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The End of the Game

The next day, when an employee looked in again, Stuey didn't respond. Stuey, a celebrity pursued through casinos, expired in bed, fully clothed, alone. He had $800 in his pocket, and no drugs. The TV was off.

More than a hundred gamblers attended his funeral over Thanksgiving weekend, a time he used to spend with Romano. The rabbi hired by fellow gamblers argued that Stuey had a disease. He was referring to drugs, and certainly they played a part in his death at age 45. But toxicology reports showed that drugs were not at overdose levels. Stuey had sometimes suffered from asthma; he said he had a heart murmur. But others suggested he was simply unsuited for long life and perhaps, in the end, uninterested. And yet it would turn out that Stuey again had reason to live.

Just two days earlier, Stuey had signed a deal with his old friend Bob Stupak. On the same day Stuey checked into the Oasis Motel, Stupak said he planned to put him in a December poker tournament at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City -- pot, $370,000.

"How we going to Atlantic City?" Stuey had asked gleefully.

"How would you like to go?" Stupak shot back.

"First-class," shouted Stuey.

It was a terrific shot, and Stuey knew it, and so perhaps he died imagining his life just as he liked it: in action.