Professional gambler John Turmel
may wonder what the odds are of
his ever winning an election, given the fact that the Guinness Book of
World Records calls him the biggest loser of all time.
But winning - he has lost 42 times - does not seem to be as
important to this arm-waving, 46-year-old citizen of Ottawa, Canada,
as turning the world monetary system inside out. We do not need money,
he says, but instead would do better with a new system of vouchers
issued for labor and interest-free loans that could end poverty and
Turmel is spreading the notion of "local employment-trading
systems" in the Valley when he is not cleaning up at local casinos
How much has this man, who has never held a job, won here? He
won't say, exactly. But he whips out a billfold at the $160-a-week El
Rancho Motel in Mesa and zips through a sheaf of dollar bills as if he
were shuffling cards. "I'm doing fine, fine," he says with a poker
face. When you are a gambler, he says, you have to worry about the tax
man. Not that John Turmel "worries." After all, he hasn't paid any
taxes since 1979 when he became a professional, gambling that the law
would ignore him because he doesn't actually "own" anything, except,
perhaps, "my socks."
Every object, including the 1987 Ford Bronco he drives, is in the
name of his companion, Pauline Morrissette, who travels with him. "I
was probably the only man in the world who was both pauper and a
millionaire in the same year," Turmel says with pride, remembering
1993 when he was arrested and convicted of running a gaming house in
Ottawa. The police estimated he made between $1.3 million and $3
million that year. "They claim I owe $300,000 but I'm not going to pay
it," he says, gesturing around the threadbare room. "I am a frugal
man." Turmel told the judge he may have made that much. But he had
given it away to charities or spent it, he says, Which is why the cops
called their investigation "Operation Robin Hood."
Someone else may be sheepish about owning up to an arrest. But
not Turmel, who says that his losing appeal to Canada's Supreme Court
allowed him to air his economic theories. It is the kind of message
that gets Turmel shoved off the stage at political gatherings where he
turns up, running for mayor of Ottawa or even Prime Minister, wearing
a hard hat. Or it gets him hustled away when he pickets monetary
meetings to accuse bankers of genocide against the Third World. It
gets him flamed on the Internet, where he is listed at
But Turmel thrives on losing - in politics, not at the Blackjack
table - or on getting arrested. The legendary loser travels with a
206-page self-published book full of press clippings about his
misadventures, together with the Bible and the Koran for higher-minded
admonitions against usury.
Turmel reckons he got disenchanted with money when he started
gambling, which was right after he took a course on the mathematics of
gambling at Canada's Carleton University. It was there he realized, he
said, that casino chips and coins have a lot in common except that
chips never lose their value but money does. Which is why he filed a
losing suit against the Bank of Canada in 1983 claiming that it was a
casino and illegal.
It also was about the time the Bank of Nova Scotia refused to
extend to Turmel $2,000 loan to buy a computer because he did not have
a regular job. It was outrageous, he says, because they wanted him to
pay interest. Which also was the reason he took up gambling in 1974,
because at least he knew that chips held their value and that he had
the backing of his mother, who mortgaged her home so that he could go
to Las Vegas with a $3,000 loan. He returned to make "my mum" happy
with $5,000 in winnings on top of that.
In September, Turmel says he will run for office again.
But first there is the casino at the Gila River Indian Community.
He likes his chances. Superior knowledge of mathematics enables him to
guarantee that he will win at cards as long as he has the bankroll to
keep on playing after he loses, and loses.
Arizona casinos are not sophisticated, he says. "I told them I
could raise their profits by 50 percent just by speeding up the rate
of delivery of the hands. If they went from 40 hands an hour to 60 or
70 hands an hour, they could do it. "But all they said is, "Very
interesting." Which is what I hear a lot of the time.
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