Five of the most infamous poker and gambling murders

1 month ago
poker murder
15 Oct

Poker players, and gamblers in general, are statistically more likely to be robbed than the average citizen, but murder rates in cities such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City are far from the top of the list. Nevertheless, there have been some horrific and senseless murders over the years, so let’s have a look at the most infamous cases...

We’ll start in Las Vegas and one of the most mysterious murders that Sin City has ever witnessed...

5. Ted Binion – mysterious murder and secret vaults

Heir to Benny Binion’s gaming empire, Ted Binion’s life ended on September 17th, 1998, just months after losing his gaming licence due to Mob connections.

His girlfriend, Sandra Murphy, claimed she found him dead and an accidental overdose of Xanax and heroin was the initial cause of death. Binion’s family, however, remained unconvinced and suspicion soon fell on Murphy and her secret lover – a business partner and supposed friend of Ted’s – Rick Tabish.

In a remarkable twist, Tabish was later found at a secret bunker Ted Binion had built after his licence was revoked. The bunker contained $14million worth of silver, silver dollars, rare coins and casino chips.

Both Murphy and Tabish were convicted of murder in 2000, but were acquitted on appeal four years later, though they still faced long jail sentences for burglary and grand larceny.

Binion’s death has been the subject of several movies and documentaries, the latest a “Dateline” special from this year...

4. Charles Harrelson – A natural born killer?

When the movie Natural Born Killers caused huge controversy on its release in 1998, Woody Harrelson’s starring role wasn’t his first connection to murder – his father Charles convicted of murdering a judge and suspected of several more.

The connection to poker? Well, it is claimed that the plans to kill Judge John ‘Maximum’ Wood were hatched at a poker table in Las Vegas during the 1979 World series of Poker at Binion’s Horseshoe no less.

Harrelson, who had walked out on his family years earlier, asked drug dealer Jimmy Chagra how much he’d pay to see Judge Wood dead. On being told “I’d give a million dollars to see that SOB dead,” Charlie Harrelson headed off to Texas to carry out the deed.

Having already served a prison sentence for murder, Harrelson would never see freedom again, dying of a heart attack in his cell in 2007, his son Woody having visited him numerous times over the year

3. Joran van der Sloot...Double Killer?

When Dutch poker player Joran van der Sloot arrived in Peru for the Latin American Poker Tour (LAPT) stop in 2010, he was already the prime suspect in one disappearance case.

That would soon be one murder and one suspected murder, as Van Sloot murdered 21-year-old Stephany Tatiana Flores Ramírez in his hotel room, on the 5th anniversary of Natalee Holloway’s disappearance.

The horrific and tragic story began back in 2005 when 18-year-old Natalee went missing after she left a nightclub with Van Sloot on the southern Caribbean island of Aruba, where Van Sloot lived with his family.

Though questioned extensively about Natalee’s disappearance, police couldn’t pin anything on Van Sloot. Even years later, after an undercover sting in which he was paid $25,000 in return for revealing where Natalee’s body was, Van Sloot remained a free man.

It is that money that was used to enter Peru from Colombia in 2010, and ended in the murder of Stephany Flores, who he met while playing poker at the Atlantic City Casino in the Peruvian capital, Lima.

After beating Stephany to death, Van Sloot fled to Chile, but was caught and extradited, later sentenced to 28 years imprisonment for murder.

Still serving his sentence in Peru, Van Sloot admitted on camera to murdering Natalee, confessing to an undercover reporter: “You are talking about the Holloway case? Yes, yes... yes. This is also where I am guilty, and I accept everything that I have done.”

2. Mario Zwanzleitner in Murder-Suicide Horror

Austrian TwitchTV streamer, Mario Zwanzleitner, bludgeoned his girlfriend to death during lockdown in 2020, before stabbing himself to death in the home they shared in Vienna.

The tragic story saw police at first looking for a double killer when they found the pair dead in an unlocked house, but it soon became apparent that the criminally-unstable Zwanzleitner was responsible for both deaths.

Known online by the nickname 'YouPayMyF458', Zwanzleitner made his living as a pro gamer, poker player, and DJ, but his past was riddled with horrific crimes.

These included the attempted rape of an 86-year-old woman for which he was sentenced to 32-months inside in 2016.

A conspiracy theorist who had been banned from owning a gun in Austria, and banned from several poker forums for racist and other foul abuse, his streams became popular for his reactions to losing.

One commenter wrote: “His streams were always fun to watch, because he tilted very fast and spewed away his big stacks, after some bad beats. This is the reason why his streams were so hyped.”

1. Akio Kashiwagi – Live by the sword, die by the sword

We are going to end our list not with poker, but with a highstakes baccarat player – someone who would put Phil Ivey’s stakes to shame. Akio Kashiwagi’s story rivals the Andy Beal versus the Corporation poker battle as he attempted to bankrupt Donald Trump – though it would all end with 150 strikes of a samurai sword.

The Japanese property developer was one of the most prolific baccarat players in the world when Donald Trump persuaded him to bring his fortune to the tables of Atlantic City.

That almost resulted in Trump losing his three casinos earlier than he eventually did, as Kashiwagi – believed by many to have close ties to the Yakuza crime syndicate – took Trump for $6million.

A shocked Trump, desperate to win back the money to keep his failing gambling empire afloat, designed a $12million double-or-nothing rematch at the Trump Taj Mahal casino.

After hitting a $10million high point, Kashiwagi eventually ended up in a hole of the same amount before Trump pulled the plug prematurely on the extraordinary gambling session.

Whether this costly and highly public loss was the reason or not, Kashiwagi was soon found murdered in his home near Mount Fuji, having been slashed 150 times with a Samurai sword – a Tarantino-esque end to a Hollywood-style story.

Note: The tragic and untimely death of Suzie Zhao last year is still legally unresolved, the trial of the man accused of murdering the popular poker pro pushed back to September of this year. You can read about the case here.

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Andrew from Edinburgh, Scotland, is a professional journalist, international-titled chess master, and avid poker player.Read more


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