Las Vegas Sun

November 20, 2019

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Professional poker player Stu Ungar found dead in hotel room

Ungar, nicknamed "The Kid," was found Sunday morning in a single room of the Oasis Motel with about $800 in his pocket, some documents and no physical trauma, motel manager Peter Napoli said.

Ungar's ex-wife, Madeline, said late Sunday that no drugs or paraphernalia were found in the motel room.

"At this point there is no indication of foul play," Las Vegas homicide Lt. Wayne Petersen said today, adding that a detective would attend the autopsy.

The poker master was alone when he checked into a $58 room Saturday night at the "adult-movie motel," as Napoli described it. Ungar signed his name in the motel log book but left no home address. Instead, he wrote a phone number for The Mirage hotel-casino.

He was found by motel employees about 11 a.m., shortly after checkout time.

Friends and colleagues feared Ungar's addiction to illegal drugs finally killed him. Among other gamblers, his death was not unexpected.

"It's ironic, because when Ted Binion died, I remember saying, 'Well, I guess we're going to hear about Stewie next,' " David Sklansky, who has written six books on gambling theory, said. "I didn't think it was going to be this quick."

One of Ungar's favorite places was Binion's Horseshoe, where his photograph adorns the casino's walls. He won the casino's poker tournament three years, in 1980, 1981 and 1997. In 1997, he defeated more than 300 competitors to take home a $1.1 million pot.

After the third victory, the casino produced collector's edition gambling chips with Ungar's face imprinted on one side. The chips are on sale via the Internet.

The frail and thin poker expert was the second major figure associated with Las Vegas casinos to die in three months.

In mid-September, former casino executive Ted Binion died unexpectedly at his Las Vegas home. While it appeared Binion, a longtime heroin user, died of an overdose, the exact cause of his death remains undecided.

Ungar's death came two days after his longtime friend Bob Stupak said he and Ungar had signed a contract to go into business together. Stupak agreed to assume Ungar's debts, manage Ungar and provide the stake money for Ungar to enter major poker tournaments.

Stupak said part of the deal included Ungar entering a poker tournament at Donald Trump's Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, N.J., in December.

Though he became a millionaire several times in his life, sources told the Review-Journal that Ungar was often broke.

Stupak said several of Ungar's poker friends are going to pay for the funeral, which is tentatively scheduled at Palm Mortuary.

Ungar's ex-wife lives in Las Vegas with a teen-age daughter.