Poker Hall of Fame is Really a Hall of Shame as Many Members Have Checkered Pasts

Written by:
Thomas Somach
Published on:
LAS VEGAS — The Poker Hall of Fame will add a new member on Sunday, July 10, bringing the total membership to 61 poker pros and others who have contributed to the game.
But is it really a Hall of Fame?
Among the members are a child molester, a safecracker who served time in prison, a casino cheat, a drug addict, a mob boss and a racist who dressed in blackface.
The Poker Hall of Fame is more like a Poker Hall of Shame!
Here are just a few of the upstanding, solid citizens who have been voted into the Hall:
THOMAS AUSTIN “AMARILLO SLIM” PRESTON JR. — As poker‘s first superstar, he became nationally famous appearing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in the early 1970s. He won four World Series of Poker championship bracelets in his career, including one for the Main Event in 1972. He became so popular that a major film studio in Hollywood planned to make a movie about his life, but the project was scuttled after he made anti-Semitic remarks in a radio interview. His career then imploded in 2003 when he was indicted by a grand jury in Texas on three felony charges of indecency with a minor, after he thrice committed sexual assault by touching the breasts of his own 12-year-old granddaughter. In a plea bargain, he pled guilty to a reduced misdemeanor assault charge, was fined $4,000 and given two years probation. He died in 2012.
DAVE “DEVILFISH” ULLIOT — One of England’s top poker pros, he earned more than $6 million playing live tournament poker in his career, including winning a WSOP bracelet and finishing runner-up in five other WSOP events. But before finding poker success, the high school dropout was part of a safecracking ring, getting arrested before he was 21 and serving nine months in prison. Shortly after getting out of prison he was arrested again, this time for robbing a bank but he avoided jail time. A few years later he was arrested for participating in a brutal brawl outside a nightclub where numerous people were seriously injured. He served 18 months in prison on that rap. During his life he fathered five illegitimate children with multiple women. He died in 2015.
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STU “THE KID” UNGAR — Another high school dropout, he won the WSOP Main Event three times as well as two other WSOP bracelets. He also excelled at blackjack and gin rummy. A movie was made about his life, called “High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story.” But he was also a notorious cocaine addict, blowing millions of dollars on the illicit narcotic. He died young at age 45 in 1998. An autopsy showed there were drugs in his system.
DANIEL “KID POKER” NEGREANU — This Canadian high school dropout has won six WSOP bracelets, though never the Main Event. He’s also earned an eye-popping $42 million playing live tournament poker in his career, making him one of the most successful poker players of all time. As a poker pro he is a fearless winner. But as a human being, he is a creepy loser. He was recently accused of sexual harassment by a female poker pro, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. His racism and sexism are legendary. He appeared in blackface in a video he posted on the Internet. In a blog post, he questioned why there is a Black Entertainment Network but no White Entertainment Network. In another blog post, he said his dog doesn’t like black people. Other blog posts had him saying Asian poker players aren’t respected and using the slur “gook.” On a television show he used a mock Asian accent. In other blog posts he put down Hispanics, referred to women as “bitches” and mocked the mentally ill. He’s John Rocker, Marge Schott and Archie Bunker all rolled up into one, albeit a Canadian version.
ELI ELEZRA — He has won four WSOP bracelets and almost $5 million in live tournament earnings in his career. But before he moved to Las Vegas to play poker full-time, the Israeli native was in the Israeli military. And while in the military, he served a stint in a military prison for disobeying orders.
PHIL IVEY JR. — He has won an amazing 10 WSOP bracelets (but never the Main Event) and almost $38 million in live tournament earnings in his career, and is considered the top black poker player in the world. He is also a casino cheat. A few years ago, while playing punto banco, a game similar to baccarat, in casinos in Atlantic City and London, he and a cohort executed an elaborate cheating scam called edge sorting that allowed them to win millions of dollars illegally. The U.S. casino paid him his winnings, but when it realized what happened, sued to get its money back and won the case. The British casino refused to pay the winnings, so he sued it and lost the case.
JAMES “WILD BILL” HICKOK — This legendary figure from the Old West lived in the 1800s and is best known for being shot to death while playing poker in a saloon in what is now Deadwood, South Dakota. The hand he was holding when he was shot—a pair of aces and a pair of eights— famously became known as the “dead man’s hand.” He was also a vicious gunfighter, had numerous arrests and according to historical records, murdered at least seven people.
BENNY BINION — He owned a casino in Las Vegas called Binion’s Horseshoe, where he created the World Series of Poker as a promotional tool. Before he was a casino boss, though, he was a mob boss in Dallas, Texas. He murdered three people, was arrested numerous times for a variety of crimes and served time in prison. He also owned a horse he named Nigger. He died in 1989.
JULIUS “LITTLE MAN” POPWELL — He weighed over 300 pounds and was a top professional poker player in the 1950s and 1960s. He was busted for running illegal lotteries and card games from his home in Alabama and served a year in prison. He died in 1966.
ERIC DRACHE — A former poker room manager who helped run the World Series of Poker for a while, he invented the concept of satellite tournaments, which drastically increased the number of WSOP entrants. In the mid-1990s, he was prosecuted on Federal tax fraud charges and lost his casino license, which is required to work in a casino.
By Tom Somach
Gambling 911 Chief Correspondent

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