Lou Butera got his “Machine Gun” nickname for his quick shooting style.

By Jack Smiles/Guest Contributor

Lou Butera photo courtesy of the Greater Pittston Historical Society

Sam Butera opened a billiard parlor on South Main Street in Pittston, Pennsylvania, in 1937 the same year his son Lou Butera, later to be known as Machine Gun, was born. At 10 Lou was famous around the Pittston area for the Ma’s Soda Box he stood on to practice pool and play against anyone who would play him. There weren’t many takers. 

Once he outgrew the soda box he developed into one the best, and best known, pool players in the world. By the 1960s he was competing in tournaments against world class competition. In the 1970s he won the Pennsylvania State Championship twice, the Midwest Open twice, the All Japan Championship, the Las Vegas and California Championships and, in 1973, the World Championship defeating Irving Crane. Though he didn’t win the World title again, he always finished in the top half and set a tournament record by running 124 balls. He got the Machine Gun nickname form Jack Calivito who said after Butera beat him,“he machine-gunned me down.”

The nickname fit as Butera was known for his rapid-fire style. He once ran 150 consecutive balls in 19 minutes. In one of his Midwest Open titles he won a match, 125-4 in 23 minutes. It was said the only thing that slowed him down was the referee racking the balls. 

Though he was a take-no-prisoners shooter, Butera was a gentleman and family man and who preferred to play in tournaments in a tuxedo. “My father used to hang around with Lou when they were kids and he told me stories,” said distant cousin Mike Butera, an attorney. “For a guy who hung around pool rooms, he was a straight arrow.”

In the late 1960s he moved to Los Angeles and later to Las Vegas where he opened Lou Butera’s Pool Sharks Billiards & Entertainment Center. He and his wife Caroline, who died in 2012, had seven children. Butera cut down on his tournament schedule, ran his pool room, worked as a spokesman for Brunswick and a technical consultant helping actors appear natural when the played pool on screen. His clients included Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Martin Sheen and Michael Douglas. In 1986 he was inducted into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame.

“Machine Gun” Lou died June 25, 2015 in Los Angeles from complications of Parkinson’s disease. He was 78.