In a voice that sounds like a recorded announcement Eighty Dollar Natey says, "Pleased to make your acquaintance." His handshake is quick and slight, his flesh cold. His eyes, sunk in black pockets in a face otherwise white as alabaster, move around the casino on a sunny morning in Glitter Gulch in downtown Las Vegas. He is searching for clients among players who have been up all night at the green tables. What Eighty Dollar Natey does is lend small sums of money to people who go broke. He demands a very high rate of interest, but they pay it.
Out on the Strip, five miles from where Eighty Dollar Natey prowls through the morning, the casinos in the resort hotels look the same inside no matter what the hour. If it is midnight and it is snowing outside you can't tell it from a summer noon. There are no clocks, and the light is always the same late-afternoon glow. You know if it is evening, because people will be lined up for the dinner show then, to see girls with plumes doing numbers that have not changed much from what dance-hall flowers were doing when the Nevada legislature voted for legal gambling 102 years ago. The players haven't changed much at heart either, except they now arrive from far greater distances on jet planes that shuttle them in at all hours every day of the year for action at the tables and among the rows of spinning fruit.
At the Dunes Hotel, in a corner near the entrance to the coffee shop, are four poker tables. A shoulder-high fence separates the tables from the rest of the room. Three tables are empty. At the other table—right rear, closest to the door with the sign on it that says WOMEN—are a dealer and five other men. Two of the men wear cardigan sweaters and golf shirts, one wears a sport jacket, another a wrinkled suit. The last is young, and his hair hangs over the collar of his tight, red body shirt. Only the dealer wears a tie. There appears to be nothing very special about the table or the players. They could be in the locker room of almost any country club.
After a while one of the men—the one wearing a red cardigan—quietly slides back his chair and gets up from the table, where he had been sitting for 40 hours.
"You got to have a strong belly for this game," he says. "If you scream, it'll only irritate you and you'll lose. They won't give your money back nohow." For a moment he studies the people setting up a clamor of bells and voices in the casino. It is no coincidence that resort hotels on the Strip in Las Vegas resemble resort hotels in Miami Beach, for their books list some of the same owners and their customers are often the same. Hundreds of these people rushing from handle to wheel in the casino have flown in on chartered planes as guests of the house, and the man in the red sweater shakes his head.
"If a fellow on a junket would lose $400 and quit, he'd have all the best of it," he says. "But there's lots of suckers that get in deep and don't know no way out but to keep throwing."
He thinks for a minute. "Well, that ain't my problem," he says. "I've just had the best hand going into the last card about 30 straight times, and every time they outdrawed me. I lost $18,000 and would of lost $100,000 if I hadn't of took some insurance. Sometimes it does irritate me, I got to admit that."
Now that Johnny Moss has abandoned his chair and come to the bar you can see the surface of the poker table. On it are stacks of black chips, too many to count. A black chip is worth $100. It is not unknown for a single pot at that table to contain $250,000. A pot of $70,000 is common. That is cash money. No markers, no personal checks. The winner picks it up.
At that right rear table in the casino at the Dunes, day after day, the richest established permanent poker game in the world takes place. Players come and go. Tommy Abdo, a regular player and a very high roller, arose from his chair at that table one night, walked about 10 feet to the gate in the fence and fell to the floor with a heart attack. "Somebody count my checks," he said, and died. But the game goes on.
From the balcony of his room, Johnny Moss can see the mountains change colors with the seasons. Nearly every night he joins the game at the Dunes, which is encouraged by some of the hotel owners who like to play big poker. The hotel collects $50 per hour from each player, for which he receives food, drink and an honest deal. But the greatest advantage is that when a man steps out of the game he can immediately deposit his money in the casino safe and ride up to his room with empty pockets. Thus he is not apt to get stuck up in the elevator.