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.


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