We met with Sly Baum in the top story high-stakes room of the Poker Palace in downtown Havana. Baum didn’t own the Poker Palace, but because he brought in most of its business and took so much cash off the house, he might as well have. It was one of those American-owned gambling joints that had started flourishing in Cuba right when Prohibition went into effect, where the island rum flowed like a tropical sea. It stayed popular thanks to the efforts of El Presidente Batista and the Chicago Outfit in equal measure.
The high-stakes room was a sumptuous hole with a green-felt topped card table between blue walls adorned with prints of palm fronds and naked women. Sly Baum sat in one of the chairs at the corner. He wore a shining blue tuxedo, the bowtie undone, so he looked like he was trying to blend in with the wall. His dark hair was in unkempt strands and his eyes were darting around the room. He looked pathetic. Clearly, the ace gambler’s cards were all on the table.