Part 2 – February 15th, 2017 through March 31st, 2017

Originally posted: February 17th, 2017

Poker in the Past: Poker Alice

Alice Tubbs

Alice Tubbs, better known as Poker Alice, was born in England in 1851 but moved to Virginia when was 12 years old. Alice was reared and received the majority of her education in the United States. Alice married her first husband, Frank Duffield, whom she met in Colorado. Frank was the first person to spark Alice’s interest in poker, answering all of her questions and teaching her the tricks of the trade. Frank was killed a few years after they were married while setting a dynamite charge, but Alice continued on playing poker across the United States, even working at a saloon in Colorado which was owned by Bob Ford, the man who famously killed Jesse James.

Alice was a woman of immense character and morals. Even when she became famous as a poker player, she refused to play on Sundays. Throughout her life, Alice had tried to make her living from several other jobs, including as a teacher but had only moderate success, her real calling was the cards. Alice was extremely good at counting cards and calculating odds. Her poker games would attract large crowds to saloons. Men of all walks of life would come to challenge ‘Poker Alice’ and try their hand against the queen. Alice claimed that she had made a grand sum of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars throughout her years playing poker, roughly three million dollars in modern money. She was always seen with two things on her person, her beloved .38 pistol hanging by her waist and a chewed cigar hanging from her mouth.

Alice was not known for her frugality, every time she won a large tournament, she would travel to New York and spend the winnings on expensive dresses, keeping up with all the latest fashions. Alice was a very good looking woman and was considered very beautiful, even into her late fifties. Alice took great pleasure in using her charm and good looks to dazzle and distract male players at the tables.

While working as a dealer at a casino in South Dakota, a drunken miner threatened fellow dealer Warren G. Tubbs. Alice produced her .38 caliber pistol and scared the would-be attacker away. Tubbs and Alice become romantically involved and were married soon after. Together, Tubbs and Alice had seven children. They did not want their children to grow up around gambling and the dinge of saloon life in this era, so the couple upped and moved to Sturgis in South Dakota, just north of their current location. As well as his skills as a dealer, Tubbs was also a gifted house painter. This was his job and main source of employment until his death from TB in 1910. It’s believed that the lead based paint he used daily and constant outdoor work led to the pneumonia that ended his life. In order to pay for his funeral Alice had to pawn her wedding ring, which she later bought back using poker winnings.

Alice’s third and final husband, George Huckert, worked on her homestead taking care of the sheep. It is believed Alice did not want to wed him but owed him over one thousand dollars in back wages so she married him, relinquishing the debt. He had proposed multiple times before this. Huckert died in 1913.

Alice eventually opened up her own saloon, ‘Poker’s Palace’ in 1910. Downstairs offered merriment, gambling and refreshment while the upstairs functioned as a brothel. Despite this, the saloon was always closed for business on Sundays. Trouble with the law was a staple throughout the later years of Alice’s life, she was arrested numerous times for running brothels, gambling and bootlegging. Alice would always pay her fines but never let any involvement from the law discourage her business ventures.

One Sunday while Poker’s Palace was closed for business, a squad of unruly, drunken soldiers arrived shouting for Alice to open up. Alice unholstered her pistol and fired a warning shot to ward them off. The bullet misfired, killing one soldier and wounding another. This resulted in the arrest of Alice and six of her prostitutes. Following this, she spent a short time in prison. After her trial, where she claimed self-defence, her saloon was shut down.

She was once again arrested for bootlegging but served no time due to her advanced age. Alice died in 1930 at age 79 following a gall bladder operation. She was buried in North Carolina at the Aloysius cemetery.

While Alice may not be around today, one of her famous sayings is as relevant as ever in the world of Poker. She would gleefully rub her hands together and say, “Praise the Lord and place your bets, I’ll take your money with no regrets.”

“At my age I suppose I should be knitting but I would rather play poker with five or six ‘experts’ than eat.”


Originally posted: February 24th, 2017

Poker in the Past: Lottie Deno

Lottie Deno

The period referred to as Frontier America begins with the English colonial settlement of mainland USA in the early 1800s and ends with the admission of the last mainland territories as states in 1912. The violence, grit, dust and sense of romantic adventure during this time period is often greatly exaggerated by films and television programs such as HBO’s Deadwood.

Carlotta J. Thompkins, commonly known as Lottie Deno, was one of the famous poker players in the State of Texas. Throughout her life, Lottie was known by many nicknames. In some parts she was known as ‘The Angel of San Antonio’ or ‘Queen of the Pasteboards.’ The legend surrounding the origin of her most famous pseudonym tells that one night, Lottie won every hand of cards against any man brave, drunk or foolish enough to take her on. After this, a drunken cowboy shouted from the corner of the saloon, “Honey, with winnings like them you ought to be called Lotta Dinero!” Dinero in Spanish means money. Lottie lived much of her adult life under this pseudonym, partly to protect her religious family. Lottie told her mother and sister that she had married a wealthy cattle rancher. The family would have been upset to find their homestead and farm were financed by gambling winnings. Lottie never returned to her childhood home.

There is much confusion and misinformation surrounding the early years of Deno’s life, even her given name and the whereabouts of her birth are a matter of intense debate among historians. Although debate persists regarding Lottie’s formative years, historians and Texans alike can agree on one thing; Lottie Deno was the most famous poker player in frontier Texas.

Throughout her childhood and teenage years, Lottie and her father traveled extensively around the USA. Lottie’s father was a prominent horse breeder and enjoyed reaping the fruits of his labors. Thought to be quite a wealthy man, father and daughter would move from one saloon to the next playing the most expensive tables. It was on these journeys that Lottie learned how to play poker. Lottie’s father believed there was more to surviving in the old west than being a Southern Belle. Her father had no sons so expected his eldest daughter to be a strong, smart, independent woman. Lottie was only 17 years old when her father enlisted in the Confederate Army. He was killed during the American Civil War.

Following the death of her father, Lottie’s mother sent her off to Detroit to find a wealthy husband. Lottie set off on her journey accompanied by her slave and nanny, Mary Poindexter. Reportedly standing seven foot tall, Mary acted as Lottie’s bodyguard. At some point on their journey, Lottie and Mary ran out of money. She spent several years living the life of a roving gambler instead, going up and down the Mississippi River. Lottie became an expert at working riverboat gambling parlors. Mary Poindexter protected Lottie with her life, reportedly jumping on a rattlesnake that was poised to attack her mistress and on another occasion, throwing a drunken soldier overboard for threatening her.

In 1865, Lottie arrived in San Antonio and began working as a house gambler for a wealthy Georgia family called the Thurmonds. Lottie met and fell in love with Frank Thurmond, a fellow poker aficionado. Frank was accused of murder so the couple set off from San Antonio to travel the frontier towns and forts. There was an economic boom in the region at this time. High demand for bison skins put extra wads of spending money into the hands of trackers and ranchers; money that Lottie and Frank intended to make their own.

It was at Fort Griffin, an area renowned for rough saloons and brutish violence, that Lottie’s star began to rise. Notoriety and fame as an excellent player raised her mythical status, putting her on the Mount Rushmore of famous Wild West personalities.

Fort Griffin had been described by newspapers of the period as “One of the wildest gambling hellholes ever spawned on the frontier.” It was also said that Fort Griffin had “a man for breakfast every morning.” During her time at Fort Griffin, Lottie was rarely seen during the day except for short supply runs and then at night she could be found gambling or presiding over the games at the Bee Hive Saloon. Her hermit status added to the air of mystery around her.

One local legend about her time in Fort Griffin claims that two low-stakes gamblers by the name of Monte Bill and Smokey Joe both accused each other of cheating. The men drew their pistols and shot at the same time. The two lifeless bodies slumped to the floor. Anyone who had anything to hide, and even those who didn’t, scattered before the law could arrive. When the sheriff arrived to the saloon, it was empty except for the feisty redhead still sat at the table coolly counting her chips. The sheriff inquired as to why Lottie had not run along with the other patrons and Lottie responded calmly, explaining “you have never been a desperate woman.” In some versions of the story, the prize money on the table disappeared and it is speculated to have ended up in Lottie’s purse.

On one well-recorded occasion, notorious Wild West gambler Doc Holiday lost $3,000 to Lottie playing poker.

Five years after their arrival in Fort Griffin, Frank and Lottie left for New Mexico where they were married. They were forced to put an end to their life of gambling and hedonism after Frank stabbed a man with his bowie knife while acting in self-defense. This was the second time in so many years that Frank had to defend himself with fatal results. Frank went on to succeed in both banking and real estate, eventually becoming the manager of a local bank chain.

Lottie, with her poker years behind her, became a well-respected and much beloved member of the community. According to local folklore the original structure of St. Luke’s Church was financed by Lottie’s poker winnings. Frank and Lottie were happily married for forty years, although Lottie lived for a further 26 years after he passed away in 1908. Lottie died in 1934 and was buried a few inches beside the left shoulder of Frank’s headstone “in the lookout seat.”

Mike D

Originally posted: March 3rd, 2017

Poker in the Past: The Dunes Casino

The Dunes Hotel was the tenth resort opened on the Las Vegas Strip. The Bellagio now stands on the former grounds and the famous Dunes golf course is split between several casinos. The Dunes opened on May 23, 1955 and was designed by architect Maxwell Starkman. Although the resort was popular, initially they struggled to stay afloat. In a desperate bid to capture public attention, or outrage as the case may be, The Dunes became the first hotel in Nevada to offer a topless show, called Minsky’s Follies. The show set a record for attendance in a single week at 16,000, a record that remained unbroken until 1990. Despite their modest topless success, the resort soon ran into dire financial difficulties. The hotel was one of the largest and most opulent on the strip. The major investors were Joseph Sullivan, Alfred Gottesman and Bob Rice although it would come to light some years later that Raymond Patriarca, the head of a notorious Rhode Island crime family had intimate dealings with the casino also. The casino closed down due to money troubles in 1956, only having been open for one year.

The casino was purchased by two ambitious businessmen in 1956, Major A. Riddle and Jake Gottlieb. Major A. Riddle was an important figure in the development of Nevada as the universal center of gambling. Riddle grew up on farms in the rural south, mostly around Kentucky and Indiana before moving to Chicago and founding a successful shipping company. In 1929, the Great Depression cast it’s long shadow over the Golden Era of American growth and invention. Once great and profitable companies fell by the wayside overnight. Bankers threw themselves from their tall towers onto the streets below in their melancholy. Hard working men and women stood in long lines waiting for a hot bowl of soup, or news of a job for the day. It was in this era that Major Riddle became an incredibly rich man. In these troubling financial times, hard work was not enough to get ahead of the pack. Chicago was ruled by the mafia at the time and hushed whispers spoke of certain connections to Major Riddle. To phrase it nicely, his business practices were dishonest, but to put it plainly, his business practices were illegal. Riddle would urge his drivers to pay for their trucks from their own salary. When they got close to paying them off, he would fire them and keep the vehicles. Rumors persist that Riddle used part of the Teamsters Trade Union pension pool to front his initial investment in The Dunes.

The resort boasted an 18 hole golf course, a rooftop health spa and a 90ft long pool. The Hotel’s slogan was “The Miracle in the Desert.” The Dunes was widely known for the 25ft tall fiberglass Sultan which stood sentinel above the main entrance. Many world famous singers and acts of all kinds performed at the casino, including Liberace, Judy Garland and Dean Martin. In 1961, a 24-storey Northern tower was built, bringing the number of rooms up to 450. The casino was located at the Southernmost end of the strip so bringing large numbers of customers in was troublesome. All sorts of promotions and concerts were held to try and keep The Dunes above water, including one famous instance when Frank Sinatra made a surprise appearance dressed as a Sultan.

Johnny Elvis Foster was on site as an Elvis impersonator. In fact, Johnny was the first Elvis impersonator working the club scene before Elvis had even passed away. He had a residency at the club between 1976 and 1978.

Major Riddle knew how to promote his business, even going on Johnny Carson to coincide with a book launch and steering the conversation towards The Dunes. Riddle had a great passion for poker but was a notoriously bad player. Mobsters and gamblers from near and far would travel down to The Oasis and take thousands of dollars from him at the the felt.

One Vegas journalist wrote, “Millions were cheated from the Major.” Even the in-house dealers were in cahoots with the mobsters to empty Riddle’s wallet. Riddle had been a lifelong Stud player and couldn’t wrap his head around No Limit. Riddle’s lack of skill and cunning at cards did not stop him from betting high-stakes every chance he got. One night while playing at the Sahara, Riddle bet his ownership certificate of The Dunes. Thankfully, Riddle won this hand but it was this type of spontaneity that would eventually lose him his casino. When the biggest poker game in town moved from The Dunes to The Aladdin, a casino directly across the road, Riddle followed. The Aladdin is famous for two things: Poker Hall of Famer Tom Abdo dying there during a high-stakes game and Major Riddle gambling away a complete casino at the poker tables. Within a year, Riddle’s 90% ownership share had dropped to 15%, he would later go on to lose this as well.

Major Riddle, as he had during the Great Depression, picked himself up off the floor and soldiered on, purchasing holdings in several casinos and hotels. Then in 1977, he bought the Thunderbird Casino and renamed it Silverbird. Riddle brought in famous pros Doyle Brunson and Eric Drache to establish new big games. The buy-ins at the Silverbird were not as high as in the Aladdin or The Dunes. They were not so high that a man might lose a whole casino, but not so low that a man would leave completely unscathed. Riddle made wise investments and was a wealthy man when he passed away in 1980. With Riddle’s death, the biggest fish in Vegas was gone, and many mobster’s wallets were lighter from then on. Riddle was one of Las Vegas’ most colorful personalities.

In 1979, The South Tower was constructed, bringing the room count to 1300. Various people attempted to purchase the club, including unrealized rumors that Howard Hughes was in talks to purchase it. Stuart and Clifford Perlman, the founders of Caesars World agreed to buy the Dunes in 1983 for $185 million but the sale ultimately fell through. Also in 1983, a second casino called The Oasis Casino at The Dunes was built on site. The famous Sultan statue caught fire in 1985 due to an electrical fault. A Japanese investor, Masao Nangaku, purchased the casino in 1987 for $155 million but failed to make it a financial success.

In 1992 on November 17th, The Dunes was sold for the last time to property developer Steve Wynn’s company for $75 million. The Dunes could no longer compete with the megaresorts that were being constructed in Nevada so the club was demolished accompanied by a grand ceremony of fireworks and cannon blasts. Over 200,000 people watched the once-beloved casino collapse to the ground. The neon sign was left illuminated and read ‘No Vacancy.’ Cannon shots from The English ship ‘HMS Britannia’ of the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino were simulated to coincide with the explosions from the demolition. Everything was destroyed except for the 15-year-old South Tower. One newspaper described the ceremony, saying the building fell “amid a shower of fireworks never before equaled west of the Mississippi.”

The demolition of the South Tower one month later, a less extravagant ceremony, marked the end of the era of mafia controlled gambling in Nevada. During the construction of the Bellagio on the old Dunes site, workers found four bags of casino chips buried in the dirt.

Mike D