THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist

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THIEF! character, Vince Eli

Monday, January 29, 2007

THIEF! Excerpt: Texas Hold 'em Con at Vegas World

One night after Vince’s shift, we went over to see an old friend of ours from Chicago named Tony Montana who tended bar at the famous Villa D’Est. The restaurant, also known as Joe Pignatello’s place, catered to entertainers and mob guys like Sinatra, Sam Giancana and Sam’s main squeeze, Phyllis Maguire. She could have had any guy in the world, but she settled on that ugly thug. There’s no accounting for taste. The three of us guys were rehashing old times when in walked Tony Spilotro. Few people knew that Tony Spilotro was Joe Pig’s silent partner.

Tony greeted everyone, turned to me and said, “So, Slick. Are you working?”

“No. Not yet.”

“Here’s what you do,” Tony said. “Go to Vegas World. They just leased the poker room to a friend of mine by the name of Pete Keller. Tell him I sent you.”

I recognized Keller's name. He was a high limit poker player who always carried a gun in his cowboy boot. I heard you didn’t want to mess with him. At that time, it was legal for anyone with enough money to lease a poker room.

The next day I introduced myself to Pete Keller. When he found out Tony sent me, Keller got right down to business, as if he’d been waiting for me to show up. He hired me as his swing shift boss at $125 a day, no interview, no nothing.

“Your real job is to put our card mechanic dealer in any game where there’s a high-rolling sucker and bring in the cold deck with the set up. For every cold deck you bring in, I’ll give you $500 on top of your salary.” That sounded better.

Now Keller took me over to meet Bob Stupak who owned Vegas World. Geez, here was this chain-smoking, creepy-looking guy who needed a bath in the worst way. Without looking up, Stupak told me to find the casino manager and get myself processed so I could start work right away. First, there had been Bob Stupak’s World Famous Million Dollar Historic Gambling Museum and Casino. I guess someone had a thing against long names, because the place burned down. Stupak took the insurance money and built Vegas World.

Huckster Stupak attracted folks with any gimmick he could muster, including a No Limit Texas Hold'em game meant to draw in high rollers. The exciting new game, featuring universal cards dealt face-up, descended on Las Vegas like a desert storm. Within days, the high stakes grabbed the attention of Keller and his crew, well-known World Series of Poker winners. But Keller and his boys didn’t stop at honest gambling. They unleashed an arsenal of cheating tactics tailor-made to bust the heavy hitters. Everyone including me and the dealer had their roll to play—everyone, that is, except for Stupak and the mooch-of-the-moment. Tony Spilotro got a piece of Keller's action and that’s how I entered the picture.

Not long after I started working there, who should sit down but Bob Stupak himself. Keller figured just because Stupak owned the joint didn’t entitle him to immunity. Nothing would go wrong because all the other players at the table were in on the con. I brought in the cold or doctored deck with the 2-deck setup, just like always. The dealer spread the normal deck, shuffled and began dealing.

After a while, a player said he detected a crimped card and asked for the other deck. The cold deck was pre-set to give one of our guys the nuts and Stupak the second best hand.

Now here’s where the dealer’s world-class card mechanic skills plus the crew’s timing came into play. The dealer picked up the cold deck and acted like he was going to spread it face up. That would have been a dead give-away, so it was up to one of the players to distract Stupak. Ironically, Stupak’s Greek bodyguard bumped Stupak’s glass. The Greek was hired to alert Stupak of any funny business, but was actually part of Keller's crew. Stupak grabbed the glass so it wouldn’t tip. By the time Stupak looked up, he thought the dealer had already spread the deck. After all, his Greek friend acted like everything was on the up-and-up. Then the dealer false shuffled and went right into dealing. The pot topped thirty grand. On the turn, it became a showdown between Stupak and the guy with the nuts. When the river came up, of course, Stupak lost.

Bob Stupak never wised up. In fact, after Keller's gang hustled a very sharp female player out of considerable money, she sued Stupak for cheating her. The court ruled in Stupak’s favor for lack of evidence. To this day, I don’t think Stupak guessed who was behind the swindle.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

SW Florida Booksigning

Cherie Rohn, co-author of THIEF!, signs books in Port Charlotte, Florida.

Date: Saturday, January 27
Time: 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Place: Books-A-Million
1825 Tamiami Trail
Port Charlotte, FL 33948

If you're in the area, come by and see me. I'll be happy to answer your questions.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

McCarran Airport Photos

It was short but sweet at McCarran today. Slick informs us that he sold the store's entire inventory of 15 copies in half an hour! The Border's store manager said they're still waiting for 75 copies to arrive. When they do, Slick will be back. We'll keep you posted.

Our man, Tony Montana, was on hand to photograph the event. It's a good thing you tended bar all those years, Tony. I don't think you would make it as a photographer. But thanks for all the hard work, guys.

McCarran Airport THIEF! signing today

Slick just called to tell me he's already signed a number of books and he's only started. A terrific couple who bought a signed copy will have their photo posted on this blog as soon as I receive it.

If you're in the area, stop by and have your photo taken with Slick!

THIEF! Newspaper Story, hot off the press

Piece appeared in the News-Press, Fort Myers, FL.
Sunday, January 21, 2007

Fort Myers author tells tale of crime, from bottom up
Jay MacDonald

It's strange that our fascination with the mob centers so on top bananas like Lucky Luciano, Carlo Gambino and John Gotti when, as any crime beat reporter will tell you, the most incredible stories always involve madcap misfires by the lowliest flunkies, the truly clueless nostra.

Fort Myers author Cherie Rohn ran into just such a lovable screwball more than a decade ago in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when, after losing her job as a TV station manager, she enrolled in a casino dealer's school. One of her instructors was a well-traveled man of action named William "Slick" Hanner.

"He was walking around with his notebook of 20 hand-scrawled pages in his third-grade-educated hand of his life story, looking for somebody to write it," Rohn recalls. "No money, of course, but I looked at it and it was like an electric shock went through my body. Something about this guy grabbed me and I vowed to write his story."

A decade in the writing, "THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist" (Barricade, $22) is the laugh-out-loud misadventures of a savvy Chicago street kid who managed to partake in the profitable mob Trifecta of booze, gambling and prostitution without ever actually becoming a made guy.

Like some street-smart version of Forrest Gump, Slick went from rags to riches while drifting through America's hottest post-war entertainment scenes. Whether he was fleecing poker players aboard his yacht the Knot Guilty in Miami Beach, driving a limo for Nevada's infamous Chicken Ranch, serving as Jerry Lewis' bodyguard or managing the poker room at the Landmark Casino in Las Vegas, Slick was where the action was for the last half of the 20th century.

"He was an interesting kind of a screw-up adrenaline junkie con artist who goes through life like a speeding freight train about to derail at any minute," Rohn says of her colorful collaborator.

The project was no mere samba down memory lane. Hanner's third-grade education was one obstacle, but Rohn had her challenges as well.

"Aside from a couple lurid love letters, I hadn't written anything," she says. "So I had three tasks: I had to learn to write, I had to learn to write as a guy, and I had to learn to write as a guy who hung with the mob."

Rohn does a wonderful job at all three, telling Slick's first-person tale with all the swagger and latter-day slang of a high-rolling con artist of the day. "We filled it out very slowly," she says. "I actually had to put words into his mouth."

She also found that time was of the essence if she hoped to interview Slick's running mates. "Through the nine agonizing years of writing this story, a lot of people died, mostly from unnatural causes," he quips.

At 74, Slick is still doing what he does best, playing poker and consulting with Las Vegas casinos on how to thwart card sharks.

Does the guy who knows where the bodies are buried fear that some associates may take offense at his candid biography? What are you nuts?

"We had a few death threats," Rohn admits. "I'm not going to tell you where they came from but they were real. Slick isn't one to worry. His attitude is, "Hey, if that happens, we can sell a few more books!"

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Slick signs THIEF! at Borders Books in Las Vegas

Date: Sunday (tomorrow), January 21, 2007
Time: Noon - ?
Location: Borders Books at McCarran Airport

Here's your chance to ask Slick for poker tips and info about the mob.

Friday, January 19, 2007

A Different Way to Market Books

This really happened to me.

Yesterday I walked into a police sub-station armed with our THIEF business cards (that have a poker card pattern on one side) plus a couple of THIEF books. I politely but energetically asked the sergeant at the desk if maybe he was interested in reading a true story I'd written about the mob, prostitution and gambling? I gave him several of our cards. He seemed curious and asked to see the book. Intrigued by the blurbs and jacket copy, he called over a few of his co-workers. In the end, I sold 6 copies on the spot. Gave my e-mail address at their request in case others were interested.

It just goes to show what a little ingenuity can do to help sell your book! Try something new.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Q: What's the hardest casino game to learn?

A: Craps. Just think 7 you win...7 you lose. You get round chips, they tell you to stack ‘em. And square dice you roll. How simple can that be?

Seriously, craps has complicated bets and payouts making it very hard to learn. Also, hard to learn how to deal this game for the same reasons.

(Slick answered this question. Sorry folks. I didn't make the 48-hour deadline.)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Slick signs books in Las Vegas at McCarran Airport Borders.

That's Sunday, January 21, from Noon till ?

See you there!

Monday, January 15, 2007


Q: What’s the hardest casino game to learn?

Check for the answer within 48 hours.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

THIEF! Tony Spilotro Excerpt

Excerpt from THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist by William "Slick" Hanner & Cherie Rohn, released by Barricade Books in Oct. 2006

Las Vegas, around 1985—It all started when this Outfit messenger, Guido, tracked me [Slick] down to the Aladdin poker room about 4:00 a.m. I sat out the next few hands since I was losing anyway. In the coffee shop, Guido opened up.

“Slick, I gotta see Tony [Spilotro]. It’s very important.”

“Okay, Guido. You wait for me here and I’ll see what I can do.”

I didn’t have Tony’s phone number on me but I knew he lived at 4675 Balfour, a regular middle-class neighborhood. In fact, Tony’s house looked exactly like all the other ones on his block, just the opposite of Lefty’s sprawling ranch house on the Desert Inn Golf Course. I’d driven Tony home a couple of times because he didn’t like to drive. He figured you made an easier target in the driver's seat. Here’s my chance to help Tony out, I thought, listening to the doorbell ring inside the house.

A long five minutes later, Tony answered the door dressed in his pajamas. “Oh, it’s you,” he said, a little surprised to find me on his doorstep at such an early hour. “What are you doing here?”

“This Guido from Chicago collared me at the Aladdin just now. He says he has something very important to tell couldn’t wait. So I came right over.”

Very calmly, Tony asked, “Was it important for him, or important for me?”

I stood there with my mouth open like a fish caught in a net. My mind raced for an answer, but none came. Tony quietly closed the door.

Tony nailed it. Who was it important for? Every time I was around that guy I learned something the fact that whenever Tony invited a guy to his house, Tony would say, “I’m going into the Jacuzzi, what size bathing suit do you wear?” He’d glance at the guy’s waist and shout, “Nancy, get him a 38.” If the guy refused, Tony figured he had a wire on and the guy was in deep shit. Only a few people knew this about Tony... I decided to skip the Aladdin.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Slick signs THIEF! at McCarran Airport, Las Vegas

Slick signs THIEF! at McCarran Airport's Borders Books

Date: Sun., January 21, 2007
Time: Noon - ?

Meet Slick and get some free Hold 'Em tips! Mark your calendar.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Q: What's Las Vegas Throat?

A: It's a throat condition singers and other performers aquire in Las Vegas from the desert dryness.

Drink lots of liquids when you're visiting Las Vegas to lubricate your tonsils...preferably non-alcoholic.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007


Q: Okay. What's Las Vegas throat?
(It has nothing to do with sex.)

Check back for the answer in 48 hours.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

THIEF! Fight excerpt

Jack "Doc" Kearns was one of the most famous fight promoters in the world. He rubbed elbows with presidents, heads of state, actors, name it. Slick's boyhood friend, Jack Kearns, Jr., figures prominently in THIEF!

Photo l. to r.: Mickey Walker & son, Jack Kearns, Jr. & Jack "Doc" Kearns, Sr. circa 1934. (Courtesy of Jack Kearns, Jr.)

Slick and Jack are about 9 years old in the following excerpt:

Speaking of tough, one of our gang was Jack Kearns whose world-famous father promoted and managed Jack Dempsey in bout after moneymaking bout during Dempsey’s heyday. “Doc” Kearns also handled guys like Mickey Walker and Joey Maxim to round out a card that read like a who’s who of boxing. It was a well-known fact that Kearns was the biggest fight promoter in the entire country. He was the kind of guy who made a million dollars, went broke, made another million, went broke, and so on. Someone said Doc was like one of those inflated shmoo dolls with a weighted base. It kept popping up no matter how hard you punched it.

Young Jack was a natural bullshitter just like his old man. When it came to fighting, Jack took a lot and gave a lot. He was as fearless as a male lion defending his harem.

One lucky Thursday—a day seared into my memory—Jack invited our gang over to Helsing’s to meet his father. It was the first time I set eyes on a hundred dollar bill. Doc threw money around the table like he minted it in his basement. I got a knot in my stomach the size of a man’s fist just eyeballing all that cash. If a working stiff took home a hundred bucks a month, I guarantee, he was President of the United States.

Not only did Doc treat us guys to lunch, he casually peeled off a ten spot for each of us— fifty bucks just like that. My hand shook as I reached for mine. That was more than my father made in a week. It was funny Doc Kearns was so free with his money because, rumor had it, he was in one of his broke spells. After that meeting, Jack never lost a fight.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Don't Miss Important THIEF! events

Check out the mob speak blog for upcoming THIEF! booksignings, especially if you live in Las Vegas. My spies tell me THIEF! is flying off the shelves in "Sin City." That's to be expected considering the fact that a good part of the book takes place in the mobbed-up Las Vegas from the 1940s - 1980s.

Stay tuned!

Then and Now

Then: During the mob's heyday in Las Vegas, (1960s-1980s) casinos hired poker dealers by how many chips they could snatch from the pot without getting caught.

Now: Poker dealing is completely above board as are all casino games. Dealers are more likely to be hired by how many hands they can get out in an hour and how good their dealing skills are.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

For serious gamblers...

Slick and I were discussing all the weird gamblers he's noticed during his 40+ years spent working legit jobs and playing poker in casinos. He said, "The best way to gamble if you’re serious about increasing your odds is to watch how others are betting, keep your mouth shut and leave the table when you’re on a losing streak."

And when I was a blackjack and roulette dealer and poker room floor supervisor, I watched plenty of folks throw good money after bad...keep betting til they bust.

We can’t emphasize enough that casinos make their money by

a. capitalizing on their sizable house advantage
b. keeping you at a table long enough for the house advantage to kick in

So hit and run. Grab your winnings and head for the nearest exit. Fight the natural greedy inclination to sit there hoping for more.

May the dice roll your way, all your cards come up winners and your chips multiply!

Wednesday, January 3, 2007


Q: What's the house advantage in blackjack?

A: Slick just called to remind me that I forgot the most important part: The player is always in the position to go bust before the dealer, which gives the house its edge or advantage.

Also, according to John Scarne, world-renowned gambling authority, the house edge is 5.9%. But that figure can change due to several variables such as:

  • The number of decks in play
  • Whether the dealer must hit or stand on a soft 17
  • Whether a blackjack pays at 2/3 or 5/6

and other house rules that make the house advantage or edge fluctuate. Check out to figure more exact odds.

Good luck!

Check regularly for more Questions and Answers.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Q & A

Every week we'll be posting a new question about gambling, the mob, prostitution or another equally fascinating topic such as the one below. Check for the answer within 48 hours.

Happy blogging!

Your host,


Q. What’s the house advantage in blackjack?