Lets you Read the life

Interview with Amarillo ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล Slim

ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล

Part 2

About a Kidnap, Emerald Buttons, TV Shows, and Beauty Pageants

It’s hard not to notice a man with as distinctive an appearance as “Amarillo Slim,” no matter how large the crowd. Maybe it’s his custom made ostrich boots, the ones with the spades, diamonds, hearts, clubs and his name engraved on them — “I’ve got these in 14 different colors, brought nine pairs here with me. No wonder they had to send a limousine for me.” Or the emerald buttons on his Western shirt — “That’s the best story you’ll ever hear!” Or just the total persona of a gambler who has helped more than any other to bring respectability to poker — “I’ve gone out and done some things that nobody else has.” We began by talking buttons.

Dana Smith: Those are mighty fancy buttons you’re wearing, Slim.

“Amarillo Slim” Preston: I knew you were gonna ask, hon. The best story you’ll ever hear is this one. I usually wear uncirculated $1.00 gold pieces over the buttons on my shirts (Benny Binion wore them too) and matching cuff links with $5.00 pieces.

Anyway, I got kidnaped about five or six years in Columbia. I was wired up, not tied up, and taken in a helicopter from Cartagena to another town in Columbia. I thought they were gonna drop me out over the jungle, you understand? The guy who got me is named Pablo Escobar, reputed to be the biggest drug dealer in the world.

They thought that I was a government man because I didn’t try to buy any drugs, I didn’t use any, I didn’t try to sell any, and I was right in the middle of things in Columbia. I was just there for the opening of the Casino de Caribe. For seven days they got all the boss drug lords to declare Cartegena “Switzerland,” and everybody agreed not to kill nobody, assassinate nobody, do nothing during that week — for seven days we were just gonna gamble.

That got broken the first night when one of them blew some woman’s head off right on the porch, squirting blood on my boots.

Anyway, I’m in that helicopter and they call the boss guy on the radio. “Describe him,” he says. They do and then he says, “Does he have a map of Texas on his finger?” I had worn that Texas ring for a long time but they had stripped me of it.

They finally find out who I’m supposed to be and I’m OK, so in the same helicopter that I was taken as prisoner, I was shown around the country by the boss.

The sonnagun took me out there to that big zoo, told me it cost him $8,000 a day to maintain it. “See that chapel, Slim? That’s the one I built for the poor people.”

So I says to him, “Hey, you know you caught a little heat in the American ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล press when you killed that editor and publisher of the Bogota newspaper.” Then he said something about him being killed in the exact spot as the attorney general and offered to show me where. Now that’s who I was with.

And he liked my buttons … he loved them. So just because he didn’t kill me or something, I had a set of buttons like mine made for him. Six weeks later I’m in a suite at Caesars in Las Vegas and the phone rings. A voice that I recognized from the helicopter ride as one of his henchmen is saying to me, “Slim, this is so-and-so, how are you? Pablo has sent you something.”

You can imagine what I said. So I get all the security together down on the floor and go on down to meet him. Well, the boss had had a set of buttons made for me out of raw, uncut and unpolished emeralds. I swear to you that they’re about three or four carats apiece, all shapes and all good colors. Now would you think that a guy like that would have emerald buttons made for me?

Dana: I see that you’re also wearing one of your World Series bracelets.

Slim: Yeah, Mike Sexton researched it and I got at the final table four times and I won all of four of them. That’s unusual enough, but why do I have five bracelets? Did they give me two bracelets one year or what?

Dana: You almost got to the final table earlier this week, too. What happened there?

Slim: I raised all my chips against a millionaire’s chips, I’ve got A-K, he’s got A-Q. It comes 6-5-4 and then a ten. Now here’s what hurts: They all get up and leave, they know they’re gone. Then here comes a queen and I’m out.

Dana: Do you enjoy the Series as much as you used to?

Slim: I enjoy the camaraderie, the how are you and how’ve you been, and do you remember the wa-wa-wa, and how are your cutting horses … all that. Then I sit down to play and visit with everyone and in ten minutes I feel like I’m in the electric chair — I’d rather be anywhere else in the world. How can I say it? I’m pokered out. I must’ve done something right along the way, though, because I have a lot of friends.

The only thing that has excited me in my life during the last 15 years is that about three months ago, I was told that I was one of only two unanimous inductees into the Legends of Nevada at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino. A committee of 18 people chooses the inductees. Benny Binion and Howard Hughes and I were all inducted, and only two of us were unanimous.

Now that makes a country sonnagun feel good, you know what I’m sayin’?

I got all dressed up and then a big screen ’bout as big as Boulder Dam came on at both ends of the showroom and a senator from Washington lied and told what a good sonnagun I am and the governor and all the prominent people said I was as fine a man as ever put powder in a safe — no, they didn’t say that, I’m just kiddin,’ hon. And they played my song:

“Do you dare make a bet with Amarillo Slim? You play his game with one condition for him. From greens on the golf to baskets in the gym, do you dare make a bet with Amarillo Slim? Hell, the devil don’t bet with Amarillo Slim.”

Everybody in the casino stood when they played it and that made me feel good, hon. Can you relate to what I’m sayin’?

Dana: Sure can. I guess you’ve been everywhere, done everything.

Slim: Just about. Had my own tournament in Sun City, South Africa; had my own tournament in Adelaide, Australia; had Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker and it was the second biggest tournament there was. But this last honor, that was special.

Now I’m in four halls of fame: How in the hell can one person be in four of them?! I’m in the poker Hall of Fame, the Legends of Nevada, the Seniors Hall of Fame, and the Horseshoe’s Hall of Fame. That makes you feel a little bit special, you know.

Dana: You have the reputation of putting poker on the map.

Slim: Yeah, you hear that a lot. I went out and did some things that nobody else did. I’ve done three specials for 60 Minutes on Sunday nights, and hell, I’ve been on the Carson show 11 times with about seven different hosts: Flip Wilson, Joan Rivers, Don Rickles, once with Johnny, once with Joey Bishop, and the last one was with Gabe Kaplan. I never would go unless I had something to say.

On the Bishop one, I had Omar Sharif’s deal with Hoyle playing cards so that I could plug the cards, but Bishop wouldn’t bring it up. Those breaks are a little longer than you’d think so I called his hand on it, called him this and that — when I’m mad I’m not very shy. Freddy de Cordova comes over to us and says, “Something wrong, Slim?”

“Yeah,” I say, “you need to tell this little sonnagun that he needs to ask me about Hoyle playin’ cards because I don’t give a damn about you or him or this show, I’m about to leave.”

“And he will, too!” Freddy says. So we sat back down and Joey says, “Oh, Slim, I understand that you’re with …” and here we went.

Dana: Part of that’s just plain business sense, and you’ve always had that.

Slim: Yeah. I didn’t have a thing in the world to do with the movie, Maverick, but guess who did the publicity for it? “Let them sonnaguns that’s got something to do with the show go do it,” I said. They had me do it because I could get more free publicity than James Garner or Mel Gibson could.

So I did Good Morning America in New York, I did Panorama in Washington, D. C., I went to Atlanta for Georgia Today, California for A. M. Los Angeles and the Carson show, all that stuff. (I knew Mel and James before that, of course.)

Dana: You wrote a book.

Slim: Yeah, and you can’t get it nowadays. It’s hard to believe but I didn’t have one copy of it until about a year ago when an American Airlines pilot called my home telling me that he had two, said that if I’d sign one of them for him he’d give me the other one. I don’t have one copy of the movies that I made, I don’t have one copy of any TV show I’ve done. Isn’t that unreal?

Speaking of books, Susie Isaacs came to me the other day and said, “Slim I’m writing a book and I need an unusual quote.” I said, “Well, I’ll tell you, Susie, very seldom do the lambs slaughter the butcher.” She hollered over that one.

Anyway, the original title of my book was “Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People,” but some clever guy changed the title to Maverick Poker. There’s nothing in it worth a damn, but there were 29 authors at the author’s convention in Los Angels the next year — Norman Mailer had just done Marilyn and Jonathan Livingston Seagull (I called it “The Birds”) was just out — and I got all the limelight.

You know what reverse psychology is? I came out from behind my table and gave out books and told all the press guys in my line, “Why don’t you get out of this line and go over there in that best-seller’s line so you can get yourself something fit to read? My book isn’t worth nine-cents and eggs.”Now guess what that caused? The people that were in the other lines came over and got in mine! That’s reverse psychology. (And let me tell you that I’ve had some very lucrative offers from major publishers.)

I went to Mailer’s publishing party that night and Linda Loveless showed up. She came running over to me telling me who she was and all, and I said, “I didn’t read your book about the sore throat, but I know who you are.” The room broke up! I seem to recall an inference that she might give me a free demonstration of her abilities, but I declined. I had just finished judging the “Miss Nude U. S. A.” contest out there and I’m the only judge they’ve ever had that exercised their option.

Dana: What option?

Slim: You could be as they were if you wanted to, so I’m up on the stage and I take off everything I’ve got on. I also judged the married ladies thing, the Mrs. America contest, once at the Hilton. “Let’s let Slim welcome the ladies to Las Vegas and the Hilton,” Barron Hilton suggested.

It looked like recess in heaven — all the little angels were there, damned they were beautiful! So after yakking with them for a while, I said, “There one thing about this contest, ladies. I can’t speak for the integrity, the ability, or the honesty of these other three judges, but you’re lookin’ at one cowboy sonnagun that will take a bribe!”

The press loved it, you hear me? And I hadn’t up in my suite but a few minutes when I got a coupla calls.

Dana: You’re good with the press, one reason why you receive so much respect from poker players — they know that you’ve done a lot to bring poker out of the backrooms.

Slim: When I first meet a guy and he asks me what I do, I generally say, “I’m a gambler,” because I want to see his reaction. I want to know if he thinks that a gambler is someone who just crawled out from under a rock or hustles bribes or deals in narcotics. I don’t do any of those things. I’m a gambler but I’ve been accepted. You know what that means?

I’ve spoken twice at the National Press Club in Washington, D. C., and that’s reserved for foreign and national dignitaries. I’ve even addressed the United States Senate — and I’m a gambler, you understand? You shoulda heard the questions they asked me: One big-shot senator asked me something and I answered, “Well, sir, I really and truly don’t think that’s any of your business,” and the room broke up. No one else would talk to him that way, but I got away with it.

Dana: Do you stake a lot of guys in poker?

Slim: No ma’am. I help some guys but I don’t stake a lot of guys. Here’s why: Turn it around and you could never arrange a scenario when I would ask them to stake me. If I was cold broke and destitute, I wouldn’t ask anyone around here to stake me, so I’d feel like a fool if I staked one of them. Everyone who wants to borrow says, “Oh, I’m good for it.”

I answer, “You’re good for it? Then why don’t you get it from somebody you know here in Vegas? I live in Amarillo.” You look at it like you’re a mark, a sucker, a fool, know what I mean?

I did it for a little while when I first came out here because I was used to dealing with people on a different level, people who were reputable and honorable. I never did lend anybody $20,000 that I didn’t get paid — and I never did lend anybody $200 and get it back. Now that tells you something: He’s a $200 sonnagun to start with if that’s all he asks you for.

Dana: What are doing these days, Slim?

Slim: Nothin’. I’m the same as always, the same everyday. I don’t play that much poker anymore, hardly play at all. I’m building some golf courses and go quail hunting nearly every day. And I go to all the sporting events, the Masters golf tournament, the World Series of Poker, the Super Bowl of football, the National Finals Rodeo, go to Europe three or four times a year, get a six-pak of young blondes and cabaret once in a while.

I’m not being boastful, just tellin’ you what I do with my time. I don’t think I’m pretentious about anything.

My wife and I are very fond of and protective toward our three children. We have six little filly grandbabies and one little boy grandchild, and they are our life. We have a 6,800 square-foot home, looks like a hotel — I have my own golf course in my back yard, a professional tennis court, a king-sized swimming pool.

I’m 70 years old now, my birthday’s December 31st and Benny’s was Christmas Day. I hear everyday from people, “Slim, you’re the same as you were 30 years ago.” I’m at peace with me and you and my Maker, the whole world, you know what I mean? And I don’t take this gaming as seriously as most people.

Dana: You don’t need it to make a living.

Slim: Probably not. I’m in an unusual position. A guy called me about a month ago who was doing a book about Stu Ungar. I told him I wouldn’t be a good person to talk to about Stu. I’m real square about drugs and I don’t make no bones about it. “I wouldn’t be very complimentary,” I told him. He said he understood, and that’s why he wanted to talk with me. I liked … no, I tolerated … Stu but I resent what he stood for, you know what I’m sayin’?

Mike Sexton says to me the other day, “Slim I have your phone number, it’s been the same forever, but what’s your mailing address?”

“Mike,” I answer, “all you’ve gotta do is send it to Amarillo Slim, Amarillo, Texas, and I’ll get it.” No one in the world believes that, but it’s true. Some author from Virginia mailed me a letter at that address along with a $10 bill and a return-address postcard. I was to keep the $10 and mail the postcard back to him.

The letter was stamped “Insufficient Address” by the post office but I got it anyway. Then somebody called the long distance operator at area code 806 and asked for the phone number of Amarillo Slim — and the operator gave it to him. As well as I love life, that’s the truth!

In my hometown, I’m known. Amarillo’s a good town and the population has been the same for the past 30 years, never varies — every time some woman gets pregnant, some man leaves town.

Dana: You’re bad, Slim

Slim: I don’t mean nothin’ when I talk bad, OK?

Dana: I understand — I read your book, you know.