Who was ‘Nick the Greek’?

The late Nicholas Andreas Dandolos, commonly known as ‘Nick the Greek’, who died on Christmas Day, 1966, at the age of 83, was a celebrated Greek American professional gambler in the early to mid-twentieth century. Dandolos reputedly won and lost millions of dollars during his lifetime. He once said, “The next best thing to playing and winning is playing and losing. The main thing is the play.” Although he was a millionaire for most of his life, at the time of his death, in Gardena, California, Dandolos was virtually penniless and reduced to playing small-stakes poker.

Born in Rethymnon, Crete on April 27, 1883, travelled to the United States, alone, as a 18-year-old, and settled in Chicago. Initially living on an allowance of $150 a week, provided by his family, he moved to Montreal, Canada, where he proceeded to win $500,000 by gambling on horse racing. On his return to Chicago, he lost all his winnings on cards and dice, but would soon become famous for his willingness to risk huge sums of money; in 1926, for example, he lost $797,000 to Arnold ‘the Brain’ Rothstein in a single hand of poker.

Legend has it that, in 1949, or in 1951, according to which account you choose, Dandolos played a marathon heads-up poker match against Johnny Moss at the Horseshoe Casino, run by Benny Binion, and reportedly lost $2 million. However, it is doubtful if any such match actually took place. Jack Binion, son of Benny, explained many years later that Dandolos and Moss did play a poker match in 1949, but at the Flamingo Casino, in private, rather than in public, and not for five months straight, as suggested in the original version of the story.