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Amarillo Slim

Amarillo Slim
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Taken from the Las Vegas Review Journal
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
COLUMN: John L. Smith

Indictment might silence bluster of famed hustler `Amarillo Slim'
It's hard to find a name more synonymous with the rise of poker than "Amarillo Slim."
With his irresistible nickname, Texas drawl and country wit, he became modern poker's first television celebrity. He defined the cowboy persona of the top players of his generation before most of the colorful rounders were replaced by math wizards and MIT grads.
Slim was no cowboy, of course. The hat and awe-shucksisms were props. He was closer to Titanic Thompson than Ty Murray.

Slim was a hustler and a scuffler with a patter that wouldn't quit and an uncommon ability to stretch the truth. He could spot a mark at a mile and rope players the way real wranglers take down steers.

As his stories go, he once whipped Minnesota Fats in a game of pocket billiards using a broomstick. He beat fellow hustler Bobby Riggs in a game of ping pong using an iron skillet. He nicked Evel Knievel and Willie Nelson and everyone else he came in contact with, but excluding the Internal Revenue Service, everyone seemed to forgive Slim his transgressions. The hustle was, after all, part of his nature.

Although he was often more bluster than black chips, he was capable of pulling a big scalp, as illustrated by the time he took Hustler publisher Larry Flynt for $2 million.

To give you an idea of the complexity of the character in question, he is also a man who rubbed elbows with the likes of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. A hayseed, he wasn't.

Although he won the 1972 World Series of Poker and was inducted into the game's Hall of Fame in 1992, Amarillo Slim was rarely the best player in a top tournament. But he always had the best story line. And no one from the green felt was more comfortable in the media spotlight.

For the record, Amarillo Slim's real name is Thomas Austin Preston Jr.
I mention it because you'll be hearing more of his given name and less of his colorful nickname in the days to come as his creepy courtroom drama plays out in Texas, where he has been indicted on three charges of indecency with a 12-year-old child.

According to published reports, Preston made an admission of the crime to an Amarillo prosecutor. The indictment alleges he inappropriately touched the child, which one local source says was a family member, Jan. 1, March 13 and March 14.

Those events remained secret until the indictment was unsealed Friday in Amarillo.
Preston's entertaining, cleaned-up autobiography with Greg Dinkins, "Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People," was published in May by HarperCollins to some good reviews. After a few years in the celebrity shadows, he appeared headed for center stage one more time.

His last public appearance in Las Vegas was at May's World Series of Poker at Binion's Horseshoe. Those who spoke with him saw he was depressed and heard him complain of getting a divorce.

At a time he should have been sky-high, Slim couldn't keep up the con. Now everyone knows why.
Soon after Preston flopped in the World Series, he offended a Denver radio audience with an anti-Semitic remark that reportedly crippled his book and movie deal.

Now he holds a dead man's hand.

It would have been better for him if he'd been accused of murder. In his world, a killing can make a reputation.
Among old-style gamblers, a bank robbery conviction was another sign of a man of experience. As Willie Sutton once said, "That's where the money is." And it's hard for a fellow whose life is dedicated to taking a shot at a pot of money to be too judgmental of a man who upped the ante. Seems almost noble when you come to think of it.
A generation ago, convictions for liquor running, bribing politicians and corrupting union bosses were considered more marks of authenticity than scarlet letters. Senate subcommittees and breathless investigative reporters might take exception, but they amounted to little more than background noise in the worlds of the real players.
But, as they say, there are crimes and then there are crimes. And even in a society turned upside down, kiddie molestation charges make you want to vomit.

Let's see you try to spin this one, Slim.
John L. Smith's column appears Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0295.
____________________________________________________________________________
TEXAS INDICTMENT
Poker champ accused of sexual assault

Legendary poker champion Amarillo Slim has been indicted by a Texas grand jury on charges that he inappropriately touched a 12-year-old girl, authorities said Monday.

Amarillo Slim, 74, whose real name is Thomas Austin Preston Jr., was indicted Friday on three felony charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child, said Sgt. Randy TenBrink of the Amarillo Police Department.

TenBrink said the girl reported to her mother that Preston had "inappropriately and sexually touched" her on Jan. 1, March 13 and March 14. The mother reported the allegations March 25.

Preston's Amarillo, Texas-based attorney, Dean Roper, did not return a phone message left Monday afternoon. No one answered the telephone Monday afternoon at Preston's Amarillo home.

Preston won the World Series of Poker in 1972 and was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1992.

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