The Story of Archie “The Greek” Karas
Archie Karas is famous for having the longest documented winning streak in history, known as The Run. Starting with $50 in 1992, he parlayed it into $40,000,000 during a three year period. He won playing cards, dice and pool.
By 1995, he had lost all of it.
“You’ve got to understand something. Money means nothing to me. I don’t value it. I’ve had all the material things I could ever want. Everything. The things I want money can’t buy: health, freedom, love, happiness. I don’t care about money, so I have no fear. I don’t care if I lose it.”
Throughout his gambling career, Archie rode a roller coaster of good and bad fortune—according to him, he won and lost a million dollars over 50 times. Archie said, “One day I might be driving a Mercedes, and the next day I might be sleeping in it!”
A Hustler is Born
At an early age, Archie found out he could gamble, playing marbles in the city of Antypata, on the Greek island of Kefallonia. “ Back in those days, we would play for drachmas, which was the currency then,” he says. It took 30 drachmas to make one dollar, so to win two and a half drachmas, it meant I could win a half of loaf of bread to avoid going hungry that day.”
Archie ran away from home at age 15, after an argument with his father. For two years, Archie worked on ships and freighters, making $60 per month, mostly as a waiter, before he jumped ship once it docked in Portland, Oregon.
Archie landed a restaurant job in Los Angeles next to a bowling alley and a pool hall. He learned to play poker and pool and began building a reputation as a hustler.
He got so good he realized that he was not long for the restaurant business. As he put it, “I knew at 18 that I’d never have to work again.”
In 1992, Karas drove to Vegas with $50 in his pocket. He landed at Binion’s Horseshoe casino. In six months, he turned $50 into $17,000,000.
A backer staked him $10,000, which he turned into $30,000 playing $200/400 limit raze.
Next, he went to the pool hall and began playing 9 ball for $40,000 a game. He started shooting dice and the bankroll shot up to $7,000,000
The thing that made Archie different was the stakes. The higher it went, the more he liked it. And the more he won.
None of the top players in Vegas could beat him. Karas sat at the Binion’s Horseshoe’s poker table with 5 of his 7 million dollars in front of him waiting for any players willing to play him.
This began what is known by many in the poker world as The Run. During this stretch, Karas built up his bankroll to $17 Million.
Rather than taking his winnings off the table, Karas started “investing” his winnings at the Horseshoe’s craps tables. Throughout the late spring and early summer in ’93, he rolled the dice regularly, betting $100,000 and more. “With each play I was making million-dollar decisions,” Archie says. “I would have played even higher if they’d let me.”
At his request, the Horseshoe put him in his own gambling room. As armed security guards surrounded the table, Karas rolled to winning sessions of $1.6 million, $900,000, $800,000, $1.3 million and $4 million. At one point he had all of Binion’s chocolate-colored $5,000 chips.
Exactly how much Archie Karas won (or lost) playing craps is difficult to verify. For no matter the final tally, this much is clear: Archie was rolling for millions; six months earlier the man had had $50 in his pocket.
In quick succession, Hall of Famers and world champions came and went, including Mr. X, Puggy Pearson and Johnny Chan. Of the poker community’s elite, only Chan beat Karas–after losing to him three straight times.
At the end of the The Run, Karas had busted 15 of the world’s greatest and won $7 million at the poker table.
“Playing poker at this level is like boxing,” Karas says. “You have to keep defending your title. But a boxer gets six months to recover between fights. I take them on one after another. And I only play champions. Nobody wants to play me anymore.”
Transporting money became a hassle for Karas as he was moving several millions of dollars in his car everyday. He carried a gun with him at all times and would often have his brother and casino security guards escort him. By the end of his winning streak he had won a fortune of just over $40 million.
By mid 1995, Karas lost all of his money in a period of three weeks.
He lost $11 million playing dice and then lost the $2 million he won from Chip Reese back to him. Following these losses he switched to baccarat and lost another $17 million, for a total of $30 million. With $12 million left and needing a break from gambling, he returned to Greece. When he came back to Las Vegas, he went back to the Horseshoe shooting dice and playing baccarat at $300,000 per bet, and in less than a month, lost all but his last million.
Karas ended up losing most of his money at the dice and baccarat tables until he was left with his final million. He then went out to LA and doubled his money playing heads-up poker against Lyle Berman and Johnny Chan. Unfortunately, Karas went back to betting on dice and baccarat and ended up losing all the money a short time afterwards.
Archie says, “I feel lucky to have such a supportive family, as I realize for many others, who might have gone through the ups and downs in life as I have, the family ties might evaporate. Even though I went to the mountaintop and back, losing a fortune, my family is still there for me. My mom used to tell me in her own way, a Greek poem, that basically says, ‘When you’re a big mountain and the snow melts once per year, there are two more big storms on the way to hit you.’ She has always been very wise, yet gave me the freedom to make my own way in life. I loved her for that and still do.”
Karas likes to be referred to as the undisputed champion of gambling. “I’ve gambled more money than anyone in the history of the planet,” he claims. “What most gamblers make in their whole life I gamble in one roll of the dice. Unless the casinos decide to raise their limits after I’m gone, I don’t think anyone will ever gamble more than I have. I’m the biggest ever.”