AMARILLO, Texas - Thomas Austin “Amarillo Slim’’ Preston Jr., a poker champion whose brash style, fast talking, and love of the spotlight helped broaden the professional game’s appeal and made him one of its most recognizable characters, has died. He was 83.
Mr. Preston’s son, Bunky Preston, said he died Sunday of colon cancer while in hospice care in Amarillo, where he lived.
“He was playing poker until the very, very end,’’ his son said.
Thomas Preston got his nickname playing pool, according to his son, and with his cowboy hat and Southern drawl, he would not have been out of place gambling in an Old West saloon.
Mr. Preston would bet on almost anything, and mastered the art of stretching the truth. Among claims on his website are that he played Minnesota Fats in billiards using a broomstick; beat Bobby Riggs at ping pong using an iron skillet; and outran “a horse for a hundred yards (no one ever said nothing about the race being straight-away).’’
Mr. Preston’s 1972 win in the fledgling World Series of Poker in Las Vegas helped make him an ambassador for the game. The self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Gambler’’ was born in Johnson, Ark. His family later moved to Texas and settled in Amarillo.
Mr. Preston’s later life brought charges he molested a young relative. Records show a 2004 conviction on three misdemeanor charges of assault causing bodily injury in a case involving a 12-year-old girl. Mr. Preston, 75 at the time, was sentenced to two years’ probation with deferred adjudication and fined $4,000.
Mr. Preston later told an interviewer for a poker website that the charges stemmed from a misunderstanding when his grandchildren were with him in the cab of his pickup truck and at a swimming pool. He said he pleaded guilty to protect his family from embarrassment.