Wednesday, May 3, 2000 | 9:41 a.m.
Henry Lee doesn't cast an imposing figure. In fact, perhaps the most striking feature of the 72-year-old is his smile. A tall, thin man with a roof of white-gray hair, he's cordial, a bit shy and full of quick, easy guffaws.
The Terminator he's not.
Unless you're a casino operator. Then you look past Lee's grandfatherly demeanor, as he stands by a craps table casually attired in a Hawaiian shirt and blue slacks, and to his right arm. Longish, moderately sinewy and tan -- the result of his living in Honolulu -- Lee's arm has done something only slightly more than 100 people have accomplished since 1989 at the California hotel-casino: thrown dice for more than an hour straight during a craps game.
If it doesn't sound like much, John Repetti, executive vice president and general manager of the California, begs to differ.
Most people hold onto the dice between five and 10 minutes, he said. And out of the tens of thousands of craps players who come through the casino each year about 18 people manage to make the 60-minutes plus. That averages to about 1 1/2 per month.
"I betcha there are more holes-in-one on a golf course," Repetti said.
Because of the enormity of the feat, a club has been created to recognize these people with the special touch: the Golden Arm Club. Created in 1992 the club was born after one casino patron, the late Stanley Fujitake, held the dice for a staggering three hours and six minutes.
The Golden Arm Club has 116 members, including one who just joined last Thursday after holding the dice for one hour, six minutes. There's also the more select Platinum Arm Club, started in '99, which is reserved for those who've held the dice for more than an 90 minutes, or for more than an hour on two separate occasions. The membership for this club stands at four.
And since 1996 many of the members of both clubs return to the California for an annual reunion. The idea is to get those players with the golden touch, along with those patrons who are more apt to spend money on the tables, Repetti said. The match has been marital bliss for the casino so far, pushing the business in the "pit" -- the nickname for the area with the craps tables -- to its busiest period, other than Super Bowl weekend.
David Lebby, vice president and assistant manager of the hotel-casino, said: "We made a holiday out of a nonholiday."
Which is why Lee and fellow club members, such as Margie Masuda, are here.
Masuda, 63, from Pearl City, Hawaii, has the distinction of being the only woman in the Platinum Club by virtue of a one-hour, 43-minute roll during the Super Bowl this year.
And Dottie Fujimoto, 71, from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, held the dice for more than an hour twice: once in '97, again a year later. (Fujimoto is not eligible for the Platinum Club because her first one-hour-plus roll was before the club was created.)
And Kenneth Sano, 73, and Dennis Peterson, 59, both of Honolulu, held the dice for one hour and 12 minutes, and one hour seven minutes, respectively.
The members gather at the California, which caters to Hawaiian tourists and local residents from the 50th state, to socialize, play the game, and see if they can match or even better their feat. No one came close this weekend.
And certainly no one came close to matching Fujitake's feat -- and probably never will, Repetti said. A former pit boss for the casino in the '70s, he came up through the ranks and has seen many "hot hands."
"But I've never heard of anyone shooting for three hours," he said. "If there was a Guiness Record (for craps), Fujitake's roll would have to be a record."
Roll of the dice
Fujitake was a slender man of 65 when he had his moment in the spotlight. It began about 1 a.m. on May 28, 1989, and ended at 4:06 that morning.
In between he held a pair of dice for a stint that lasted longer than some sporting events, NBC's Thursday prime-time lineup, most any movie without Kevin Costner in the credits and the flight time for a jaunt from Las Vegas to Dallas.
It was long enough to attract the attention of a throng of admirers who surrounded the table four-deep and, after several phone calls, caused Repetti to leave his home and come up to the casino to begin signing checks.
In all, the casino was out more than $1 million, with the biggest winner receiving a little more than $100,000, Repetti said. "That night was the biggest single loss for the California, period" from a table games perspective, he said.
And the man responsible, Fujitake, found himself in the "middle of the pack" in terms of winnings. But perhaps as importantly, he had a newfound status as a celebrity.
The quiet man from Hawaii who simply "blended in" with his surroundings soon could not escape the attention. Fujitake was all the talk around the casino, and word got back to his home state before the sun had begun its ascent. Everyone was abuzz with news of the man with the golden arm.
In the morning, when Repetti presented him with a check for his winnings, he said he asked Fujitake about his accomplishment. "He said he dreamed that he won lots of money," Repetti said. "He rubbed his arm and said 'This arm is golden.' "
Fujitake was right. He held dice for more than an hour three more times, although never coming close to his record-setting roll: his best was one hour, 36 minutes in 1997.
But he tried, until passing away Thursday -- ironically the day before the reunion -- at the age of 77 after a long illness.
"At least Stanley knows he went out a champ," Repetti said. "He was the king of the dice tables of the California hotel. Knowing Stanley, that was important to him. No one ever beat his record."
But that doesn't mean they don't try.
One last hand
By his own admission, Lee had not been doing well this weekend. Ten, 15 minutes tops, and then he was out. Nonetheless, he persevered.
Then, early evening on Sunday, he found himself in a bit of a groove.
Standing at the far end of a craps table, the table full with players -- many of whom knew him -- Lee was throwing well. There was a certain energy in every throw -- a long pause as he stooped over the table, and then let loose with the dice that almost always struck the far end of the table and rolled to a verdict: live to throw again or crap out. The money he bet on each roll was his own.
For at least 15 minutes the gambling gods were smiling on Lee, his "golden arm" making himself and everyone at the table very happy.
"That-a-way Henry," one friend routinely called out when each roll came up good.
Others were eager to chime in with shouts of encouragement as well.
Lee was happily in his element. And it was easy to see why.
"I like to make money," he said. "(But I) enjoy the game."
And now he was doing both. With each turn taking longer because of the amount of chips being exchanged on the table, Lee seemed to focus more and more. If there is such a thing as a "zone," Lee was nestled comfortably in its bosom.
The funny thing about that zone is that at some point it ends. And for Lee it stopped around 20 minutes, or roughly 57 minutes short of his best. The Terminator was through. Still, it beats the time he rolled for 59 minutes before crapping out, missing out on becoming a Platinum Club member by 60 seconds. It's something he good-naturedly acknowledges irritated him.
"There's nothing I can do," he said.
Except keep playing and hoping for the best.