AMARILLO, Texas — Thomas Austin “Amarillo Slim” Preston Jr., a poker champion whose brash style, fast talking and love of the spotlight helped broaden the professional game’s appeal and made him one of its most recognizable characters, has died. He was 83.
Preston’s son, Bunky Preston, said he died Sunday of colon cancer while in hospice care in Amarillo, where he lived.
“He was playing poker until the very, very end,” Bunky Preston told The Associated Press on Monday.
Slim got his nickname playing pool, according to his son, and with his cowboy hat and southern drawl, he wouldn’t have been out of place gambling in an Old West saloon.
Slim would bet on just about anything, and he mastered the art of stretching the truth.
Among his many claims laid out on his Web site are that he played Minnesota Fats in one-pocket billiards using a broomstick; beat Bobby Riggs, of Billie Jean King fame, at ping pong using an iron skillet; and outran “a horse for a hundred yards (no one ever said nothing about the race being straight-away).”
“Look around the table. If you don’t see a sucker, get up, because you’re the sucker,” he said on his Web site. “… They anticipate losing when they sit down and I try my darndest not to disappoint one of them.”
Slim’s accomplishments at the poker table were very real, and his 1972 win in the fledgling World Series of Poker in Las Vegas helped make him an unofficial ambassador for the game.
While many of his fellow professional gamblers at that time preferred to lay low, Slim sought out the spotlight by appearing on television shows.
“He was one of the world’s most interesting men,” Bunky Preston said.
Slim wrote or co-wrote several books about the game and himself and was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1992.
The self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Gambler” was born in Johnson, Ark. His family later moved to Texas and settled in Amarillo.
Slim’s later life brought charges he molested a young relative. Records show a 2004 conviction on three misdemeanor charges of assault causing bodily injury in Amarillo in a case involving the 12-year-old girl. Slim, 75 at the time, was sentenced to two years’ probation with deferred adjudication and fined $4,000.
The plea came after a Randall County grand jury indicted him on three counts of indecency of a child by sexual contact, a second-degree felony.
Slim’s attorney at the time was quoted in an AP story as saying prosecutors were willing to drop the felony charges because they couldn’t prove their case.
Slim later told an interviewer for a poker Web site that the incidents stemmed from a misunderstanding when his grandchildren were with him in the cab of his pickup and at a swimming pool. He said he pleaded guilty to protect his family from embarrassment.
“It would have been very easy for me (to win),” he said. “But I didn’t want my family dragged through a trial and being made my enemy in the court. I didn’t want my 12-year-old granddaughter to have to take the stand.”
A call to court officials seeking information on the outcome of Slim’s probation was not returned Monday.
He was in special services for the military and entertained troops at the end of World War II by giving pool exhibitions, Bunky Preston said.