This is the story of Shoeless Joe. The short version is that a nasty, rude, and filthy man wandered into the Treasure Island in Las Vegas in 1995 with $400. He parlayed it up to a high of $1.6 million and then lost it all. I will not bother to repeat all the details. They are told well in the Washington Post article WHAT ARE THE ODDS? CAN A SHOELESS GUY WALK IN AND BREAK THE BANK IN LAS VEGAS?. Snopes also has an article on him titled Shoeless Joe -- Did an unkempt, filthy, shoeless bum ran a $400 cheque into a $1.6 million fortune in Las Vegas?
The Washington Post says the story is based on “hushed whispers and boisterous bar conversation by dealers and waitresses and fellow players.” Snopes lists the status of the story “undetermined.” The purpose of this article will be to provide evidence and some details that Shoeless Joe did exist and most of the details about the story are true.
Many people seem skeptical of the story because of perceived long odds against parlaying $400 into $1.6 million at a blackjack table with a $5,000 limit per hand. I already address the chances of that in my own article CAN A SHOELESS GUY WALK IN AND BREAK THE BANK IN LAS VEGAS? YES, HE CAN!. The short answer to that question is “yes,” it is mathematically plausible that he did do this. That articles argues how and the probability.
To add more evidence that the Shoeless Joe story is true, I spoke with three people who worked at the Treasure Island in 1995 at the time the story takes place. I will refer to them as follows.
- Bobby G. – A bartender
- Rob F. – A dealer
- Daryl B. – A dealer
All three attest that the Shoeless Bandit was the talk of the break room at the time of Shoeless Joe’s run. They all say that he was vilified by every staff member who came across him and stories of his cheapness with tipping, horrible manners, and vulgarity are all true. However, of the three, only one, Daryl B. had a direct interaction with Shoeless Joe.
None of the three could corroborate details like the $400 Social Security check or that his maximum win was $1.6 million, but they said these figures sounded about right.
Many versions of the story say Shoeless Joe was kicked out when he went bust. However, one of my sources say he was kicked out before then, while he still had a small portion of the fortune he amassed.
Another detail I have heard and is reported by the Washington Post is that Steve Wynn purchased the rights of the story from Shoeless Joe for $10,000. One of my sources said that what really happened is Wynn made this offer, to which Shoeless Joe replied, “Go f**k yourself.”
Daryl, the dealer who dealt to Shoeless Joe said that when he first was assigned to deal to Joe’s table, Joe said, “You can wipe that smirk off your face, you’re not getting one red nickel from me!” Not only did Joe not tip Daryl, but he said Joe was notorious for not tipping anybody. Daryl also confirmed the detail of the story that Joe liked to eat leftover pork chops from the restaurant at the table.
Rob F said that Joe was especially rude to female dealers, calling them by the C word. It was so bad that after that pattern was established, they only sent male dealers to his table.
Finally, most versions of the story say that when Joe left, he vanished into obscurity. Rob F., says that about five months later, when he was no longer with the Treasure Island, he spotted Joe playing low-limit slots or video poker at Caesars Palace. He came over and said something to the effect of, “Hey, I recognize you. I was a dealer at Treasure Island when you won all that money. I just want to say f**k you for never tipping.”
That is all I can add to the story. Please keep in mind that memories are fallible, especially 26 years later. My purpose in this article is to add evidence that this story is not an urban legend. Maybe some of the details vary from one source to another, but the gist of it is true.