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THE SAD DEATH OF PRO GAMBLER STU UNGER

...from the Las Vegas SUN, Las Vegas news briefs

UNGAR -- A mixture of narcotics and pain killers triggered a heart condition that killed noted Las Vegas gambler and admitted drug user Stu Ungar, officials said.

The Clark County Coroner's office on Monday ruled Ungar's Nov. 22 (1999) death accidental based on the results of toxicology tests that came back from the lab Friday.

The drugs found in Ungar's system were cocaine, methadone and the pain-killer Percodan, Clark County Coroner Ron Flud said. He declined to release the amounts of the drugs, but said that no one drug by itself was enough to cause Ungar's death.

"The cause is accidental death by coronary atherosclerosis," Flud said. "The heart condition developed over a period of time. The attack was brought on by his lifestyle."

Coronary atherosclerosis occurs when not enough blood can be pumped through the heart muscle.

Flud said it was not uncommon to find a mixture of cocaine, Percodan and methadone in an autopsy of a drug user. Percodan is often used to bring a person down from his cocaine high so he can sleep. Methadone is given to heroine addicts to get them off the drug.

It is not known when Ungar, a three-time world poker champion, took the drugs that contributed to his death. Police investigating the scene, a room at the Oasis Motel, 1731 S. Las Vegas Blvd., said they found no drug paraphernalia at that location.

Ungar, who won the World Series of Poker $10,000 buy-in no-limit Texas hold 'em world title in 1980, '81 and '97 at Binion's Horseshoe, was 45 years old.

Recently, Ungar's 16-year-old daughter Stefanie Ungar told the Sun she constantly encouraged her father to seek help for his longtime drug addiction.

"I talked to him about it all the time and encouraged him to check into a rehab program," she said. "But he told me people don't understand what it's like when you have money -- you can't get away from it (cocaine). People who claimed to be his friends would come up to him and push it on him."

Ungar, who was born in New York City and raised on the city's Lower East Side, became a professional gambler at age 14, a year after his father, a bookmaker and bar operator, died.

Ungar became one of the world's top gin rummy players, winning thousands of dollars from gamblers four or five times his age. He came to Las Vegas in 1978, learned how to play no-limit Texas hold 'em and two years later won his first world poker title. He repeated that feat the next year.

But 16 years later, after winning and losing millions of dollars, Ungar was broke and needed the help of a friend to pay his way into the 1997 World Series main event, where he won the $1 million first prize.

Two months later, after paying off some of his mounting gambling debts and after suffering heavy losses on horse and sports wagers, Ungar was broke again.

He recently signed a contract with noted local gambler and Stratosphere hotel-casino founder Bob Stupak, who paid off Ungar's gambling debts, giving him a fresh start. Ungar, in turn, was to gamble with Stupak's money in hopes of reaping a profit on that investment with tournament victories and big scores in high-stakes side games.

Stupak said he gave Ungar $2,000 "walking-around money" just days before he died.

Ungar paid about $120 for the two days he stayed in the motel room. He was found lying face up in his motel bed on a Sunday. He had $800 in his pocket, police said.


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