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The High Roller: Jimmy Chagra, Gambling & Poker

By David Amoruso
Posted on May 22, 2008
Copyright © www.gangstersinc.nl

Poker has become one of the most popular games worldwide. It is played by millions of people of all ages in countries all over the world, at casinos, home games, bars, and the past few years on the internet. Poker has become an accepted form of entertainment, loved by cops, criminals and regular citizens alike. But poker wasn't always this popular, and it's reputation not as good as it is now.

Since poker is considered gambling by law it is illegal to play for money outside the casinos. Of course home games are played. Not to mention the money bet on the dozens of online poker sites. More and more people are rejecting the law, and idea, that poker is gambling. They consider it a skill game, combined with a bit of chance. The fact that there is a group of players who consistenly win cash games and/or tournaments seems to support that. If it is purely a game of luck then how come there is even the title of "professional poker player"? Is there even such a thing as being professional at luck? So let's agree that poker is a skill game with the profits that only a gambling game can bring.

Back in the 1970s poker was a game played by many but mastered by few. Those few masters were operating in the Mecca of gambling: Las Vegas. Here the best poker players played their game, winning money off wannabe professionals, rich businessmen, and those men who treated money with as much disrespect as they did themselves...the gangsters.

The high stakes poker tables at Vegas casinos such as Binion's Horseshoe casino and The Dunes were occupied by legends such as Doyle Brunson, Johnny Moss, Puggy Pearson, and Jack Straus. These men were all sharks waiting for fish to arrive which they could devour. One day a man arrived in Vegas with millions to burn, and nothing to lose. That man was Texas drug dealer Jimmy Chagra.

Jamiel Chagra had made hundreds of millions smuggling marijuana and cocaine, but he listed his occupation as gambler, naturally. He made frequent trips to Las Vegas gambling huge sums on anything from craps, to golf, to poker. On each trip he would arrive with millions in cash stuffed into suitcases. The guy was a dream for the sharks, but playing in a game with him was not that easy. "At one game the minimum stake was $50,000, but few of [the players] risked sitting down with so little, because time after time Chagra would throw in $20,000 bets blind, which he said were 'just to liven the game up a little.' There would be an average of $2 million on the table every night." When a waitress brought him a complimentary bottle of water, he tipped her $10,000. But in the end Chagra mostly lost at the poker table. When a pro gets the right cards not even a million dollar bet will make him fold.

Jimmy Chagra is still a Las Vegas legend. The stories about his high stakes antics are endless. At one point Caesars Palace was hit hard by a bad run of luck at the baccarat tables so they borrowed $10 million in cash from Chagra for a 24-hour period. A saying used by a lot of wiseguys when talking about rich mobsters is "He has more money than God," Jimmy Chagra certainly belonged in that category. I write belonged because currently his money is not under his control. After being convicted of drug smuggling he would serve decades behind bars (Thanks to the brilliant Oscar Goodman who served as his lawyer and managed to convince the jury that Chagra had nothing to do with the murder of the judge who presided over his drug case. He faced life.), from where he still managed to gamble away millions. In 2003 he was released due to health reasons, and is now said to be in the Witness Protection Program.

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