Friday, March 23, 2007 | 6:53 a.m.
Sam "The Jeweler" Angel loved to tell stories about the good old days of Las Vegas and his friend, famed gambler Nick "The Greek" Dandolos.
Angel, who was broke several times during his lengthy career as a gambler, recalled when Dandolos hired him as his driver in the 1950s.
"He once had me load these old cardboard boxes from his garage into his trunk and drive them to a casino," Angel said in his trademark loud voice, enunciating each syllable carefully. "It turned out they were full of cash. I don't know, I guess Nick felt his garage was a safer place to keep his money than a bank. In those days it probably was."
Angel, a two-time World Series of Poker Razz champion in the early days of tournament poker, and a recognizable figure at boxing matches, sports books and anywhere gamblers gather, died Wednesday at a Las Vegas hospital. He was 86.
Services for the Las Vegas resident of 57 years are pending.
"If he was not Las Vegas' greatest character ever, he certainly was one of them," said longtime Las Vegas gaming analyst and friend Larry Grossman. "When people think of Sam today they can't help but smile.
"He was something special."
In the last 30 years of his colorful life, the portly, 5-foot-tall Angel was better known for selling cut-rate gold jewelry out of his briefcase at poker tourneys to raise a stake. It also earned him his nickname.
Angel wasn't always broke. When he won the 1973 and 1975 world Razz (low-ball) titles at the Horseshoe, he pocketed a total of $49,000.
Angel was often acerbic and drunk, the combination of which resulted in his being ejected from a number of casinos over the years.
But he also was a lovable, dog-faced, Runyonesque figure who despite his Heineken-and-V.O.-induced personality flaws was loved and respected by top gaming figures.
Late Horseshoe owner Benny Binion often helped Angel out when he was busted, and allowed Angel to sell his gold watches, bracelets, necklaces and rings in the gaming areas. Angel also was a close friend of the late Dunes boss and Poker Hall of Famer Sid Wyman.
Angel's mind never steered far from his favorite subject, gambling.
For example, at the 2002 old-timers dinner at the Stardust, Angel posed with towering judge Donald Mosley for a Mutt-'n'-Jeff-type photo when his mind drifted as he tried to answer a Sun reporter's question.
"I like running into the people I haven't seen for years - uh, what's the score of the game?" Angel said. "I have the Seahawks under."
On another occasion, when a reporter asked him why he did not play low-limit poker to try to rebuild his stake, Angel gruffly replied: "If I can't afford to play the highest limit, I don't play at all."
In his heyday, Angel was a high-limit baccarat, blackjack and poker player and sports bettor. In his later years, he placed small sports wagers, more or less to keep a hand in the action.
Angel was born Nov. 30, 1920, in San Francisco and was a World War II Army veteran. He came to Las Vegas in 1950.
He leaves no known survivors.