The Life of a Gambler: Easy Come, Easy Go

Poker Legends Doyle Brunson and Stu Ungar

Poker Legends Doyle Brunson and Stu Ungar

Las Vegas is a town defined by big gambles, spectacular successes and lost opportunities. A dealer once told me he had taken out a loan on his house to play a progressive slot machine at the Hilton. He and his wife, a cocktail waitress, had worked so hard for years to pay off the mortgage.

He said, “Robert, it has to hit.” It did hit, but it only got them even for the month they played. What if it hadn’t hit? Did he have a back-up plan? Was the long-shot of hitting a jackpot worth the very real risk of losing his home? I had a difficult time understanding his reasoning. Then I realized, there was no logic involved.

In my years of visiting and living in Las Vegas, I have seen how gambling can conquer even those who seem to be in control. The truth is a town like Las Vegas offers so many ways to knock you off your center and provide you with adrenalin rushes 24/7 that few gamblers are able to resist.

This is a perfect example. I remember the first time I ever laid eyes on Stu Ungar. He was walking from the Dune’s poker room with three women to the craps table, and I followed them. Stu bought in for $10,000 and placed his bets.

I watched in amazement as this kid with such a great reputation as a gambler began to shoot the dice. Stu lost it all, except for about $1,500 dollars. I will never forget what happened next. He took the last $1,500 from the tray and said, “This is for the boys,” and pitched the money across the dice table.

My thought was he is not a great gambler but a sucker with no regard for money. It is this “no- regard-for-money” attitude that makes or breaks great gamblers. How many gamblers really master self-control? In gambling, money can lose its value. In that regard, Stu was no different from your average gambler.

Another legendary gambler I have seen in action is Archie Karas, who is famous for turning $50 into $40 million, then losing it all. When Archie won all that money at the craps table, I begged him to invest in something for his future, but I could see in his eyes that it wasn’t his future he was thinking about during “the Run.”

Archie called me at the Bicycle Casino one Saturday morning and said he was going to play a $500,000 Razz freeze out with Johnny Chan. Archie beat Johnny, a player I consider to be in the top three of all time. Archie once told me, “Robert, look at all these players that have their pictures on Binion’s Hall of Fame. It should say Hall of Shame because I beat them all.” And he did; he beat Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese and Johnny Moss, all considered some of the best players ever to play the game. Archie is considered to be one of the greatest gamblers of all time—there certainly will never be another like him.

When I first started coming to Las Vegas in the 70s, I was playing poker at the Golden Nugget when an older gentleman dressed in a suit sat down. Different people kept coming up to him and congratulating him, so I assumed he was an employee of the casino.

He was playing very aggressively and drinking heavily. After playing for about an hour, he was approached by security and a couple of suits. They asked him to come with them. I was curious about what had just happened, so I asked about it the next day.

I was told the gentleman was a pit boss who retired after 25 years. The casino had a retirement party for him earlier that day. The problem was he had already lost $25,000 at dice that night, and rumor was he had not gambled in 25 years. Management intervened because it appeared he had fallen off the wagon.

I have been in the gambling business for over 50 years both as a player and as a marketing executive. I have seen it all. What drives most gamblers is the desire to make that score that will change their lives, so why then do they keep gambling even after they win life-changing money?

You can be successful in the professional world of gambling if you can master the art of staying in control of your bankroll and yourself. Like everything in life, it’s all about moderation. Know your limits before you start.

If you or someone you know may have a gambling problem, call the National Council on Problem Gambling’s toll-free helpline at 1-800-522-4700.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiards/casino marketing expert. Robert is most well known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995 and Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has over 30 years experience in casino marketing and player development. Find Robert on Facebook at and on Twitter @thechipburner. He can also be reached at for consulting and teaching.


8 thoughts on “The Life of a Gambler: Easy Come, Easy Go

  1. Pingback: The Life of a Gambler: Easy Come, Easy Go | Robert Turner Poker

  2. Robert,

    Love, love this sorta posting on “POKER GREATS; and lives of popular poker players/gamblers..”

    Long ago, at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City – A wise older woman told me (I was 21) to “work smart not hard,” and to have multiple streams of income… to have patience.

    Poker was one of my streams, professional photography my main and to other hobbies and some rental properties filled out the bill(s).

    When it came to poker, traveling to Vegas over 50 times.. I too was always amazed when players would win, then lose millions.. in the poker world/ craps, or hell, when they were lightning strike lucky and hit the power ball..

    How? I asked. Why? (Live off the interest..) and shoot AGAIN for the stars with a guaranteed cushion..

    I was a craps player, n poker fish (Not FISH in poker terms, lol. Not at first anyways..) that swam with the whales,,.. Played with the whales.. coasted with the whales.. but never “played with the whales in high end cash games..” (unless in a buy in tourney) lol,

    I simply had no interest in big swings, highs n lowes of living such a lifestyle. I still purchased items in the Forum shops and ate at all the best steak houses.. dining halls.. went to the top strip shows.. etc..

    I was comped many hotel rooms including countless suites all over the United States BUT… but, never chased a comp in my life. I took em.. Sure! If the cards went right, and many times they where.. I lived it up.. If they went south, I took “BREATHERS..” I made it a goal to enjoy mornings reading the papers by the pools either at the Golden Nugget (My fave) the Rio, The Palace Stations, or the OLD Harrah’s.. In short. It’s totally possible to enjoy years of great dividends playing medium, at times higher stakes.. and living like a rock Star.

    I stopped playing all together sadly “for too many years” due to illness, and then “happily to raise my daughter, (now going on 12),” with my wife in my small coal town in Pennsylvania.

    I’m returning to the FELT, soon and I’ll say this.. If I hit the big SCORE.. I’ll be looking to you for investment advice.

    Rentals, while ok, are not the same with the horrid drug problems in northeast Pa.

    Cheers Robert!

    Great reads as always!

    Tom “Big Daddy” Dwyer.


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