Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.
The life of a gambler is usually filled with spectacular, often times unbelievable, stories and tales that leave the average person scratching their head. Amarillo Slim’s story is one of the greatest examples of this in the history of the game. In recent times it seems you can run into just about anybody on the street that can give you a few names of current poker superstars. That is to be expected though with the boom of poker coverage on television and on the internet. Amarillo Slim was ahead of his time. He enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of the celebrity totem pole at a time when most poker games were still being played secretively in back rooms and in smoky casinos. Although recent years haven’t been as kind to Preston, it is only when you hear his story that you get to understand just how he was able to become one of the names synonymous with poker.
Preston was born on New Year’s Eve in 1928 in Johnson, Arkansas, but spent the majority of his childhood in Amarillo, Texas.
That, combined with his tall skinny frame, creates the nickname. Even as a youngster he was into gambling, or to be more exact, hustling, except during his early years he used a pool stick, and not a deck of cards. One of the earliest legends surrounding Preston is that of a particularly lucrative week of pool, earning him five Cadillacs. By the 1950’s his reputation of pool hustler was growing, and he was beginning to find it hard to make a living. In turn, he turned to cards, not a bad career choice.
After a short stint in the Army, where he also made money playing cards and poker, he hit the road in an attempt to make a living driving around the south looking for lucrative card games. At first he attempted these games alone, but with the constant threat of robberies due to the non-security issues of these early games, Preston realized he should probably get a couple of traveling buddies. That’s when he took the road with Brian Roberts and Doyle Brunson. As a trio, the group found much success cleaning out poker games, and amused themselves on the road by betting on anything and everything. Also during this time period he married his wife Helen, since divorced, and has been quoted as saying that was “the greatest gamble of my life.”
In the early 70’s, with poker games now dying out in the south for the trifecta of lifelong gamblers, the group descended upon Las Vegas. The group immediately found success in money games in the area, but it wasn’t until the third annual World Series of Poker did the group find renowned success when Preston won the 1972 World Series of Poker. Preston used this victory as a pedestal to stardom. Shortly after winning the championship, he started appearing on various talk shows, including “60 Minutes,” “The Tonight Show,” and whatever else he could find TV time on. He once even successfully talked talk show host Tom Snyder into letting him, and friends Joe Bernstein and Benny Binion, a casino owner and then host of the WSOP, into hosting the show on their own. While Binion preferred to stay out of the limelight as much as possible, Preston and Bernstein took full control of the situation, doing everything they could to promote themselves for the entire hour program.
In 1980 Preston helped form the Super Bowl of Poker, which would end up being the second most popular event, next to the WSOP, until its demise in 1990. It was also during this time that Preston caused a stir in a preliminary WSOP event, when he was rumored to have utter the words, “If a woman ever wins the WSOP I would slit my throat.” Preston quickly recounted saying, he was only talking about that particular woman, not the entire gender of woman. However, this would just be the beginning of Preston’s personal problems.
In August of 2003, just three months after his widely popular autobiography, “Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People,” hit the shelves, Preston was indicted on three charges of indecency with his 12 year old granddaughter. In February of 2004 those chargers were dropped to misdemeanor assault charges, he was fined $4,000 and received two years probation. Because of these charges Preston has shied away from playing cards in public places, only returning to the major tournament scene in the last few years, due to the backlash he received after the allegations were made public. It is rumored that he still plays poker online, at his buddies place, “Doyle’s Room.”
The problems didn’t end there. In October of 2006 his vehicle was shot at by would be robbers as Preston fled a robbery attempt. In January of 2007 he was robbed at gunpoint inside of his Amarillo house.
Despite all the negative backlash as of late, Preston’s life story is currently being developed into a movie, with Nicholas Cage set to play the lead part.
No matter what is currently thought about Preston, what he did for the game has to be respected. In a time when poker was merely a sideshow, Preston almost single handedly put it on the map. People have said that poker wouldn’t be around today without him. I personally think the game would still be around, but it wouldn’t be the same. Preston was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1992.