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Legend lost: Amarillo Slim breaks his silence
"Amarillo Slim" Preston has been dubbed many things during his 80-plus years.
Gambler, poker ambassador and living legend are the more endearing names. Less flattering terms include hustler, outlaw and cheat - mostly from his early "rounder" days.
But nothing is as ruinous as being branded a pedophile - an accusation which has contaminated the poker world's appreciation for Slim.
In March 2003, Thomas Austin Preston, Jr., a.k.a. "Amarillo Slim," was accused of child molestation. Thereafter, the poker legend endured an embarrassing legal ordeal, saw his family ripped apart and watched helplessly as a whirlwind media circus blew his reputation away like West Texas prairie dust.
In August 2003, a grand jury in Randall County, Texas indicted Slim on multiple counts of indecency with a child. The felony charges were later dropped, but Slim eventually agreed to plead "no contest" to misdemeanor assault charges to protect his family, he claims, and avoid the embarrassment of a public trial.
He was fined $4,000, given two years probation and ordered to undergo counseling.
Although Slim never served any jail time, he has been incarcerated from the things he craves most - respect and appreciation. While other less deserving poker players got rich and famous in recent years, Slim missed the poker boom entirely.
Many of his old friends ignored him. A planned Hollywood movie about Slim's life was dropped.
On Jan. 30, 2009 I went to a suite at the Bellagio in Las Vegas which had been arranged for our interview. The rules of the discussion were that there were no rules. Slim would have to answer every single question posed to him. Otherwise, I would not publish the transcript. Slim agreed to these terms.
The interview lasted three hours, with Slim's associate Michael Hirschensohn present.
What follows are excerpts from that interview. Some questions and answers which produced no significant information were removed from this series (due to space limitations).
There were also occasional interruptions which have been edited out of the transcript.
Part one of this two-part series focuses on what really happened according to Slim.
(Note: Readers are advised that some language and subject matter may be objectionable.)
NOLAN DALLA: You've been silent about these charges for nearly six years.
AMARILLO SLIM: That's right. I haven't said one word.
NOLAN DALLA: You haven't said one word publicly. You haven't been interviewed about any of this. So, why have you waited so long to tell your story, and why is now the time to come forward?
AMARILLO SLIM: Contrary to all these charges and things, I've always been a family man. And now after 80 years I'm going to be accused of being a predator of children? No chance.
NOLAN DALLA: Let's start with the first incident. What really happened?
AMARILLO SLIM: We were all out at my ranch. I was going to show the kids [my] horses. While we were out there in the field it started raining. We decided to get out of the rain. I had four of my grandbabies in the front cab of the truck - me and my four grandchildren. They were from ages 3 up to 13 years.
NOLAN DALLA: One of the children was your 12-year-old granddaughter, named Hannah?
AMARILLO SLIM: Yeah. When it started raining, we didn't want to get stuck in the mud being out so far away. I am not sure if you're familiar with a four-wheel drive, but with my diesel pickup, the gear shift is on the floorboard.
Well of course, I did not want to get stuck in the mud, by God, and have to walk 20 miles back into town. So because we were all jammed in there, the victim - I'll use the word victim which is far from the fact to refer to the person - she was sitting closest to me. Three of them were sitting on the seat and one was really in my lap.
We were in the cab of a one-ton pickup. I said, we've got to put this thing in four-wheel drive or we are going to be out here all day [and get stuck]. I reached down there like this to shift and put it in four-wheel drive. My grandbaby was there and she had one leg [near the gear shift]. I reached over and patted her on the leg and said, "I'll bet that feels good."
She said "Yeah," and giggled. We were all in there together. The sexual harassment that occurred, I can't imagine it. Never in my life have I touched the - I'll use the words - the genitals, the breasts, kissed her on the mouth, squeezed her breasts, petted her inappropriately, except just clowning with her.
I've never touched her wrongly in my life.
NOLAN DALLA: That was the first incident [in January 2003]. But there were alleged to be others [in March 2003]. In fact, there were alleged to be three separate incidents.
AMARILLO SLIM: Couldn't have been. No, there were only two. That first one - there was nothing to it. The second was when [my grandchildren] wanted to go swimming.
We have a big pool in the backyard ... Hannah came over and got in my lap. She had on a bathing suit. She said, "I'm going to go back and swim." I said, "Go on and get your butt in the pool."
NOLAN DALLA: Were other people around when your granddaughter was sitting in your lap?
AMARILLO SLIM: There was no one else around. I can just tell you what happened. But anyone else who said what happened would just be guessing because they were not around.
So anyway, after they were all swimming and playing in the pool the kids all left and went back to Fort Worth [where they live].
About three weeks went by. According to the Child Protective Services [report], they were all playing together and [the harassment] came up as a joking matter. Hannah was telling ... you know. I didn't know anything about it until ...
NOLAN DALLA: Wait just a minute. Let's fill in the gap between the time she was in your lap at the pool and when Child Protective Services first got involved. What led up to that point? What do you think happened?
AMARILLO SLIM: She was showing off for her little sisters and exaggerated what happened. That's all it could be, because nothing really happened.
Since this alleged incident that young lady has been in my lap 60 times. You think if I would have done anything to her she would have come back and got in my lap?
Forget all the ratting now, you think she would have come and got in my lap? No chance! My God, no chance! She's never been anywhere in her life she was safer.
NOLAN DALLA: What was your reaction when you first heard that someone had gone to the authorities?
AMARILLO SLIM: I don't know, I first heard about it from the authorities.
NOLAN DALLA: How were you contacted?
AMARILLO SLIM: By telephone. They called me. Child Protective Services said, "Mr. Preston, we've had a complaint - a sexual complaint against you with one of your granddaughters."
Of course, naturally I hit the ceiling. I said, "My God that can't possibly be." They said it had occurred two or three weeks ago. They asked me, "Do you have a lawyer?" I said, "I don't need one. I haven't done a damn thing, why would I need a lawyer?"
NOLAN DALLA: Let's talk about the legal troubles.
AMARILLO SLIM: Child Protective Services investigated the incidents. There was no evidence of abuse. [The investigation] was done by Child Protective Services in Fort Worth.
NOLAN DALLA: Why Fort Worth? I thought you live in Amarillo.
AMARILLO SLIM: They live in Fort Worth. The family, I mean. My son is married and they and their daughter all live in Tarrant County. So anyway, I thought it was all over.
But then the district attorney [James Farren] - a man that I have known for many years in Randall County [Amarillo] - called me down there to his office. He said, "We've got a complaint out of Fort Worth that something happened with you and one of your grandbabies." I said, "Good Lord James, they investigated this and dropped the charges."
So, we had an agreement that when [Farren] went before the grand jury, after he had made his summation, it would also be included that on my own volition I had taken a lie-detector test. And I passed it. But the grand jury never heard that part of it.
NOLAN DALLA: You insist the charges were dropped. But felony charges were indeed filed against you by the grand jury. Is that correct?
AMARILLO SLIM: Yes. But the grand jury never let me make an appearance. I never got to tell my story. It was a cut-and-dry situation.
NOLAN DALLA: You're certainly one of the most famous people in Amarillo. Are you saying that makes you a target?
AMARILLO SLIM: Maybe so. But I know, and the powers that be all know, and the good Lord knows that I didn't offend or molest any one of my grandbabies. I raised every one of them.
When it comes time for the school clothes, it's granddaddy who provides for them. When it's time to go on vacation, I take two car loads and we go all over the country together.
When it's time for them to go to the church camps, I don't let them miss a single one ... I sent them to everything there is. We are a close-knit bunch. How in the world could there be something wrong?
Every one of them have all been at my house on many weekends since then. It doesn't make any [expletive] sense.
NOLAN DALLA: Many people suspect you are guilty because your son, daughter-in-law and ex-wife reportedly believed the allegations were true, to the point where your family was split apart.
AMARILLO SLIM: Yes that was right at one time - but that's not true anymore. All of them have since written letters about these charges saying it was a big mistake and the sexual abuse never happened.
Editor's note: At this point in the interview, affidavits were shown which are signed and notarized.
Click through to continue with part two of this exclusive. Slim goes into details about why he entered into a plea bargain and the consequences that decision had on his life and his relationships with his family.