Story of Nick The Greek , a famous gambler who won and lost fortune 73 times!
In the rich history of Las Vegas casinos, there are several names that stand out and have earned the status of legends due to their amazing gambling skills. Nick The Greek is one of those Sin City gambling icons! The extraordinary story of this high-stakes poker player has been capturing the imagination of gambling aficionados for almost a century.
Who was Nick The Greek?
Nicholaos Andreas Dandolos was born in 1883 in a wealthy family in Rethymnon, a city located on the Greek island of Crete. A son of a carpet seller and a godson to a shipbuilder, Nicholaos earned his degree in philosophy at the Greek Evangelical College but afterwards decided to go to the United States fully planning to start his business career there. His grandfather assisted him financially in this move by giving him a weekly allowance of $150 (roughly $4,000 in today's money).
However, the career Nicholaos is going to build his name and status on was much different than he and his family could have expected. Although he settled first in Chicago, he soon moved to Montreal and that’s where the story of Nick The Greek, an amazing gambler who went from rags to riches 73 times in his life, begins.
Nick The Greek’s Gambling Career
In Montreal, Nick befriended a jockey Phil Musgrave and the legend says that it is exactly him who introduced him to horse betting. Being a smart young man, Nick was able to understand how betting probabilities work and use them to his advantage. With the hefty allowance he was getting and natural betting skills, Nick won over $500,000 in the first year of his gambling career. That’s big money by today's standards but it was exceptionally huge back in the days!
Playing Cards & Dice
Around the same time his horse betting was seriously paying off, Nick discovered just how alluring and fun cards and dice can be. He took his money and decided to go back to the United States. Back in Chicago, Nick met professional gamblers for the first time and started playing with them. However, cards and dice are not horse races and it wasn’t long before his big balance from Canada started melting away.
Still, not being as good as those professional gamblers didn’t deter Nick! He didn’t just give up and went back to his original plan of becoming an entrepreneur. Nick started learning about how probability works in cards and dice and over time managed to master these gambling games.
Craps and poker was what he loved and where he was able to excel. How? He was playing pretty much constantly, traveling and visiting casinos all over the US. It wasn’t long before his name was well known on the gambling scene. Nick’s enchanting personality, positive outlook on life in general, and big stakes were the main reasons he got the attention of not only gambling fans but casino owners as well.
Nick’s wins and losses became legendary! It was said that his daily turnover, whether he won or lost, was around $100,000. He was betting thousands and thousands of dollars on craps and poker games.
Based on one story, Nick The Greek was playing a dice tournament in New York and he lost $1.6 million. In another story, he was buying into a poker game for $20,000 and won $500,000 after more than 7 hours of playing the game.
Nick the Greek’s Las Vegas Gambling Days
When Nevada legalized gambling in 1931, Nick The Greek decided to move permanently to Las Vegas. Although there was always something happening on the Las Vegas Strip, Nick The Greek and his amazing high-roller gambling skills were one of the major attractions that Sin City had to offer back in the day. It’s important to mention that Nick received more than a few offers from casinos as well as the Mafia but that he never accepted the offer of playing for any of them. Known as the Gentlemen of Gambling, he was playing the game for the thrill and fun of it!
Epic Five-Month Poker Game
One of the legendary Las Vegas stories with Nick The Greek as the main character is certainly the 5-month long poker marathon between him and Johnny Moss. At Nick’s request, Benny Binion, another American gambling icon, organized a stunning match between two gambling greats. The whole event was a huge tourist attraction not only for the two big gambling names that were going head-to-head against each other but for the insane amount of money that was being wagered.
Nick The Greek and Johnny Moss were two completely different types of players and very different personalities. While Nick was a talkative player with good education, Johnny was not formally educated and was a quiet player. By that time, Nick had won pretty much every poker game on the East Coast while Johnny was playing mostly in Texas in various private games.
The story goes, this epic poker game ended with Nick The Greek standing up from the table and saying: “Mr. Moss, I will have to let you go.” With that, Nick turned around and simply left. Although the exact amount Johnny Moss took from Nick is not known, the record shows that he probably ended up winning between $2 and $4 million in the span of these 5 months.
Playing with Albert Einstein
Another iconic story about Nick The Greek is about him and Albert Einstein hanging out together is Las Vegas casinos. At the time, Einstein was teaching at Princeton and apparently he was introduced by Nick as “Little Al from Princeton” with an explanation that he “controlled a lot of action around Jersey.”
However, this was not the only Nobel Prize winner Nick The Greek spent the time with! Richard Feynman, award-winning physicist and the researcher in the famous Manhattan Project, mentioned Nick The Greek in his autobiography. He said that Nick taught him his betting system of winning by avoiding the obvious bets at table games.
Nick’s Love for Faro Game
Even though he is famous for amazing poker and craps gaming sessions, Nick The Greek’s favorite gambling game was supposedly faro. Gambling in the Wild West was the prime form of entertainment, some would even call it a way of life, and faro was the most popular gambling game among people living in this era of American history. One time, Nick played faro for supposedly 10 days straight without any sleep.
Apparently Nick The Greek’s faro games were almost as extravagant as his poker games. He would spend money and time in great quantities playing faro. During the 3-month faro bender in Reno, Nick was backed by Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal Studios. However, cards were not working for Nick and Laemmle lost every single cent he invested in supporting him.
All or Nothing in Texas
In another long high-stake game in Texas, Nick The Greek was up a million dollars but didn’t feel like playing anymore. It was a late morning, he was tired and wanted to end the game but his opponent at the table called him chicken for doing so.
Nick managed to settle the whole situation in a fast manner. He simply asked for the new deck of cards, shuffled them, and made an ultimate gambling proposition to the opponent - everyone puts $1 million in the bank and the one that draws a higher card takes the entire bank. His opponent was not ready to make that bet and Nick was able to leave the table with his honor unblemished.
Gambling Till The Very End
Nick The Greek was a gambler through and through! As it usually goes for high-stake players, the money is constantly coming and going just like the ocean tide. Even though there were times when he was banking incredible amounts of money, there were also periods during which Nick was completely down.
During his twilight years, Nick The Greek was almost totally broke but he still played. The days of high stakes were long gone, he was playing poker for $5 a hand, but it was never about the money with him anyway. On one occasion a person asked him how it feels to play a small-stakes game after playing with millions of dollars for years. Nick simply answered: “Hey, it’s action, isn’t it?!”
Nick The Greek simply loved playing the game! Even when he was old, tired, and sick, you could still find him at the poker table. Some of his physicians would threaten him when they would see him at the table but he wouldn’t budge. He died on December 25, 1966 completely broke.
Nick The Greek was an impressive person and lived an extraordinary life. It’s estimated that he donated over $20 million to charity during his lifetime. Hank Greenspun, the founder of the Las Vegas Sun and Nick’s friend, named him the “King of The Gamblers” and said this about him:
“Luck was a lady and she has been the love of his life.”
Thirteen years after his death, Nick The Greek Dandolos was introduced into the Poker Hall of Fame. Nick and his once-rival Johnny Mass were the first 2 players to be honored in this manner. Based on the way Nick lived his life and how he played poker, that honor was truly deserved.