Amarillo Slim dies at 83; poker's first celebrity
It was 3 a.m. in Las Vegas in May 1972.

Thomas Austin Preston Jr., better known as Amarillo Slim, had won the main event at the World Series of Poker less than two hours earlier, and there he was looking for a game — any game.

"As long as it's for real money," the tall and lanky professional gambler in the anteater-hide cowboy boots told a Times reporter, pushing his pearl-gray Stetson toward the back of his head.

"Seems like a feller ought to be able to get a game like that — something interesting, you know — in a town like this here," he said. "But I swear to goodness I just can't hardly find a thing to occupy my time!"

Amarillo Slim: In the May 1 LATExtra section, the obituary of professional poker player Thomas Austin Preston Jr., better known as Amarillo Slim, included a photo of Slim at a 1974 game. The caption erred in referring to a second player at the table, actor Elliott Gould, as Elliot Gould. —

Amarillo Slim, who was long known as a living legend on the worldwide poker circuit, died of colon cancer Sunday in hospice care in Amarillo, Texas, said his son, Bunky Preston. He was 83.

A 1992 inductee into the Poker Hall of Fame, Slim was a colorful character who became known as poker's first celebrity. In the wake of his 1972 World Series of Poker win, he began promoting poker — and himself — on"The Tonight Show"and other TV shows.

He also wrote a number of books, including "Amarillo Slim's Play Poker to Win" and "Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People: The Memoirs of the Greatest Gambler Who Ever Lived."

"He brought poker out of the back alleys," said Larry Grossman, a longtime gaming analyst and poker historian who knew Slim. "He was just a guy with an outsized personality, and he was the perfect person for the time to represent poker. It was really Slim that became the face of poker for middle America."

He also was known for his claims of making eccentric bets.

Tales abound, including beating Minnesota Fats in a game of pocket billiards using a broom stick. Or beating tennis hustler Bobby Riggs in a game of pingpong using an iron skillet. Or betting he could hit a golf ball more than a mile.

"I found this frozen lake," he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 1992, "and the ball hits the ice and starts slidin' ... and one and a half, two miles away it was still goin'."

Losing was always a possibility in gambling, Slim acknowledged, but he didn't consider losing a bad thing in itself.

"Anyone that never loses doesn't do much playing," he told the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 1994. "If there wasn't any losing, it wouldn't be any fun. You'd be bored to death."

Bunky Preston said his father "always kept the media on their toes. He'd say or do anything. That guy was unbelievably outrageous."

He was also highly quotable: "Look around the table. If you don't see a sucker, get up, because you're the sucker."

Amarillo Slim found his reputation tarnished in 2003 when a grand jury indicted him on three felony counts of indecency with a child by contact, accusing him of touching a 12-year-old girl on three occasions earlier that year.

In 2004, he pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor assault charges in the case. He was sentenced to two years deferred adjudication and fined $4,000 by an Amarillo judge. His attorney, Robert Templeton, said at the time that the felony charges were dropped because prosecutors could not prove their case.