Know Your Neighbours – John Kretz

 

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Photo Attribution: St. Catharines Museum, 1985.182.3

John Kretz was born in Merritton on December 7th, 1928, the second youngest of 17 children in a rather poor family. He grew up on a farm near the Welland Canal.  Kretz had been married and had nine children, however was later divorced from the mother of his children.  He worked various jobs when he started out then began working as a real estate agent in St. Catharines, which was a career he did well in but would not stay in forever.   While working as a real estate agent, he began gambling for fun with some friends and colleagues.  He soon learned from a colleague a “system” to beat the house at dice.  He became extremely intrigued and wanted to learn more about beating the odds in gambling.

 

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Dice owned by Kretz. Photo Attribution: St. Catharines Museum, 1985.182.3

Kretz began gambling recreationally more frequently.  He played dice for the first year and made money, however eventually he believes “the odds caught up with him” so he moved on to cards.  Upon the advice of his accountant, Kretz began playing Black Jack.  He read books and did a lot of research including learning specific mathematical equations.  Eventually he devised his own system of “counting” cards. He kept track of how many high and low cards had been played from the dealer’s deck. When the deck was most likely to have high cards, John would bet more money. Soon he was making more money gambling than he was working in real estate, so he left his job in favour of being a professional gambler.

Kretz traveled all over the world to gamble, including Athens, London, Macao, Atlantic City, The Bahamas, Monte Carlo, and of course Las Vegas. Kretz would become a world-class poker player and was once known as one of the best card counters in the world.  His system was so successful that in 1978 he was barred from all casinos in Las Vegas. Also by 1978, Kretz is said to have bet over $100,000,000 at poker tables.

John Kretz was not about to let the casino’s bar him from playing. In his opinion counting cards was not illegal, he was winning fair and square, so he came up with a plan to be able to return to the casino’s that he was getting rich at.  Kretz had cosmetic surgery done including a facelift and dental work.  He lost 50 pounds, but would also use body pads and latex facial features to alter his appearance to avoid being recognized. Kretz went to a hypnotist to learn how to change his “table presence”.  He even developed an English accent by taking lessons from an actor.

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Clay nose cast. Photo Attribution: St. Catharines Museum, 1985.182.7

Taking his plan a step further, Kretz placed an ad, which read: “Wanted, a single girl, free, sensitive, good at tennis and available to travel.”  He interviewed 40 women and eventually hired a young English woman named Bridget Harding who would accompany him to casinos.  Bridget accompanied Kretz for two months to various casino’s before she eventually decided to stop working for Kretz, however she remained close with John as she married Kretz’s son.

After his metamorphosis, Kretz…or shall we say “Robin Hyde” went straight for Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.  He played right in front of the man that had banned him from the casino.

As time passed, Kretz used more disguises including wigs, make-up and glasses.  He often changed his name. Eventually he legally changed his name and would no longer go by John Kretz, even in everyday life.  John however was so good that in some casino’s he had been barred as four different people.

It is not known how long Kretz continued to gamble but he did remain a resident of St. Catharines.

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