Archie Karas is known for putting together the biggest gambling winning streak in recorded history. From 1992-1995, Karas went on a heater that saw the Greek-American gambler win $40 million.
Those winnings came from poker, baccarat, craps, blackjack, and pool. Karas’ hot streak went down in gambling lore as “The Run,” and hasn’t been matched since.
Here’s a look at the incredible ups and downs of the Archie Karas story:
Early Life of Archie Karas
Born in Greece in 1950, Archie Karas departed from his home country at the age of 15. His earliest gambling exploits saw Karas shoot marbles to earn money for food.
Still going by his given name of Anargyros Karabourniotis at that time, Karas’ left for the United States after a falling out with his father.
Karas’ father, a construction worker, threw a shovel at a then-teenage Karas, narrowly missing hitting his 15-year-old son in the head. Karas left home and began working as a waiter on a ship, keeping that job until the ship arrived on US shores in Portland, Oregon.
After arriving in the US, Karas moved to Los Angeles. The then 17-year-old began working as a waiter at a local restaurant, adjacent to a bowling alley and a pool hall.
Karas began practicing pool in his free time, eventually becoming good enough at the game to consistently defeat opponents for money. After running out of opponents willing to put up money at the pool table, Karas began playing poker in the cardrooms of California.
Over the course of the next two decades, Karas earned more than $2 million at the poker tables. By the end of 1992, however, high-stakes poker losses almost completely wiped out Karas’ bankroll.
In December of 1992, Karas drove to Las Vegas with $50 to his name. That trip to Nevada would result in perhaps the most legendary gambling winning streak of all time.
The Beginning of The Run
By the time he moved to Vegas, the then 42-year-old high-stakes gambler had amended his Greek name of Anargyros Karabourniotis, changing it to Archie Karas. Karas would eventually earn the nickname of “The Greek” in Las Vegas high roller circles.
Karas’ journey into gambling whale lore began when he arrived in Las Vegas. At the Mirage, a friend loaned him $10,000, and Karas began running up that relatively small loan into what most people would consider life-changing money.
Karas returned the $10,000 and then some to his staker within hours of taking the loan. A good run at the high-stakes Razz tables allowed Karas to pay back $20,000 to the friend who made the loan, while Karas kept $10,000 for himself.
The Greek-American pool player then returned to his roots as a billiard hustler to build his bankroll even further. Karas found a willing opponent for 9-ball pool, playing for $5,000 a game.
Karas and this particular opponent played big-money billiards for nearly three months, with the stakes eventually rising to $40,000 per match. The two players stopped competing at pool with Karas up $1.2 million from the matches.
The high-stakes duel then continued to the poker tables at Binion’s Horseshoe. Karas took another $3 million off of his opponent in poker.
That opponent (who Karas historically refers to as Mr. X) finally gave up, but Karas remained a fixture at Binion’s Horseshoe. He regularly sat with $5 million in front of him at the Binion’s poker tables, amounting to an open challenge to take on anybody.
Karas Takes on Poker’s Best
Word got around Las Vegas that Karas was looking to play poker at the highest of stakes. Looking for action, Karas found it in the form of some of the best poker players of the era.
Stu Ungar was the first big name to compete heads-up against Karas. Still considered one of the greatest poker players of all time, Ungar was certainly one of the toughest foes Karas could have possibly faced in the early 1990s.
Ungar got financial backing from another poker legend, Lyle Berman. Ungar and Karas engaged in heads-up Razz and Seven Card Stud, but Ungar exited the challenge after losing $1.2 million across both games.
Another name on the shortlist of the greatest poker players of the era stepped up next. Chip Reese was considered by many of his peers as the world’s best cash game player at the time, but couldn’t get the best of Karas.
Playing limit poker games at $8,000/$16,000 stakes, Reese ended up losing more than $2 million to “The Greek.”
World Series of Poker Main Event winners like Puggy Pearson, Johnny Moss, Doyle Brunson, and Johnny Chan all took on Karas in a six-month period. Karas came out of those matches with a $17 million bankroll, with only Chan and Brunson able to hold their own against Karas during his incredible winning streak.
Even players that had achieved WSOP stardom couldn’t make a dent into Karas’ bankroll during Karas’ poker games hot streak. The poker challengers stopped showing up, and Karas turned away from the poker tables and got into the next stage of his gambling career.
The Run Continues
Karas next hit the craps tables, where the Greek-American gambler continued to run up his bankroll against all odds.
Binion’s capped Karas’ craps bets, allowing him to wager a maximum of $100,000 per roll. This limit was upped to $200,000 at times, but Karas’ knack for continuing the winning streak would prompt the casino to lower the limit back to $100,000.
A 1994 issue of Cigar Aficionado magazine includes a feature article on Karas, who at the time was at the peak of the greatest known hot streak in gambling history.
“What most gamblers make in their whole life I gamble in one roll of the dice,” Karas said in the Cigar Aficionado piece. “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.”
Karas held every Binion’s Horseshoe $5,000 chip in the house at one point. He had run over WSOP champions and the downtown Las Vegas craps tables, running up his winnings to $40 million.
He carried millions of dollars in his car each day, and almost always traveled with security escorts. Karas’ astronomically improbable good fortune took a turn for the worst, however, in 1995.
The Run Comes to an End
Archie Karas’ $40 million bankroll was diminished to just $1 million in a span of three weeks in 1995. That downswing began with $11 million in losses at the craps tables, followed by a heads-up poker loss to Chip Reese for another $2 million.
Baccarat took an even bigger chunk out of Karas’ fortune. Karas experienced the biggest loss of his career at the high-stakes baccarat tables, surrendering $17 million to the house in short fashion.
Karas took a break from his gambling career after the $30 million downturn, traveling back to Greece for a short time.
Upon his return to Nevada, Karas returned to the baccarat and craps tables. He couldn’t reignite his high-roller winning ways though, losing all but his last $1 million.
Karas traveled to his one-time home of Los Angeles and put that remaining $1 million to the test. The Bicycle Club played host to a $1 million heads-up poker freezeout, featuring Karas against the team of Johnny Chan and Lyle Berman.
Karas triumphed in that poker game, doubling his bankroll to $2 million. Within a few days, however, “The Greek” lost all of that back at the high-limit baccarat and craps tables.
Life After the Winning Streak
While Karas never again approached the $40 million winnings mark in his gambling career, his aspirations to continue the high roller life continued.
Karas managed to run up seven-figure wins at the Horseshoe, the Desert Inn, and the Gold Strike at various times after “The Run” ended.
Viewers tuning into ESPN coverage of the World Series of Poker in 2008 saw Karas appear as a featured player. He made occasional appearances at the WSOP and other Las Vegas poker tournaments from 2004-2013, cashing in No-Limit Texas Hold’em, Seven Card Stud, Razz, and other poker variants.
While Karas’ hot streak is the stuff of gambling history legend, the manner in which he made his fortune can certainly be questioned. Karas was accused of cheating several times at casinos throughout his life, with several of those incidents leading to arrest.
The most significant of those incidents came forth in San Diego in 2013. Barona Casino caught Karas marking cards at the blackjack table, leading to his arrest days later in Las Vegas.
That arrest proved costly for Karas, who was placed in the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s black book as a result. Karas can’t ever step into a Las Vegas casino again in the aftermath of that blacklisting by Las Vegas gambling authorities.
While “The Run” might have ended in predictably tragic fashion, Karas’ legendary hot streak will live on in gambling lore forever. Now in his 70s, Karas still reportedly lives in Las Vegas, where his day-to-day activities are unknown.