to an astounding $40 million bankroll by playing poker, dice and shooting pool. That was back in 1992. Did he cash out that money? Unfortunately, his lucky streak ended and lost all that massive bankroll by 1995.  Sounds unbelievable? Well, such is the story of one of the world’s biggest and most memorable gamblers—Archie Karas.

Seriously, this man’s claim to fame is indeed one for the books. Archie Karas is Greek and was born Anargyros Karabourniotis. He grew up in one of the cities located on the island of Kefalonia, the Antypata.  The said island was mostly composed of rock and does not have enough fertile land; its people depending on rain for water which tends to be scarce too. Suffice it is to say that poverty is prevalent and that is the kind of life that Archie Karas had been living during his younger years.  He recalled in an interview that in order for them to buy some bread and avoid going hungry for a day, he needed to gamble and shoot marbles to win some money.

When he was 15 years old, Archie had a major falling out with his father, causing him to run away from home.  After leaving Greece at such a young age, he spent the next two years of his life working on ships and freighters mostly as a waiter and earned roughly $60 each month. When the ship he’s on docked at Portland, Oregon, Archie Karas decided to abandon his job and make a move to America, armed only with great hopes of finding a much better life.

Karas who was 17 years old at the time knew no English when he first arrived but somehow managed to work his way down to Los Angeles where he maintained a job again as a restaurant food server. He learned English on his own as best as he possibly could. Today, Archie Karas knew how to speak three languages quite fluently—Greek, Spanish and English.

As it turned out, Karas does not need any other job. Right next to the restaurant he works at is a pool hall and bowling alley where Archie became well known as a star pool player. He spent tons of hours hustling games and winning against the competition that he started to earn more money shooting pool than working at the restaurant. Archie kept winning over time and found many other people to compete against, not only in the pool hall but also at the poker tables in the back room.

So when his pool hall victims started to thin out, it became clear to Karas that he needed to turn his attention to high-stakes poker in LA card rooms in order for him to continue his winning run. At the beginning of his poker days, Karas thought that if he had a $10 thousand bankroll, then he would be set for life. But with his natural gambling abilities, he’s changed that standard to a bankroll of $50,000 then $500,000 until finally, to $1 million. So throughout his twenties and thirties, Karas was popularly known to have won and lost millions of dollars for quite a number of times.

So what’s his secret to winning big (and losing big too) you ask? Well, Karas possessed some rare qualities that served his purpose really well. He’s always unafraid to bet big. When asked in an interview, Karas mentioned that “the things I want cannot be bought by money—love, happiness, and freedom. Therefore, I have no fear and I don’t fear losing it (referring to money).”

It was back in 1992 when Karas lost all of $2 million in playing high stakes poker in LA. Facing a loss this big could have easily deterred a lot of people from pushing on, but definitely not Archie Karas.  That setback only made him feel an even burning desire to amp-up his game and gamble harder. And so he did what most other people will NOT likely do—he packed up his gear and headed to Vegas equipped only with a tank full of gas and $50 in his wallet.

What happened afterward is so unbelievable that it became somewhat of an urban legend in the world of gambling; only that these events are really true. When Archie landed at his first casino destination, Karas spotted a well-off poker player who has become familiar with his talent in playing razz or seven-card stud poker.

He asked his “friend” to loan him $10,000 in order for him to play at the $200/400 razz game. With his natural talent, Karas managed to triple his bankroll in just three hours of playing enabling him to pay off his loan immediately plus a 50% profit for his happy investor. From that point on, Karas’ was already on track to play for himself and his spot in the poker world and the gambling arena, in general, is ready to be cemented.

Archie Karas continued to go on a red-hot streak– winning in games of pool, poker and even with shooting dice.  He’s been reported to bet $40,000 per game of nine-ball against a well-known and equally loaded poker player whom he refused to name in interviews out of respect.  His original $50 has already turned into $7 million in only three months, and that’s even before he faced off with some of poker’s biggest bettors.

He’s gone into battles against big names like Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, Stu Ungar, Johnny Chan and a host of other poker personas. Karas literally mowed down his opponents and again, in the three months that followed, he turned his $7 million into $17 million. He was indeed creating his own legend and this period of time in Las Vegas is now being referred to in some gambling circles as THE RUN.

With quite a fortune that he had already amassed, you’d think that Karas would have already gotten enough. Apparently not, because after reigning in the poker tables, Karas turned his sights to the dice tables. He gambled with high limits every day for two years and raked in $40 million in total winnings. He came close to literally winning the entire casino (Binion’s Horseshoe), so to speak. But the problem with perennial gamblers is that when they win big, they lose even bigger.  It is not every day that Karas prevails over the casino of course.

In fact, he’s got a long track record of big wins and even bigger losses. With Karas’ though, it’s never about the money, but his love for gambling. Nobody might have spoken of it, but there is such a term called “gambler’s ruin” and that is what killed Archie Karas’ game.  After 2 ½ years of whirlwind gambling, Vegas-style, Archie Karas eventually lost all the $40 million bankroll that he worked so hard to attain.

The story of Archie “The Greek” Karas will be forever etched in the Vegas gambling folklore. As time winds down, the historical significance of his first hitting the Sin City with just $50 in hand and running it up to $40 million in two years will likely remain unmatched for decades or even scores to come.
Sure, Vegas will not have a shortage of high rollers who come and go, but mathematically, most of them won’t win millions of dollars from a starting bankroll of 50 bucks. That is probably why hordes of people are truly being amazed by Archie’s tale.  Any other big wins in Las Vegas will be most likely by a multi-millionaire, but not one by a guy who just happens to only have enough cash to fill up an entire tank of gas at one point in time.