The arrest of Ai Weiwei has been criticized by human rights advocacy groups around the world, but now the controversial artist's alleged government detention is generating concern from a more unusual subset: blackjack players.
According to blackjackchamp.com, a Web site that reports on the casino industry, Ai was renowned among gamers in and around New York, where he from 1981 to 1993.
Described by the site as "a troglodyte faced mountain of muscles hardened by years of prison gyms and frequent street brawls," Vinnie -- who goes by the nickname "Snake Eyes" -- recalled meeting Ai in the 1980s:
"I came here to Atlantic City now to unwind a bit at the blackjack table. It was here I met him some 25 years ago. I was playing and losing bad, and then this Asian guy with a beard right out of the Kung Fu movies, playing next to me, starts telling me when to hit, split or stay. I don't listen to nobody but every time I don't listen to him, I lose the hand. So I start listening. I was up a few grand that night. I always listened when he explained smart strategies. He is the best."
Ai, who was known to travel with Snake Eyes to Atlantic City from Manhattan multiple times a week in pursuit of his hobby, wasn't shy when it came to gaming. "He was a prodigious gambler," the Independent's Mary Ann Sieghart reports. "So avid was his blackjack habit that an Atlantic City casino used to send a limo to pick him up from his unfurnished room in the then down-at-heel Lower East Side. He joked that his neighbors probably thought he was a newly-arrived Chinese drug dealer."
There are also reportedly talks between casino insiders to hold a series of fund raising blackjack and poker tournaments in an effort to lobby the U.S. government to impose trade restrictions against China unless Ai WeiWei released.