ATLANTIC CITY — Andrew Amatrudo enjoys drinking beer, eats anything that he wants to and loves to gamble. Perhaps this is the secret to having a long, healthy life.
He may be the country’s only centenarian card shark. Just about every day, the 102-year-old Atlantic City resident can be found playing poker at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort.
“I’m not going to sit home. If I sit home, I’ll go berserk,” he explained. “I love to play poker. That’s all I live for anymore.”
Amatrudo, who goes by Andy, was born in Philadelphia on Feb. 21, 1909, a month before Theodore Roosevelt left the White House and five years before World War I broke out. U.S. Census Bureau figures show he is among only eight men and 37 women in Atlantic County who are at least 100 years old.
He lamented that all of his close friends have died. His wife, Laura, passed away at 86 in 1998. However, he has a 74-year-old daughter, Lottie DeMarzio, of Mays Landing, as well as five grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren.
He retired years ago from his job as a Philadelphia hairdresser and now lives in the Best of Life Park apartments next door to the Taj Mahal. Although he walks with the assistance of a cane, he rides his motorized scooter from his home to the casino poker room.
He celebrated his 102nd birthday last Monday at the poker tables. The Taj Mahal gave him a chocolate birthday cake, but did not try to crowd 102 candles on it.
“He’s here almost every day. He’s part of the Taj family,” said Tom Gitto, the casino’s director of poker operations. “When he doesn’t show up, we’ll get calls asking where he is, so we’ll check up on him. He’s a legend. You see people in their 80s and 90s who have such a hard time, but he’s 102 and he doesn’t miss a beat.”
Amatrudo plays only stud poker. His fellow poker players admit that it is not uncommon for them to lose a few hands to their elderly opponent.
“He’s pretty good,” said Paul Nichols, 72, of Barnegat Township, Ocean County. “I call him the ‘Ace Man’ because he likes aces.”
Nick Spagnolo, 79, of Little Egg Harbor Township, Ocean County, described Amatrudo as a cool-headed poker player who knows when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.
“He’s even-tempered. He doesn’t get mad,” Spagnolo said. “The worst we ever hear from him is, ‘I was looking for a 10 of clubs and I didn’t get it.’”
Amatrudo displayed some of his skills Wednesday afternoon while pitted against six other players. Early in the game, he drew a jack-high regular straight to win $15. A few minutes later, he was up about $40.
“I love the game. It keeps me sharp,” he said. “It’s the strategy, the playing of the cards, the betting. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. You can’t win all the time, you know.”
He studied his cards while fingering a small stack of betting chips. As he pondered one hand, he called out to a cocktail server, “I’ll have a Bud Light and a bottle of water.”
His wispy white hair was tucked beneath a black baseball cap emblazoned with the words “Taj poker.” Mindful of his appearance, he was smartly dressed in a dark brown sports jacket, gray pants, charcoal-colored shirt, a cranberry kerchief around his neck and black loafers.
“I always come dressed in a jacket. See those shoes over there? I would never wear those,” he said, pointing to a man in sneakers.
Amatrudo noted that his health is excellent, except for some arthritis in his legs. He takes a water pill every day to help reduce the swelling in his legs, but is on no other medications.
“My heart is good and so is my blood pressure,” he said. “One doctor said a long time ago that my health is perfect. I’ll eat anything. I don’t believe in healthy diets. I like having beer or some wine with my meals.”
He begins each day with a morning prayer asking God to keep him alive and well. Then he prepares himself for his trip to the poker room.
“I’m like a little boy,” he said. “You know how excited you would get when you would go somewhere with your parents? Well, I can’t wait to get here.”
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