Nick Dandalos was born in Crete in 1883. During his life, he won and lost an estimated $500 million. But that’s not an accurate statement-since he died over 50 years ago, it’s only fair to account for inflation and translate that into today’s dollars: He won and lost $15 billion of today’s money during his life. Professional gambler and oddsmaker. He began his gambling career in Montreal betting on horse races. Moving to Chicago, he lost all his winnings on card games and dice. He became a master at the games, and was an attraction at casinos. In 1949, in Las Vegas.
His full name was Nicholas Andrea Dandolos, but he was known throughout the
gambling world as “Nick the Greek”.
Nick Dandalos was born in Crete in 1883. During his life, he won and lost an
estimated $500 million.
But that’s not an accurate statement-since he died over 50 years ago, it’s
only fair to account for inflation and translate that into today’s dollars:
He won and lost $15 billion of today’s money during his life.
He went from rags to riches and back to rags again dozens of times.
He did all this as an independent gambler, too. He never had anyone staking
him. If he had a marker, he paid it, and he was always on time, too.
This is Nick Dandalos’s story.
A Portrait of a Gambler as a Young Man
Nick Dandalos was raised rich. His father sold rugs. His godfather built
ships. His childhood was a life of privilege, and he earned a degree in
philosophy from the Greek Evangelical College. He moved to the United States
when he was only 18, but unlike many immigrants, he came here with more than the
clothes on his back.
His grandfather gave him a $150 weekly allowance. That doesn’t sound like
much now, but this would have been in 1901. Accounting for inflation, that would
be $4000 a week in today’s money.
Nick Dandolos's Birthplace
We don’t care where you live. $4000 a week is enough to live on, especially
for an 18-year-old.
It was fashionable at the turn of the century for well-to-do families to send
their young men to the United States with an allowance. The goal was to provide
him with an education.
Nick the Greek sure got one, but it wasn’t quite what his family had in
Dandolos started his life in the United States in Chicago, but it didn’t take
him long to move to Montreal.
What did he do there?
He gambled on horses after befriending a jockey named Phil Musgrave. It
didn’t take him long to use his keen mind and education to get a good grasp of
probabilities and how to use them to his advantage.
He won over $500,000 on horse racing in a single season. That was a fortune
then. He could have done anything he wanted to.
What did Nick the Greek want to do?
He apparently wanted to move back to Chicago and lose his fortune playing
dice and cards.
He got good at those games, though. When he played cards or dice in a casino,
he was an attraction. His personality surely helped. And he often won or lost
$100,000 during a session.
In fact, he once lost $1.6 million playing craps in New York. That craps
session had gone on for 12 days straight. It’s probably the biggest loss in the
history of the game.
The Poker Career of Nick the Greek
Below we share some of the anecdotes we’ve heard about Nick the Greek’s
career as a poker player.
Nick the Greek Makes a Poker Player Cry
Nick Dandalos once bought into a stud poker game for $20,000. After 7 hours
of hard play, he’d won over $500,000. The biggest post during that session was
$150,000, which he won when he had four of a kind (10s), and his opponent had a
full house with aces and jacks.
But that’s not the most interesting part of the story. Those are just numbers
The other player had been rude and insulting to Dandalos throughout the
At the end of the session, Dandalos challenged him to cut the cards once for
The other player lost. He slumped in his seat and started crying.
Apparently it doesn’t pay to be rude to one of the greatest gamblers in the
Little Al from Wherever: Nick the Greek and Albert Einstein Gamble Together
One of the more entertaining anecdotes about Nick the Greek’s exploits
involves his escorting of Albert Einstein to various poker games-either in Las
Vegas or in Manhattan-the details aren’t entirely clear. Depending on which
version of the story you hear, Nick introduced Albert Einstein to the other
poker players as “Little Al from Princeton” or as “Little Al from Jersey”.
In some versions of the story, this took place in Vegas, but according to
Dandalos’s memoir, it was actually set up by the State Department and happened
in Manhattan. Since poker for money was illegal in Manhattan, Dandalos insisted
upon assurances from his friend in the State Department that they would make
sure that the law didn’t get involved.
Another Double or Nothing Story
Another anecdote we often see related is about Dandalos gambling with a high
roller from Texas. Dandalos was up a million dollars, but he got tired and
wanted to call it a night.
The Texan accused him of being a chicken.
Dandalos asked for a new deck of cards. He shuffled them, asked the Texas to
cut the cards, and offered to bet the entire million on which of them got the
The Texan lost this game of chicken, and Nick Dandalos got to go home and get
some much-needed rest.
Johnny Moss, Benny Binion, and the Inspiration for the World Series of Poker
You’ve heard of the World Series of Poker, right?
What if we told you that Nick the Greek started the World Series of Poker?
It’s true. In January of 1949, Nick Dandalos sat down to play heads-up poker
with Johnny Moss. They played every game imaginable, too:
- 5 Card Draw
- 5 Card Stud
- 7 Card Stud
- 7 Card Stud High-Low
- Ace-5 Lowball
- 2-7 Lowbal
And the game lasted almost 5 months. The two players only stopped to eat and
It was actually the brain child of Benny Binion, a master promoter. It was
meant to be a tourist attraction, and boy did it work. They played every day in
the foyer of the Horseshoe Casino.
It later became the inspiration for the World Series of Poker.
It’s hard to imagine two more distinct styles of play, either. Nick Dandalos
was well-educated, well-spoken, and talkative. He’d beat practically every poker
game on the East Coast at this point. By contrast, Johnny Moss wasn’t
well-educated, and he’d spent most of his career playing poker in Texas in
private games. He was quiet and introspective.
Moss turned out to be the better poker player. Dandalos lost between $2 and
$4 million to him.
He ended this first WSOP by telling Moss: “Mr. Moss, I have to let you go.”
Nick The Greek Union City
The Low Rolling Years and Death of Nick Dandalos
When you gamble for large sums of money long enough, you inevitably face
periods where you’re up a lot of money and other periods when you’re down a lot
Dandalos himself estimated that he had won and lost a fortune at least 73
times in his life.
But in his later years, he was almost broke. He played poker for $5 a hand in
his twilight years.
Someone asked him how he could be interested in gambling for such low stakes
when he used to bet millions at a time.
Nick Dandalos replied, “Hey, it’s action, isn’t it?”
He stayed in action even when he was tired and sick. He even had physicians
treating him while he was at the poker table.
He died on December 25, 1966. He was broke.
It’s estimated that over the course of his life he had donated over $20
million to charity.
Hank Greenspun, found of the Las Vegas Sun, famously called him the “King of
the Gamblers”. Caesars Rewards – Mobile App. Here’s what he wrote about his friend:
“Luck was a lady and she has been the love of his life.”
He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame 13 years later-at the same time
as his once-rival, Johnny Moss. They were the first two players to be so
Nick the Greek is the subject of two books:
- Ted Thackrey’s 1968 volume, Gambling Secrets of Nick the Greek, is mostly nonfiction about how to gamble like Nick Dandalos.
- Harry Mark Petrakis’s 1978 novel, Nick the Greek, is a fictionalized account of Nick the Greek’s life.
You won’t find many more interesting characters in the annals of gambler
history than Nick the Greek. From his origins as an actual Greek from a wealthy
family, Nick Dandalos distinguished himself in multiple ways.
But as a gambler, his biggest claim to fame is the fortune he won and then
lost again repeatedly throughout his life.
Nick Dandolos was what one may consider a well-rounded gambler, as he excelled at betting on horses and playing poker throughout the early to mid 1900s.
His friends called him, “Nick the Greek,” and his reputation spread across Europe as being a world-class gambler. For his many accomplishments, he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979, nearly thirteen years after he had passed away.
In addition to his excellent gambling skills, Nick was also admired for his contribution to various charitable causes over the years. Nick once said,
Nick Dandolos was born in Crete, Greece in the late 1800s. He was raised in a privileged family and was always taught the importance of education. Even at a young age, his parents forced him to learn multiple languages and work on his literature skills.
In his teen years, Nick was given the opportunity to attend the Greek Evangelical College where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. Thanks to this degree he would later be known as, “The Aristotle of the Don’t Pass Line.”
Nick’s grandfather had always been a huge influence in his life and when he turned eighteen years old, his Grandfather offered to financially back him if he moved to America.
His grandfather sent him $150 a week to cover the costs of his housing and food in hopes that this experience would help him find a successful career in the business field.
Little did his grandfather know that Nick never would become a business man nor would he ever return to his home country. Nick spent several years in Chicago working part time jobs and struggling to get by.
During this time in Montreal, horseracing was becoming increasingly popular and it was almost unavoidable if you were visiting the city. Soon after arriving, Nick stepped foot on a racetrack for the first time and could feel the adrenaline rush just from being there.
It wasn’t long before Nick was introduced to Phil Musgrave, a famous Canadian Jockey who also knew a thing or two about horserace betting. Nick quickly caught on to his methods and soon became a gambling expert, using the math skills he learned in school to help him determine what his odds were of winning a particular bet.
He started using the money his grandfather sent him to fund his gambling endeavors.
In less than a year they collectively made over half a million dollars which obviously made people believe that they were somehow cheating the system.
In order to keep their reputations pure and to avoid Phil losing his job, they decided it would be in their best interest to part ways. By this time, Nick was passionate about gambling and wasn’t ready to give up that lifestyle, so he headed back to American casinos to try his luck out there.
To Nick’s surprise, he did find a great deal of success, especially when it came to playing poker.
Nick travelled all over America, visiting every casino along the way. He played in cities in Illinois, New Orleans, New York, and of course, Nevada.
The first time Nick experienced Las Vegas, he was overwhelmed by all the choices he had when it came to gambling facilities. Everywhere he gambled, he made sure he first studied the odds and probabilities of winning in that casino according to their house edge and other contributing factors.
This helped him find a great deal of success at the tables, but luck was certainly not always on his side.
One of Nick’s most famous quotes was,
Not only was Nick known for losing large sums of money at a plethora of casinos across the country, he was also known for losing large sums in more intimate competitions. There are a few infamous accounts where Nick lost a significant amount of cash through gambling.
The first occurred in 1949 and it was against a well known poker player by the name of Johnny Moss. Backed by the support of Benny Binion, they agreed to dedicate five months of their lives to playing every known variant of poker in front of a live audience, which is said to have inspired the World Series of Poker that was established nearly twenty years later.
Unfortunately for Nick, this competition lost him over $2 million which was a devastating blow to his bankroll.
One of Nick’s favorite card games to play is probably something you have never heard of: Faro. This Old Western card game is practically extinct in today’s society and it certainly wouldn’t be a common game to see being played at any nearby casinos.
Nick was overly confident in his skills when it came to this game, so it was no surprise to hear that he asked the renowned movie producer, Carl Laemmle, to financially back him for a three month long Faro competition. Luck was certainly not on Nick’s side that entire tournament and he ended up losing all of Laemmle’s money.
Nick was also asked to compete against an up and coming professional gambler named Ray Ryan at both the luxurious Flaming Resort and the Thunderbird Resort. They played five-card stud poker and lowball draw for over fifteen days straight before deciding to call it quits.
Many people found it hard to believe that this tournament even took place but several witnesses have confirmed the rumors. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were performing at the Flamingo around the time that this tournament occurred. Jeanne Martin, Dean’s wife, claimed that she used to watch them play while she was swimming at the pool.
When their two week playing session was over, Nick lost over $500,000 in what he was sure would be an easy win.
After doing a little investigating, Nick realized that Ray had hired someone to hide on the roof of the building in such a way that he could see Nick’s hole cards and then relay that information back to Ray through a small hand-held transmitter.
Nick was beyond furious to think he might have been deceived, so he turned to the Mafia for help by calling up his old friend and famous mobster, Caifano. Although he was only five feet tall, Caifano was very intimidating, being known to many as “The Enforcer.”
Without hesitation, Caifano and a few of his accomplices hunted Ray down and roughed him up a bit in order to persuade him to pay back a portion of his winnings to Nick.
This incident caused Caifano to be captured by the police and thrown into jail on a ten year sentence for accounts of fraud and extortion.
Rumor has it that Nick was able to get most of his money back and no one dared to cheat him again.
A Possible Connection to Einstein
People who knew Dandolos personally claim he was an amazingly charming man who seemed to know something about everybody. Rumor has it that when Albert Einstein came to visit Las Vegas for the first time, it was Nick the Greek who had the privilege of giving him the grand tour.
To avoid having Einstein getting shunned for being a scientist, Nick supposedly told everyone that he should be called “Little Al from Princeton,” and that people need to fear him for he controls the state of New Jersey.
This whole ordeal is only speculation but all we know for sure is that Einstein visited Las Vegas during a break from his time at Princeton around the same time that Nick the Greek was living there.