The "Wayback" Machine
By Sammy Vaughn (a.k.a., Phx. Sam)
Sammy Vaughn is a long-time successful tournament player, who finished first and won a million dollars in the Las Vegas Hilton Million Dollar Blackjack Tournament. In his column, Sammy reminisces about the "good ole days" in Las Vegas and often tells tales of some of the interesting characters that he had the pleasure to meet over his many years on the tournament circuit. So sit back and reminiscent with Phx. Sam as this month you learn the real story behind the Phx.
I wish that you could all go back in time with me. In fact you can, Ďcause Iím about to take you back to Las Vegas the way it was over a quarter century ago. So pull up a chair and letís get started.
But first, remember when Las Vegas tried to become a family oriented town in the mid 90s, again? Yes, I said again, because from the 1950ís through the 1980ís Vegas was very family friendly. If you were "familia" (for the uneducated, thatís Italian for family, like in mobster family) from KC, Chi-town, Philly, or "The City," you were really happy in Vegas. It is well known that these happy folks took home suitcases full of money. Even hard nosed lawyers showed such concern about the tranquility of the family environment that they refused to take any legal action against the casinos. The first lawyers that Iím aware that actually took a case to court, was "Brown vs. Binion." The famous crack head Teddy Binion (son of the great Benny Binion, owner of the famous Horseshoe Casino in Downtown Las Vegas) kicked the holy blackjack out of one of the best and smartest gamblers in history, a Mr. Brown. After a long, dragged out trial, Mr. Brown won a large award and this set the stage for the new lawyers brave enough to take on the new casino bosses.
The new powers that own and run the casinos today have different protections. Instead of guns and brass knuckles, they have shysters and politicians. Isnít that redundant?
As we travel back from the airport to the Riviera in those good ole days, notice that the casinos seem to be far apart from each other. Back then, land was not worth a Zillion $ a square foot like it is today. In the daylight hours, the famed Las Vegas Strip, in fact, looks pretty drab.
As we approach the "Riv." it seems almost foreboding. The massive portico doesnít seem to indicate the kind of frivolous activities that awaits visitors inside. Yet, as you begin to get closer to the "Riv." you just have that feeling in your gut that your mother wouldnít approve you entering this sinful place. But once inside, well, she might have felt better when she saw all the casino bosses decked out in their well-pressed, spiffy tuxedos. Nothing says more that this gambling activity is clean and above board, than gentlemen in sharp dressing tuxedos. Just like Bob Arum and Don King at a heavyweight fight.
It turns out The Riv. was the last Strip casino that required their bosses to wear formal
attire and the dealers had to dress in black and whites. Back then, dealers and supervisors were required to address customers by Mr. followed by the first initial of their last name. Therefore, they addressed me as "Mr. V."
As we enter the casino, you can see the large empty green-felt table. Later tonight, this table will have two or three showgirl-like-ladies in low cut gowns with bosoms hinting at eminently falling-out shilling for the challenging game called CHEM-DE-FER. This is a card game made for inbred European blue-bloods. No skill involved; bank or player, player or bank. This game could be popular on TV, like Deal or No Deal.
Look at that odd-shaped bar on the left. Thatís where celebs sit in the almost-hidden alcove. Also, notice the entrance to the Italian restaurant. Yes, the amenities are all right off the casino floor because the gambling areas are nowhere near todayís modern-day layouts.
Hey, check out that slot machine on the far right wall. Itís the first $100 slot machine and you have to play it with a special silver $100 coin.
Notice that clear path to the back of the floor where the casino cage and 10 or 12 crap tables are prominent? Thatís where youíll find the dice tables, which are the cash cows in Vegas. However, believe it or not, machines and BJ tables are on the verge of eclipsing the win at the crapís tables.
In the early 80s, players were able to get round trip air junkets to Vegas for just a $500 buy-in, or $800 for a couple. I made these trips for several months, sometimes up and back on Saturday and Sunday to help my host. One Saturday night, I went broke and missed my plane home. The shift manager gave me a $500 check cashing account and allowed me to cash a $100 check. I guess he wasnít all that trusting. Therein begins my story.
Back then I was newly sober, newly divorced, and naturally, newly broke. I was in the habit of bringing a six pack of the only nonalcoholic beer available at that time. There were two brands, and one was worse than the other. I started carrying a large plastic cup so I could put the horrid brew over ice to kill my taste buds. The bartenders would put the cup behind the bar and the cocktail girls would serve me my brew in it. This made me a curiosity to all the staff. In those days I used an 8-for-$1 plastic cup. Now, some 25 yrs later, I carry an $8 mug around.
On this particular Sunday morning I got up enough nerve to use my credit for the first time. Itís only about 10 am so most of the good crap shooters are in church praying for a hot shooter. I hold up two fingers to the pit and one of my favorite bosses says jokingly to me, "two hundred or two thousand, Mr. V." (PS: In those days, $200 was about my limit).
All of a sudden, things begin to happen. Just as I place my first $5 bet on the pass line, two strong-arm security men grab me under each elbow, lift me off the floor, carry me behind the cage, and throw me inside a hidden office. Without uttering a sound, they slam the door and leave. Iím now in a small unadorned room. There is only a desk, a phone, and a large ugly man, not in a tux, but a greasy tee shirt. And, of course, a short fellow that is scared spitless (thatís me).
The room has no pictures and there wasnít a security camera anywhere; only bad things happen in rooms like this. Imagine the worst looking mob collector in a bad C or D movie that youíve seen. Now picture his muscle guy that does the dirty work. Well, this goon was sitting behind the desk, holding one of the metal folders usually kept on the wall at the cashierís cage to track credit customers, just waiting for me.
Mr. Muscles began cursing and calling me names in English, Italian and other languages unknown to me. He said he had to smash my hands, break my arms, and for good measure, crush my knees, so I wouldnít be able to walk out of there. Then he got even redder, and his neck swelled to near bursting and he really put the fear into me when he said that he was going to throw me into the alley with the rats.
About now he opened the folder and turned page after page, which was filled mostly with photos and red markings. I started shaking my head and nearly shouting as he turned to each page and photo saying,"No, thatís not me. No, thatís not me. Nope."
Agitated, he finally said, "You are Sam Vaughn, right?" I said, of course, "Yes." He then
asked me, "Are you the Mr. Sam Vaughn, from some town I never heard of in California?" I quickly said, "Oh, no, no, hell, no, Iím from Arizona, man, Arizona, spelled A-r-i-z-o-n-a." Mr. Muscles never took his angry stare off me and then he mumbled something into the phone, and after a short moment, he threw the phone on the floor. He then proceeded to throw the metal folder on a three-rail shot Ė wall then ceiling then wall, and before it hit the floor, the security guards came into the room and led me back to the crap table. Neither my antagonist nor the security guys gave me even so much as an "Iím sorry," or even a, "kiss my ass." Rather rude of them.
When I got back to the crap table, I asked for my marker and fled for the washroom to check my shorts. And now "for the rest of the story."
On a later trip to this same casino, I got the nerve to try my credit line again. I asked for two hundred and the pit sent the runner to the cage to get it OKíd. The runner didnít come back and I noticed the number of people in the pit was growing, and they were all looking my way. Every tux on the floor and several suits from upstairs showed up. The phone finally rang, and all eyes were on me. The phone kept ringing several times as I sweated. Suddenly, without even answering the phone, the whole group sort of came to attention, the stick man did an about-face, raised his rake and lifted it like a drum major. All the staff raised an arm and shouted in unison, "Itís Phoenix Sam." The lady in the cage smiled and waved back.
For many years later, as I attempted to promote different things in other casinos, whenever I was introduced as Mr. Sam Vaughn, Iíd sometimes see a raised eyebrow. Thatís when I would emphatically state, Iím "Phoenix Sam." It always seemed to get a "knowing-grin" from the older casino managers.
If there is a lesson to be learned from this tale itís this: If you ever hear someone say something bad about Sam Vaughn, you should say, "You must mean the other one, not our beloved Phx. Sam."
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