The late Kerry Packer was an Australian media tycoon, probably best remembered as the man responsible for World Series Cricket – or the ‘Packer Circus’, as it was dubbed by its detractors – in the late Seventies, which changed the face of cricket forever. However, Packer was also an inveterate, but highly accomplished, gambler and regularly hit the headlines with titanic wins and losses.
A fixture in the casinos of Las Vegas, London and elsewhere, Packer was the highest of high rollers – known as a ‘whale’ to casino operators – and, invariably, bet the largest stakes any establishment would allow. In 1987, Packer reputedly lost £19 million playing blackjack – fourteen hands at a time, at an average of £25,000 per hand – at the Ritz Club in Mayfair, London and, in 1999, reputedly lost £11 million during a three-week spell playing the same game at nearby Crockfords Casino. The following year, he lost £13.6 during a three-spell playing baccarat at Bellagio, Las Vegas.
However, when he won – as he did when reputedly alleviating the MGM Grand Casino of US$26million in 1997 – Packer adopted a ‘hit-and-run’ approach, so that casinos had no chance, at least not immediately, of recouping losses. In any event, Packer was, in his heyday, the richest man in Australia with a net worth of £3 billion so, win or lose, gambling was only ever really a distraction from his business interests.
Ida Summers, christened the ‘Vegas Vixen’, was a flagrant, but nonetheless successful, blackjack cheat, who reputedly won tens of thousands of dollars, by illicit means, from casinos on the Las Vegas Strip from the early Sixties onwards. Believed to have started out in Newport, Kentucky – the original ‘Sin City’ – Summers moved to Vegas following the passing of the Federal Wire Act and other legislation supported by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, in 1961, which sounded the death knell for illegal gambling in casinos and bust-out joints in Newport.
A disarmingly attractive, petite woman, Summers initially performed sleight of hand, a.k.a. ‘hand mucking’, to introduce winning cards into her hand. Later, as she gained confidence, she worked with several male accomplices to switch entire blackjack shoes filled with prearranged cards –known as ‘cold decks’ or ‘coolers’ – into the game to guarantee a succession of winning hands.
Eventually, Summers’ exploits aroused the suspicion of casino security, not to mention the Nevada Gaming Control Board and the FBI, who launched a combined operation to surveil and apprehend the mother-of-four and her associates. Summer was, indeed, arrested – reputedly on the say-so of one of her supposedly ‘trustworthy’ former accomplices – but subsequently sentenced to probation rather than imprisonment.