Caesars forced out as the Suffolk Downs partner

Oct 22, 2013 3:08 AM

The effort by Massachusetts gaming regulators to huff and puff like the toughest guys in the building might be worth a laugh if the consequences of their action in the case of Caesars were not so serious.

The action appears to have forced Caesars out as the Suffolk Downs partner in a bid for a Boston area casino license.

We’ve seen this approach before. We saw it in Illinois. We also saw it years ago in Atlantic City when legal casinos were very new there, just as they are now in Massachusetts, and regulators were busy beating up on applicants and licensees who had never been convicted of anything.

They found themselves accused of being “alleged associates” of the wrong kind of people or, in the recent case of Caesars, having business dealings with people who might have an associate or two with questionable credentials.

It’s the kind of thinking that happens when gambling is coming to a state where it was formerly illegal. Enforcement actions are taken by people who have not read the press releases. Common sense gets left at the door.

It makes you wonder if big casino companies that now have significant footprints in Macau will find themselves in serious trouble as they wait for Massachusetts licenses.

Then there is the common sense thing.

Massachusetts authorities have already tried to have one of the state’s law firms fire an investigator who had worked in Atlantic City and been scolded by authorities there.

The law firm declined to fire the investigator and said he would simply be assigned to non-casino cases.

It’s nice to see someone not letting themselves be pushed around by lightweight bureaucrats wielding big clubs.

Defining Karas: Bob Stupak leaned across his lunch on an afternoon almost 20 years ago, asking me if I was familiar with this made-in-Las Vegas saga involving Archie Karas.

Tell me about it, I said, and Stupak did. “Talk about a run of luck, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Stupak said, remembering how it all went down.

The run began with Karas contacting a well-known local player, asking him if he wanted to try his luck with some nine ball. Of course they’d probably want to make some friendly bets, just to keep it interesting.

The player said this sounded like a plan. They met at an eastside sports bar on Tropicana and by the time it was over Karas had won thousands or close to a million depending on who you talk to, and as time went by there were a lot of people discussing this incident and all that followed.

Karas’s nine ball opponent confirmed the essence of what happened and wisecracked, “I guess I wasn’t much of a pool player.”

Karas took his suddenly super-sized bankroll and wondered if maybe he could find a good poker game, something with limits big enough to hold his interest.

This being Las Vegas, Karas had no trouble finding his game, a number of games, that had him taking on some of the best known names in the poker world and beating most of them.

Karas wasn’t ready to stop and approached Jack Binion of the Binion family’s Horseshoe on Fremont. He said he’d like to try his luck at some high limit craps. Would Jack go for that? Jack told him to bring it on. Karas did and continued to win.

“I think he was about $24 million ahead of us at one point,” Binion told me several days ago. I had called Binion because Karas is recently back in the news since he was charged with marking blackjack cards at an Indian casino near San Diego.

This most recent dark chapter in Karas’s life comes years after losing the roughly $40 million he is said to have won playing poker and craps at the Horseshoe and other places during his hot streak.

There was never anything suspicious about Karas’s closely monitored play at the Horseshoe. It was all on the up and up, Binion told me, remembering evenings when there was more than a million dollars in chips spread across a Horseshoe dice table.

I watched some of it during an evening when I was having dinner at the Horseshoe with Casino Manager Tony Cook. His phone rings and he gets the news that Archie is in the casino ready to rock and roll.

“Let’s go take a look,” Cook said, and we headed for the eye in the sky room where we watched Karas do his thing as security officials followed details of the action below on television monitors.

“He eventually lost it all over a period of time,” Binion told me, “but losing did not seem to bother him. A gambler is what he was.”

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. He can be reached at [email protected].

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