High rollin’ Dragon Lady courts Lady Luck

Sep 10, 2002 10:49 AM

   Her reputation precedes her. There are few gamblers in Las Vegas who have never heard of the Dragon Lady. And, according to those who know, she was one of the city’s original high rollers, a player who wouldn’t blink at betting millions, either at the tables or in the sports book.

   Enter Kim Nguyen. Enter the Dragon Lady.

   True to her name, she is somewhat mysterious as well as exotic, which is typical of most Asian women who refuse to be absorbed by Western culture.

   Bill Nolan, director of player development at the Palms, was a dealer at the Dunes in the 1970s, when he first dealt cards to the Dragon Lady.

   “Kim was one of the first whales,” Nolan said. “Her game of choice was blackjack, and she would often bet millions of dollars.”

   Nolan said she also once bet a million dollars on the Super Bowl. “She was always looking to get into action,” he said.

   Nguyen received her nickname, Dragon Lady, because of the fire-breathing temperament she often showed at the tables, Nolan said.

   “She had quite a temper, and she could be mean,” Nolan said. “But you couldn’t really blame her. She often bet—and lost!—millions of dollars.”

   Nolan said Nguyen, like everyone else, didn’t like to lose. But she especially didn’t like it when the casino made an effort to shift the odds in its favor.

   “We had a pit boss named Sweaty Eddie, who one night asked me to break the deck down,” Nolan recalled. “Well, Kim hated it when the house ”˜sweat the money,’ and she went ballistic. She picked up an ashtray, cocked it, then hurled it at Eddie, hitting him in square the back.

   “In those days, no one could really say or do anything about it—she bet a lot of money,” Nolan continued. “But we dealers all loved her; she was a tremendous tipper.”

   Nguyen admitted her temper often got the better of her, but she added, it’s all part of gambling.

   “When you’re lucky, you can’t miss. But when you double down with an 11 and draw a deuce, it can be frustrating,” Nguyen said.

   Nguyen said she takes out her frustrations on the cards.

   “I’ve been known to tear up the cards and throw them across the table,” she said, adding that she also asks for new decks, dealers or a new table when her luck is running bad.

   Nguyen also recalls the time she switched her betting pattern out of frustration.

   “I’m usually betting at the table limit, but once it seemed like I couldn’t win any bet, I dropped down to a dollar a hand,” she said. “Well, I won 30 straight hands at $1 apiece. I think I continued like that out of spite. I was mad at the cards.”

   No matter how mad the Dragon Lady became, she invariably found her way back to the tables. “I’ve always loved to gamble,” she said.

   A native of Vietnam, Nguyen said she recalls reading about Las Vegas in magazines. When the country fell to the communists in the 1970s, she emigrated to the U.S. and lived in San Francisco. But she found the city “too weird,” and frequently made trips to Las Vegas and eventually moved here.

   Today, Nguyen spends most of her time at the Palms, but also gambles at a few other casinos, such as The Mirage, Bellagio, the Hilton and Caesars Palace. She plays mostly blackjack, but also dabbles in poker and baccarat.

   She also spends some time at the slot machines, including Megabucks, where she unwinds and lets off steam. Which is probably better—and safer for pit bosses-then hurling ash trays!