Poker legend "Amarillo Slim" Preston, who dominated the tables long before the game's massive growth in popularity, died early Sunday morning after a long illness at the age of 83.
Born Thomas Austin Preston Jr., "Amarillo Slim" became one of poker's most accomplished cash-game players. He was recognized by his Stetson cowboy hat and ostrich skin boots. The 6-foot-2-inch Texan, who never weighed more than 175 pounds, won the World Series of Poker's Main Event in 1972 and earned a total of four individual event championship bracelets in his career. The last came in 1990, long before online poker and televised poker events.
Preston, who was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1992, last cashed in a World Series of Poker event in 2008. According to the World Series of Poker, Preston had career earnings of roughly $438,000 in tournament events.
Preston had been in hospice care in the past week and fellow poker icon Doyle Brunson tweeted recently: "Amarillo Slim on his death bed."
Preston's family released a statement Sunday that was posted to the World Series of Poker website.
"We hope everyone will remember our beloved Amarillo Slim for all the positive things he did for poker and to popularize his favorite game, Texas Hold'em," the family said.
On Twitter, poker superstar Phil Ivey said, "Poker legend Amarillo Slim passed last night. One of the all time greats in poker! You will be missed Slim!"
Brunson added his own comments on Preston's passing.
"It somehow seems fitting that Amarillo Slim died at midnight," Brunson said. "That's the bewitching hour."
Soon after winning the 1972 World Series of Poker, 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."
He also appeared on several television game shows, such as "To Tell the Truth" and "What's My Line?"
Despite his poker accomplishments, Preston was somewhat shunned by the poker community in recent years after he was accused of child molestation.
In August 2003, a Texas grand jury indicted Preston on multiple counts of indecency with a child. The felony charges were later dropped, but Preston eventually agreed to plead no contest to misdemeanor assault charges to protect his family, he claimed, and avoid the embarrassment of a public trial.
Preston was fined $4,000, given two years probation and ordered to undergo counseling.
In a 2009 interview with poker publicist and author Nolan Dalla, Preston said the charges split apart his family because his son, daughter-in-law and ex-wife reportedly believed the allegations.
"Yes, that was right at one time," Preston said in the interview. "But that's not true anymore. All of them have since written letters about these charges saying it was a big mistake and the sexual abuse never happened."
Dalla wrote the charges robbed from Preston the respect and appreciation from the poker community.
"While other less deserving poker players got rich and famous in recent years, Slim missed the poker boom entirely," Dalla wrote.
Preston was known as one of the pioneers of poker's modern game. There wasn't much that he didn't gamble on. Some of his more famous side bets have included playing golf with a hammer against Evel Knievel, and wagering $1 million that he could hit a golf ball over a mile. He supposedly won this bet by having the ball slide over a frozen lake of ice.
In his book, "Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People," one passage reads: "If there's anything worth arguing about, I'll either bet on it or shut up. And since it's not very becoming for a cowboy to be arguing, I've made a few wagers in my day. But in my humble opinion, I'm no ordinary hustler. You see, neighbor, I never go looking for a sucker; I look for a champion and make a sucker out of him."
Preston was born in Johnson, Ark., on Dec. 31, 1928. He grew up in Mineral Wells, Texas. When his parents divorced, he moved to Amarillo, Texas, with his father.
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz @reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.