On Wednesday, February 10, 2021, Hustler Magazine founder and Hustler Casino owner Larry Flynt died, aged 78. Flynt was far and away one of the most controversial figures of American life in the 1970s and ’80s, and we’ll touch on that a bit as we focus more closely on his connections and role in the poker world, which was considerable, though perhaps out of primary consciousness of most of today’s poker players.
Flynt, he was a character and then some. In poker, he was a high roller of sorts, as long as he could play his favorite game, 7-Card Stud. He hosted a famed $2,000/$4,000/$1,000 game at his casino for many years, and while the game included many prominent pros, it was a semi-private, invitation-only game. Flynt knew he was the fish at the table at those stakes, so he took steps to ensure that the money he lost only went to players he liked.
All that took place within the larger confines of his casino and poker room, which became one of the most important venues in southern California. Though not on the scale of Commerce or the Bike, it still hosted (and continues to host) considerable cash-game traffic and plenty of tournaments. All of that is because Flynt liked poker, and that was part of how and why poker continues to thrive in greater LA.
Flynt, though, was no saint. One of the historic tales involving Flynt and poker was about how he got banned from the WSOP. Flynt was banned for life from the WSOP in 1988 after making a huge-payoff prop bet with Doyle Brunson that Flynt would win the WSOP’s Main Event. Then, long before “Men the Master” became a topical theme, Flynt concocted a chip-dumping scheme during the tourney, paying off several players to gift their stack over to Flynt as play progressed. The tourney directors caught on, Flynt was bounced and banned, although the Binion family schism being what it was, a lifetime ban turned out to be not quite that.
When Jack Binion’s daughter Becky Binion gained control of the Horseshoe, Flynt asked for and received removal of his ban. Maybe Becky did it just to spit in the eye of brother Jack, since the blood in that family was that bad. But whatever, Flynt returned to play a few 7-card stud events, and he final-tabled one of them, taking eighth place and $10,100 in a $5K event eventually won by David Chiu.
Flynt, though, was a living and breathing controversy far greater than poker. It’s not inaccurate to describe him as America’s most notorious pornographer. Following in the footsteps of Playboy’s Hugh Hefner and Penthouse’s Bob Cuccione, Flynt (who got his start running strip clubs in Ohio) took porn magazines ever more hardcore by going “full pink,” and you can research what that means if you wish. His porn businesses led him into numerous court battles with the religious right and the self-styled “anti-smut” brigade, including a famous court trial in Cincinnati in 1976.
It was during a similar pornography legal battle in Georgia in 1978 that a would-be assassin shot Flynt, causing spinal damage that left Flynt wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. Ironically, it wasn’t the “pink” that triggered the shooting. Instead, avowed white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin admitted to targeting Flynt over Flynt’s inclusion of an interracial photo spread in his magazine. Franklin turned out to be a serial killer, and he was executed via lethal injection in 2013.
Flynt was willing to push the legal edges to achieve his desires, and that applied to both business and poker. He successfully fended off the large majority of the smut and obscenity cases launched his way, using the First Amendment (freedom of speech) as his legal shield. Flynt was unapologetic about, and acknowledged he didn’t care if other people saw him as a good person.
He said, famously, “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, then it will protect all of you. Because I’m the worst.” As such, he became a figurehead for the First Amendment debate, the ever-present clash between one’s right to speak and others’ wishes not to be offended. Flynt pushed that edge as hard as he could.