Poker has lost an icon with the passing of Thomas Austin “Amarillo Slim” Preston jnr. He passed away Sunday just after midnight at a hospice near his home in Amarillo, Texas. He was 83 years old. His family was by his side.
Preston’s daughter confirmed the poker legend’s death with noted poker historian, Nolan Dalla. The family released the following statement regarding Preston’s passing:
“We hope everyone will remember our beloved Amarillo Slim for all the positive things he did for poker and to popularise his favourite game – Texas Hold’em.”
Born Thomas Austin Preston jr on December 31, 1928 in the small town of Johnson, Arkansas, the winner of five World Series of Poker gold bracelets was one of the early pioneers of modern-day poker.
He is widely credited for introducing the game to mainstream culture through his media appearances, almost always embellished by his larger-than-life personality.
Preston, along with fellow road gamblers of the 1950s and 1960s Doyle Brunson and Brian “Sailor” Roberts, were the original “Texas Rounders” – which referred to a famed group of poker pioneers who travelled throughout Texas and the American South and Midwest in search of underground poker games before eventually becoming famous at the poker tables in Las Vegas.
Their exploits have been romanticised over the years in both film and literature, making the icons sort of modern-day rock stars in their later years.
Soon after winning the 1972 World Series of Poker Main Event Championship, Preston became a pop culture icon. He appeared frequently on network television talk shows, including NBC’s The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and ABC’s Good Morning America.
His quick natural wit and southern charm served him well as he introduced poker to countless American viewers and households. Preston also appeared on several television game shows, such as To Tell the Truth and What’s My Line?
Standing six feet, two inches tall and never weighing over 175 pounds, Preston lived up to his moniker and was easily recognised by his trademark white Stetson hat and cowboy boots, often caked with dust from his 600-acre ranch in the Texas Panhandle.
But his life was not without controversy. In August 2003, Preston was indicted in Randall County, Texas on charges of indecency with a 12-year-old child. The charges were reduced to misdemeanour assault in a plea bargain and on February 10, 2004, he pleaded “no contest” to the reduced charges, “to protect his family".
Preston received a $4000 fine, two years probation and was ordered to undergo counselling. In a 2009 interview, he stated that he was innocent of any wrongdoing, but chose to take the plea bargain in order to spare his family from a court trial.
In 2003, National Public Radio’s Scott Simon sat down with Preston for an interview where the gambling icon shared some of his exploits over the years while promoting his memoir co-written with Greg Dinkin, titled Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People.
“In my humble opinion, I’m no ordinary hustler. You see, neighbour, I never go looking for a sucker. I look for a champion and make a sucker out of him," he said.
Preston will be missed by many who knew him and his contributions to the great game of poker will never be forgotten.
• With thanks to www.wsop.com