We Were Wiseguys and Didn’t Know It by Scott Schettler presents a rare and unprecedented history of the early days of “old Las Vegas” and the sports betting luminaries who set the standards and culture in the evolution of sports betting in Las Vegas. This is not a dry history lesson, but rather author Schettler has drawn multiple portraits of key players who shaped the framework and foundation of one of Las Vegas’s biggest draws. Schettler has set the record straight about what really happened in the glory days of Las Vegas sports betting, and he has done so not as an academic, but as an insider. Personal experience and hands on accounts tell the stories about a time that will never come again, and of a place even Hollywood could not reproduce. Written in easy and accessible prose, We Were Wiseguys and Didn’t Know It will educate and entertain, while it serves as witness to little known (if shadowy) characters of Las Vegas gambling history.......Amazon
It won’t be long, really only a couple decades from now, and there won’t be anyone left who remembers Lefty Rosenthal and the Stardust, Harry Gordon’s Churchill Downs, the great Bob Martin and Gene Mayday’s Little Caesars which wasn’t so little when taking bets. Sammy Cohen and his Santa Anita Race & Sportsbook is already forgotten as is Al Mangarelli and The Rose Bowl, which would later be owned by the infamous Gary Austin.
Very few remember Jimmy “The Greek” and his early 60s Hollywood book or the other downtown store front joints like the Derby, Saratoga (later called Leroy’s) or Bill Dark and his Del Mar out in North Las Vegas. Those days of numbers shopping from book to book are no longer necessary. Finding a good number was like getting what you wanted for Christmas.
The Westgate will still be around as will Caesars, The MGM, Bally’s, Mirage and so on. They might be booking UFC fights between robots or become eSports arenas with racing and sports becoming a sideline of proposition bets.What won’t be around or remembered is the Rivera, The Sport of Kings or The Hole in the Wall Sportsbook in The Castaways. Hand held parlay cards don’t have a prayer.
Gone from memory will be FM and Hershy and The Burger Hut along with Wednesday Nite Fights upstairs in The Silver Slipper; Chuck Di Rocco and Sports Form simulcasting company (not to be confused with the former name of this publication) that brought Las Vegas the first ever live horse racing simulcast, the J.K. Sports Schedule, Ken Swanson with his wall race boards and race disseminating company. Up North the Reno Turf Club, Carson Victory Club and Artichoke Joe’s will be long forgotten.
Sports betting will evolve and morph into whatever the market and circumstances in the country dictate. We can’t halt advancement or the march of time. Those joints and the characters who haunt them are history. One room school houses and widget factories are gone just as the bookie joints and current betting rules will also disappear. Time marches on so we have to get with the times or get out of the way.
Like Making Sausage
The NCAA Basketball Championship aka March Madness is not as maddening as it once was for those of us who were behind the scenes years ago, before the cookie cutter lines of today.Today’s sportsbooks open after their personnel in charge wake from a good night’s sleep, breakfast at a reasonable time and not exerting much energy or input into the information they’re about to put on their odds boards. Fire up their computers, copy the offshore numbers or use a local line service, change a few games a half point and call the line yours. Much less aggravation, frustration and energy involved compared to what we did to open the Stardust sportsbook each and every day.
Then most sportsbooks just used our work instead of the offshores and don’t get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with this as far as I’m concerned. Now jump ahead to today. All those who think any Las Vegas sportsbook today actually makes their own numbers on sides and totals raise your hand. No hands that I can see.
We must have been nuts or else what we did was a labor of love. I’d say both. We started work on the next day’s games as soon as the current games were done and the scores were in. Jim Feist’s National Sports Service did all the work on the schedule, matchups, times etc. We couldn't even begin without the information they provided.
We had three oddsmakers on the payroll. Most important to us was Roxy Roxborough and his Las Vegas Sports Consultants. We also employed Jerry “the hat” Taffell, Kenny White and his dad Pete. To complete this sausage making process our supervisors Richard Saber, Sylvestor Vallella and Patty Garrett added their input. I had my own opinion and was the final say on the numbers we booked, not because I was smarter than anyone else. Far from it, in fact. I only hired decision makers who I considered to be smarter than me. There’s no way in hell I could make a line without other input. I was the final say simply because I didn’t want my supervisors to move numbers in fear. So if the numbers were off it would be my fault not theirs so now they were free to move numbers the way they should be moved, i.e. according to our action not on air.
We opened every day at 8 a.m. sharp with a new menu to a SRO crowd. Our line went out around the country and if ever, God forbid, we were late the Stardust switchboard would light up like a Christmas tree. People from all over wondered if the Stardust was on fire or worse. Why else would the line be late?
Then after we had the day’s games booked and scores in, win or lose, we started on the next day’s menu. We had to be ready by 8 a,m. It was an enormous amount of frustrating work and responsibility but rewarding. I think it must have taken its toll but I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but only if I had the same people helping me. Thanks Roxy, Jerry, Pete, Kenny, Richard, Syl, Patty, Richard Schuetz and the rest of Stardust management who let me do my job.
When I took over The Stardust in 1983 it was like getting the keys to a Cadillac all I had to do was drive it and don’t wreck it. We drove it to the pinnacle of odds making not only in Las Vegas but the country as well. We were featured on CBS, NBC, ABC, FNN (financial news network), half time of a Super Bowl, Sports Illustrated, Wall St Journal and dozens of other newspapers, magazines and local TV stations all over the country. Our odds went out on two national wire services daily. What great publicity, all free advertising. They came to us and asked our permission to use our brand. The most expensive advertising available anywhere but for us it was all free. Free money wise that is but we paid for it with hard work every night and day of the week making the odds and running a fabled race & sportsbook.
Those endorsements were great and put us on top but the endorsements that really mattered, that made all our hard work worthwhile, came from our customers. It was like a love affair. We needed each other and we both knew it. Players and bookmakers around the country needed our odds to do business and we needed their action. It worked to perfection, we both understood and respected each others position on both sides of the counter.
Players and bookmakers from all over stayed with us and played with us whenever in Las Vegas. Big connected guys, corner BMs and their Runyonesque players whom we took care of even when they came up lame. The Stardust Hotel was mostly full, our bars, restaurants and show were jumping with race & sports bettors who were loose with their BRs. It was beautiful. Our upper management never sweated decisions. Never questioned big losses because they also understood the game was in our favor. A big loss in the book added to the table drop and boosted hotel amenities. They understood nobody won a bet then said they were going to keep your money and quit playing. I have to say though, our bosses probably got heartburn in private but never sweated a decision at least for us to see.
It’ll never happen again in Las Vegas and I know by letters and emails there are plenty of us left who yearn for those times. We know what we were part of if even though at the time we never realized it. You’ll have to go outside Las Vegas to find a bookmaker, player relationship. No one today actually knows where the morning line comes from. All we know is it’s somewhere else, those huge, monster books in the islands.
Could we make it in today’s Las Vegas? Of course we could. 11 is still bigger than 10. Could we get along with management? Not today because Las Vegas has morphed into a mercenary, super efficient money machine. Spend a double saw at the bar, a light goes on and you might get a free drink. $20 more and you get a ham sandwich. Every bean is counted. Twice.
It won’t be long, only a decade or so, and there won’t be anyone left who remembers Lefty Rosenthal and the Stardust, Harry Gordon’s Churchill Downs and the great Bob Martin, Gene Mayday’s Little Caesars which wasn’t so little when taking bets. Sammy Cohen and his Santa Anita race & sportsbook is already forgotten as is Al Mangarelli and The Rendezvous where Lefty first worked. The Rendezvous would later be owned by the infamous Gary Austin and called The Rose Bowl. Very few remember Jimmy “The Greek” and his early 60s Hollywood book downtown or other store front joints like the Derby, Saratoga later called Leroy’s or Bill Dark and his Del Mar out in North Las Vegas.
Gone from memory will be FM and Hershy and The Burgher Hut, Wednesday Nite Fights upstairs in The Silver Slipper ballroom, Chuck Di Rocco and Sports Form (now Gaming Today), Jerry Kilgores J.K. Sports Schedule, Ken Swanson with his race wall boards and race disseminating company. Up North was North Swansons Reno Turf Club, The Carson Victory Club and Artichoke Joes. Great joints but already forgotten.
Las Vegas race and sports betting will continue to evolve and morph into whatever the market and circumstances in the country dictates. We can’t halt advancement or the march of time nor should we.Those joints and the characters who haunted them are history just like one room school houses and widget factories. Bulldozers eliminated them but not their memories. Time marches on so march along or get outa the way.
Lets rattle a few memories or maybe raise questions amongst our younger set. What better way than remembering nicknames of old and not so old Las Vegas characters. Most of these nicknames have a story as to their origin. Submit your interest to me and I’ll explain if I know their background. Also feel free to add to the list.First lets start with the ever popular “Bobby”:
Bobby the Beard, Bobby the Midget, Bobby Baseball, Bobby the Owl, (Bobby) Hunchy. Continuing with: Montana Mel, Indian Joe Finesilver, The Runner, Sneakers, Stinky Jim, 101, Magic, The Machine, Fat Gerry, Fatboy, The Ant, The Little Guy, Baldy, Marty The Jew (not derogatory), One Eye Scotty, Sam The Plumber, The Computer, The Koshers, Spinner, Chicken Brown, Gorilla Man, Crying Kenny, The Spaniard, Mogen David, Fast Eddie, Little Nickey, The Professor, The Manson Family, The Redhead, Gino Cappaletti, Parlay Paulie, Blackie, Whitey, Pittsburgh Jack, Tiger Paul, Big Hal/Hungry Hal, Big Hank, Paul The Doorman, Jerry The Hat, RJ, RD, Lefty, “Joey Boston” Gerowtiz, The Fixer, Speedy,
Jimmy The Greek, Dick The Pick, The Crab, Jolly Joe, Gus The Goose & Frankie Ku Koo, The Hockeymeister, Frankie Eyelash, Jerry Shoes, Crazy Louie, Cleanface(I won’t respond), Sarge, Sarge, Treetop, The Electrician, Baseball Louie & his arch enemy Black Allen, The Polish Maverick, FM, Herbie Hoops, John “Coach” Harper, Willie The Watch, Fat Norman, Tucker The Sucker, Little Abner, The Skunk and of course Michael “Roxy” Roxborough. Lets not overlook the ladies who were accepted as one of the guys: Cement, Boobs, Suzy”Boobs” Wang, Ga Ga, Bonnie……., Sally The Greek. There’s a few more ladies but without nicknames.
That list should keep us busy till The “Big Game” wink, wink. The NFL doesn’t allow the real name to be used so we’ll’ use a nickname.
Past Post Entries: Benny The Bite, Bimbo, blank blank Mary...........
Those Listed Above Still With Us:
OVER 55% + Even
UNDER 55% -120
.......Gut Wrenching Decisions: One I was personally involved in while working in Churchill in the mid-70s is especially memorable (to me). Writers in Churchill had individual phones at their stations. We usually had a player or two we took care of with injuries, line moves, etc., and he put us on his payroll in return. One of my “first in line” customers gives me a tip. These guys kept things to themselves, staying below the radar, so a hint from one of them was bankable. He tells me in the Virginia Tech game one or more officials were “friendly” toward VT and I could bet as much as I wanted on the Hokies to win.
I’m married with two kids, and was scuffling in those days. I bet $200 on the home favorite VT and laid the -1.5. It was a big lay down for me at the time. Next day is Saturday and it’s game time. I didn’t tell a soul but just waited to collect.The information was right on. Solid. The visiting coach (I’ll not name him) gets penalized 15 yards for complaining on a bogus interference call, combining the two flags for a 30-yard penalty. The “friendlies” move the ball 30 yards closer to the goal posts for a field goal with time running out so we’ll cover the -1.5 with a 23-21 win. The kid misses it. No problem, the “friendlies” come through again with another flag and move the ball 5 yards closer for another try.He misses again, time runs out, game over. We lose.
The NCAA raised holy hell, it was so blatantly obvious but they don’t pay and collect. We had good, solid information and still lost. There must be a moral in there somewhere but like most “wiseguys” we looked for another sure thing just to get even. Who knows what my guys went for? That’s why bookies vacation in Florida every year while their players look for a fresh bankroll.
That’s not as aggravating as those who lost on an LSU basketball scam. Some 45 minutes after the final buzzer they call an LSU player out of the locker room, in his street clothes, to shoot foul shots in a dark arena. That’s just as bad or worse as the UConn game where a happy kid celebrates and throws the basketball in the air at the final buzzer; a kid on the other team catches it and a ref calls goaltending. Had to get it off the number. Square business.
It's A Lock
Rumors make the rounds every season in every sport of fixes and thrown games. Bet long enough and you’ll hear them and probably believe one, especially if you’re on the wrong end of a bad beat. TV is the big instigator because we see things on the field, court or track that just don’t make sense as we rip up our ticket. Doesn’t mean the fix was in. With today’s clever personnel and technology a fix has a good chance of going undetected. Some bizarre, in-your-face shenanigans took place in the days preceding our now more sophisticated era. The most successful or unsuccessful, depends, in Las Vegas lore, if you cashed in or not. The October 1987, 9th race at Garden State Park stands out as the biggest in racebook history. It was a harness race with a small crowd of 4,300 in the stands.
The plan was to get down on quinellas in Las Vegas since the New Jersey track had only exactas, no Qs. Starting hours before the race went off, strangers to Las Vegas racebooks began getting down on the 3-5-9 combination. Soon regular racebook players heard about it and began betting the same Qs. Ordinary $2 and $5 players were emptying their pockets.
On the other end of the scam in New Jersey the pools on the favorites at the track were about to be manipulated. They were a bit more discreet though by not betting the favorites till a few minutes before post. By doing so the odds on the favorites came down and the odds on the 3-5-9 runners went up.Since Las Vegas racebooks booked their own bets (no pari mutuals) they paid track odds making a huge payout possible in Las Vegas.
It came off perfect. The quinellas in race 9 cost Las Vegas racebooks around $250,000. Most racebooks balked at paying out, instead hiding behind the Gaming Control Board. Two of us, Caesars and the Stardust, payed winners that night as soon as the race was official. After all, it’s called gambling and if we would have won we would have kept the money.
Caesars lost around $35,000 and we lost $30,000 at the Stardust. True to my thinking and experience no one quits winner. No one says, “I won your money and I’m keeping it.” Over the next few days we got it right back and then some.
My favorite football fix really fixed a few of us in Las Vegas. In the mid 1970s two college teams from the states of West Virginia and Virginia were involved. The refs, or at least a couple of them, were going to make sure the 1.5 point favorite covered. A few of us were informed of it and me, just a writer at Churchill, made a $50 laydown on the 1.5 point favorite. It was a big deal for me at the time since I was married and we had a one-year-old daughter.
Perfect.The score's tied in the last minute and our refs take over – pass interference, flag, move the ball closer. Another flag, move it closer for a field goal. Perfect. The kid misses it. No problem. Our refs blow their noses on another yellow hanky on the field and put the ball five yards closer and right in front of the goal posts. The kid misses it again. In those days the game ends in a tie. The dog covers and we all lose a sure thing.
No not the rock group but a couple doors in old Churchill Downs Race & Sportsbook were unique. The sportsbook office door was especially noteworthy to say the least. The inside office side of it held a secret in the 70s. It had false molding that concealed a hidden compartment. Those were different times with no computer paper trail. Tickets were hand written and lock boxes the Gaming Control Board required to keep a carbon copy of all tickets for auditing was about as efficient as the Russian bureaucracy.
The cash was counted like picking strawberries. This goes in this basket, this goes in that basket. Our “basket” was further divided into the day’s receipts the auditors saw and counted and the rest went South into the door.
When they bulldozed Churchill to put up that gaudy Eiffel Tower I always wondered what happened to the door. There were quite a few false doors and walls around Las Vegas in those days, good times.
Churchills front door was sometimes manned by Paul the doorman. Paul was shabby, his teeth and eyes went different ways. He would open the door for somebody and ask them “Do you want some shoes?”. Once in a while a square would say yes and Paul would produce a beat up shoe catalog for the square to make a selection. No one ever did but the Churchill regulars would give Paul a “deposit” toward a pair of imaginary shoes. No one ever gave a thought to banning Paul. One day we wondered where Paul has been, he didn’t show up anymore.
Can you imagine Paul at one of our new sterile mega resorts today. Never happen, those special times and attitudes are gone forever.
The inner doors between Churchills race side and sports side were always open and served no purpose that I could figure out other than separating the two areas. However my friend Ralph Dupas found them useful.
Ralph was a Churchill regular and my friend. Ralph Dupas was a top-ranked boxer from the 1950s and 1960s who moved to Las Vegas after his boxing career was over. Dupas lost to Emile Griffith, in a welterweight title fight in Griffith's return to the ring after he killed Benny "Kid" Paret in a tragic outcome. Paret fell against the ropes and couldn’t hit the canvas. Ralph in fighters mode kept going till the referee belatedly stepped in. Much too late. Dupas later lost to the great Sugar Ray Robinson in a big fight in Miami.
Ralph loved to bet horses at Churchill. He’d place a small bet on a horse, run through the doors to the sports book side, and cover his ears so he couldn't hear the call of the race. Then he would slowly return to the race book side, covering his eyes and slowly squeezing a peek at the result board prolonging the anticipation before he found out who won. Poor Ralph really didn't have to worry too much about who won or cashing winning race tickets, though.
Unfortunately, Ralph suffered from the physical effects of a long career taking punches. After a while, he could hardly walk. He couldn’t make it to Churchill to bet his horses anymore, but I would still see him at noon Mass at St. Joan of Arc in downtown Las Vegas at least a couple of times a week. Ralph must have gone to Mass every day because I always saw him there and we enjoyed a talk after. He got worse as time passed. I’m sure he was broke except for the help he got from Herbie "Hoops" Lambeck. Ralph Dupas, a real champion, just silently disappeared but not his memory.
The Good Doctor
Billy Walters is back in the headlines. Billy is the most famous of the original Computer Group and deservedly so. Michael Kent a computer programmer from Pittsburgh was an original member. The third original member was Dr Ivan Mindlin. Dr Mindlin was a retired orthopedic surgeon from New York who gave up his practice, which included The NY Giants, moved to Las Vegas to bet sports or work off a supposed gambling debt. Either theory, or both, is a good fit for my story.
It’s baseball season in 1974 and I’m a writer/boardman/phoneman in Churchill Downs Sportsbook. I’m 32 years old, married with two kids. I’m at my window and feel the same irritating spot in my left thigh. It’s a lump that’s been there for a while. Doc Mindlin is in the book as usual and I tell him about it. He tells me to let him behind the counter and we go into the office. He tells me to pull down my pants and he feels the lump.First thing out of his mouth is go to Sunrise (Hospital) and he’ll take it out. Whoa, wait a minute. I have to discuss this with Conne wife. He says OK he’ll make the arrangements and let me know when. He still had hospital privleges so I guessed.
I turn myself in next morning at 5:00am and they prep me later. In comes Doc wearing his surgical scrubs. He takes out a ball point pen and draws a circle around the area in question. He’s relaxed as hell and I’m nervous as hell so we average out to calm.
Next thing I know I’m in the recovery room then up to a private room. We’re waiting for Doc this whole time but it’s baseball season so I guess he’s back at Churchill. Who knows. Next day he shows up and so help me the first thing out of his mouth is “I’ll be back I forgot my schedule”. He leaves and I assume he means he forgot the clipboard Doctors carry around. Nope, he forgot his baseball schedule and he asks me “you got any scores?”. Doc how in hell do I have scores, I’ve been in here two days and besides I don’t care. I’m worried that it’s cancer. “Is it?”.
He’s at the foot of my bed and shows Conne and I what he thinks is a neat trick. There’s a hole in the bedframe that is spring loaded and he launches his pen from it. He’s impressed but I just want to know my future. Finally he tells us no its not cancerous. It’s a muscle that calcified probably from an injury or something. That’s over five decades ago and I have a dent in my thigh where he took it out, a Z shaped scar with maybe thirty stiches and I’ve lived to be an old goat. Talk about beating the odds.
One more thing that could never happen today, no bill from him OR Sunrise Hospital. It was all comped.
Talk about knowing your job. The girls who worked for me in The Stardust Racebook cashier windows and back room were unbelievably skilled and honest, what a blessing. Before computers arrived to do their jobs and para mutual bookmaking also took the need for skill out of the race business these girls worked flawlessly in a super busy, big money situation.
We booked upwards of 60-70 races daily depending on the day of the week. Before post time each race one of the girls went out front to the betting windows, gathered the hand written tickets and took them to the back room and deposited them in the corresponding slot in a many slotted holding board. This was a position of trust since a past post ticket could be slipped in. These were live tickets till the results, the mutuals, were announced. They would later be matched with the cashed tickets and bundled to be worked again by the accountants later that night.
When the mutual were announced the even more amazing cashiers had to hear those results over the din of the racebook and write them down on their worksheets. Win, place, show, exactas, Qs, etc. as the tracks paid them since we booked the track prices, no para mutual yet remember.
As winning players lined up at our cashier windows the girls figured each ticket by hand, mind and memory using their work sheet as a backup guide then pay out the correct amount. This was no job for the faint of heart, the timid or rookies. Cashier was the highest paying job in either race or sports next to supervisors of course.
This was the culmination of behind the scenes work beginning as early as 5:00 AM when the girls in the photo room developed negatives of every race to be magnified and displayed on the huge odds boards in the racebook.
Those negatives were then given to our ever excentric collection of boardmen upstairs in the cavernous two tired walkways behind the oddsboards. The boardmen placed the negatives on 50 projectors to be seen in the racebook as big black and white , crystal clear rundowns of morning odds, jockeys and track conditions, scratches, etc. Then after a race was runt hey displayed the mutuals by hand like Fenway Park. Those boards were the best ever and appreciated by our players.
Chuck Di Rocco who published Sports Form was a big part of this process on the periphery. He disseminated recreations of track calls, then later brought the first live simulcast into Las Vegas. Chuck also produced wall boards for every racebook but The Stardust since we made our own on those huge boards.
Get The Phone
"Times change, change with them or get out of the way" and how they've changed. A real game changer in LV R&S Books is the remote app. A definite upgrade for today sportsbooks but not so much if applied to bookmaking in The Stardust during our heyday in the 80’s.
Today it’s painless for both layer and player. Just make a deposit at your favorite book or books and wager from anyplace in Nevada. Play from anywhere, your hotel room, car, work or even sitting in the sportsbook. In the palm of your hand the current odds are displayed including in game odds. Even an old goat like me, a reformed luddite, with my extra thumbs can maneuver the hand held device. Most sportsbooks today including hotel/casinos are part of a chain that comingles the action into a central computer. It’s all very neat and cost effective with most of the decision making taken out of the process till it gets to that big, central computer screen wherever it may be.
In the beginnings of remote betting a cash deposit in person was still required. From that point nothing resembles today’s operations. Then it required a phone on both ends of the transaction. We still refined phone betting into a smooth machine in the 80’s when The Stardust ruled Las Vegas sports betting and influenced most of the rest of the country. Our remote betting consisted of two phone stations where we quoted current odds and wrote tickets by hand till computer stations were installed in 1987. Then our writers still communicated with potential players with phone in hand while punching in the wager became easier. The phone action was aggregated and could be accessed on a screen for our supervisors to make decision but they still charted big action by hand. This mostly nonstop phone business took place in full view (per the Gaming Board) situated behind our seven in house counter stations where all wagers were cash.
On a busy basketball Saturday we could handle around $2.5 million. That’s a lot for those times in Las Vegas, but it was all done with good ole back East bookmaking skills. Las Vegas sports books shunned anyone they considered a wiseguy going so far as to limit their wagers or just 86 them. We encouraged wiseguy business and used their action to our advantage. Simple. We could take any and all cash wagers at the counter no matter how big or how out of balance we became. We had wiseguys on the phones ready to take most any number we were forced to move to. The phones were in effect our own layoff source ONLY we were collecting the juice this generated. A so called square at the counter makes a ten dime bet with cash BUT we know it’s no problem because when we change the number the phones will likely snatch the new number right up. It was simple bookmaking. Our counter business was about 60% of our handle while the phones were around 40%. When wiseguys on the phones won the action from the counter lost. We wanted the wiseguys to win. The more they won on the phones the more cash we won at the counter.
When we opened our very own, self made virgin numbers at 8:00am every morning we held off opening up the phones for half an hour. After all we were part of a bigger picture, a hotel/casino. We honored that by being loyal to the person who showed up every morning in person.
It was beautiful, a perfect harmony between counter players, phone players and management who went along with it. It all ended around 90 – 91 when I could no longer convince management, no matter what research and proof I presented them, it was a mistake to eliminate our wiseguy business. They, along with bean counter types, actually thought if we cut our phone action the money we lost to the phones would increase their bottom line. They lost the concept that 11 is bigger than 10. I left in late 91 but myself and many others still yearn for those hard scrabble but rewarding times.
Gimme Me That For A Million
Quite a bit of hoopla surrounded a $1.1 Million wager on the Falcons this past Super Bowl however it was not the first Million Dollar Super Bowl wager in Las Vegas history. There was a $Million laydown on the 1989 49ers / Bengals game in Miami. Legendary bookmaker - bettor Gene Mayday who owned Little Caesars mini casino - sportsbook in the same strip mall as Churchill Downs, next to the Galaxy Motel on the North end of The Strip, took the $Million laydown. Little Caesars casino had a quarter craps game and maybe a hundred slots. The menu consisted of popcorn and hotdogs. Gene once owned Checker Cab Co in Las Vegas and gave cab drivers free coffee. The parking lot front and back was always full of vacant cabs. Gene was a fearless bookmaker and took monster action but he would balk at a hot dog comp, the red carpet was mostly tape. Not a cocktail waitress in sight.
Gene took monster action and had some very sharp handicappers behind him. Bob "Blackie" Black was Gene’s right-hand man in the sportsbook. The Little Caesars line was highly regarded, and the business the pay phones out front generated was legendary, as were the Churchill phones up the block.Little Caesars pioneered “Midnight Madness” in which they gave an extra half point on football bets on Friday and Saturday nights. In that 1989 Super Bowl Gene booked Bob “Polish Maverick” Stupak’s one million dollar bet. Bob Stupak was a Las Vegas legend in his own right. He owned Vegas World before it became The Stratosphere. Stupak took The Bengals +7. The 49ers won 20 - 16 and so did Stupak who presented Gene with a custom-made, three wheeled, one-man car, which Gene proudly parked in front of Little Caesars. It became a landmark.
Churchill and Little Caesars coexisted till Gene passed, and his casino/sportsbook closed. Harry Gordon's Churchill Downs is also long gone as is the mall they occupied together. all bulldozed to make room for the Paris Hotel and a gaudy replica of The Eiffel Tower. They can't replace those two joints or the memories they generated.
Super Bowl Side Shows
The best Super Bowl shows weren’t always on the field or at halftime. The Feds put on a few good Super Bowl shows also. They used the event in the early 70’s to raid Churchill Downs Sportsbook on occasion. The raids were a means to an end for several reasons. They figured it would be the time most under the table money and records would be there. Of course neither was on premises or anywhere else to be found. The Super Bowl raids also made semi important headlines and helped pad resumes.
Another raid on Churchill looking for Super Bowl money was a bit different. Burglars broke thru the Churchill office wall from inside the drug store next door. They knew exactly where the safe was hidden and second cash stash also. Go figure.
Yet another Super Bowl Sunday in the 70’s caught me personally in the loop. That Sunday morning I headed for Bill Darks Del Mar Race & Sportsbook in North Las Vegas to get down on the game. I arrived, parked my jalopy and headed for the front door.
As I was going in a couple guys were coming out. They spoke and held the door for me. Nice guys huh? I enter the sportsbook and everyone is watching the lone TV intently. It’s a calm crowd for a Super Bowl Sunday though and for good reason.
Those nice fellows who held the door for me just stuck up the joint. These guys were not your gangsta’s of today but real pros. They announced the stickup with the show of a shotgun and a pistol. They kept it calm as they passed the hat and relieved everyone of their BRs. They of course emptied the cash drawer behind the counter.
Before making their getaway they disabled the phones, turned on the lone TV and told everyone to stay put and watch. The last thing they took was everyone’s car keys, telling everyone they would throw them on the roof outside so they wouldn’t have to get new ones. Just watch TV and don’t move.
Then out the door they went, holding it open for me. I didn’t have a clue, they hid the shotgun under a trench coat. Even after a few moments inside I didn’t know what just came down because everyone was calmly watching TV. The bandits were never caught but I wonder how much they got out of this North Las Vegas crowd of scufflers. Not as much as a Strip sportsbook of course but Del Mar was a much safer place to rob. Half their customers wouldn’t talk because they were on the lam themselves.
Unique shows for sure, not Lady Gaga unique, but there was a time when Las Vegas race & sportsbooks had the best side shows in town.
Who Ya Like
You want to be on the right side. You fire up your computer and find dozens of “experts” who will put you on a winner or winners. Some sites give you this self proclaimed valuable information free. How valuable can it be? Others will put you on the winning side for a small price or the really, really right side for a bigger contribution. Some sites and “professional handicappers” rate their selections by stars. A five star pick is rated much better than a three star and costs more of course. I’ve seen thousand star picks along side of the pick of the century. Here, take my money please. Some “experts” and sites give out both sides. One customer will think they’re geniuses and will be back while the loser looks for another site. Some will offer a free pick if you already paid for their losing picks. Thanks. I’ve counted half a dozen National Handicapping Champions with pictures of them holding a trophy to prove it.
Back in the day it wasn’t always so expensive to get touted. Used to be free actually, that’s free till you ripped up your betting ticket. There were a few very successful bettors and if you could find out who they were betting you could follow their action. Thus the phrase “followers”.
That’s where the rub comes in. Getting the right side was the first chore. Then you still had to win it. Not a good parlay. Some of the information was outright bogus. The Computer Group aka The Computer were super successful but their followers not so much. The computer would get down with us at The Stardust first. That side would be bet all over town and even around the country. Trouble was some of their early sides were bogus on purpose. The Computer didn’t want us to get buried every day so they respected us for opening our numbers first and operating a reliable book. They purposely bet a few sides they hoped would lose and the followers piled on.
Later in the day as the numbers moved with the action the conversations went something like: “That must be The Computer that moved it”…....“Naw can’t be, they bet the other side this morning”.
Horse bettors were virtually obsessed with getting “the steam”. A conversation among our horse bettors might go like: “My guy has the eight horse”….... “That’s the wrong horse, my guy has the seven”.
“You have the right guy but the wrong horse”…....“Not a chance, you got the right horse but the wrong guy”. Meanwhile they both probably have the wrong guy AND wrong horse since the six got there.
Not all steam was bad however. The best example was Chuck Schaupp who was a big winner with NBA totals. In fact in one withdrawl from his phone account with us was for 500K. He was the real deal and his sides were valuable. Chuck never played earlier than 3:15 or so and his followers had to scramble all at once to get down on a good number that won more than lost. Chuck retired to Thailand long ago as did Roxy and Dick “The Pick” among other successful handicappers.
Me, I’m still here sometimes looking back more than ahead.
The dictionary defines camaraderie as brotherhood or friendship, especially united by a common cause, and especially in literal or figurative combat / mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together.
That’s mostly missing from the betting scene in Las Vegas today. The camaraderie among bettors has been eliminated by the vastness and amenities of today’s race & sportsbooks. They have by design been blended into the hotels casino, restaurants and attractions. The books for the most part are located in huge cavernous areas close to hundreds of thousands of square feet of gambling tables and entertainment.
In fact the books are another form of entertainment for a good portion of the people occupying a seat in them. I purposely used the word people and didn’t use the words player or bettor. You can sit comfortably in the book or close by while eating. You can be entertained by huge TV displays that carry most any game you’re interested in. The odds boards may be full of mind teasing propositions to ponder. You might even score a drink if the cocktail waitress thinks you’re george. You don’t have to be a player to enjoy today’s books.
Before hotels took over race & sportsbooks there was a common thread we all shared. It’s now gone along with all the store front books and hole in the wall betting counters first located casinos. That common thread of making a bet and expecting a payoff is missing. Those rooms were small compared with the mega books today. One TV or two at the most. No food or drinks or cocktail waitresses. People didn’t go there for the amenities or to be entertained. We shared a common purpose and that was we were all race or sports bettors or both.
Those joints were alive with characters and stories of good and bad beats. Some were even true. Tuesday was settle up day around town for those of us who still had money or were owed. If you came up lame for the week we’ll carry your figure over till you locate a fresh bankroll. Those books, especially Churchill, were like banks. I owe you, you owe him so I’ll pay him and you and I are square. Camaraderie.
Even The Stardust was in that old time category in spite of being a big book in a Strip hotel. It was the center of the locals Las Vegas betting market. It was a serious betting establishment full of like minded bettors. Camaraderie. Those haunts are gone, never to return to Las Vegas. Gone with them are the characters and events humorous and not so. They’re only memories but we can yearn for the camaraderie that was so thick in them.
One of my favorite sayings applies here: “Times change, change with them or get out of the way”. What hasn’t changed is 11 is still bigger than 10 and you give the bookmaker your money then try to win it back.
Women In Race & SportsBooks
Women were rare visitors in the storefront books of old. There were a few female regulars that I recall. One we called "Cement," because she was built like a brick ….house. She’d always be with her boyfriend. Another was Suzy Wang, a Chinese girl and a real character who was like one of the guys. Then there was Da Da from Beverly Hills, always with her boyfriend Gino.
Even the racebooks were 99% male. Then came a day in baseball season of 1977 when a woman came into Churchill wearing a plain plaid dress and carrying a brown paper bag chucked full of hundreds. Not many women ventured into the spartan, storefront, books of that time especially carrying a bag of cash.
Anyway this very plain-looking woman walks in waving the bag of money and says: "I don't want it. It's not mine. It’s all your fault. This isn’t my money". She's going on and on about it, really raising hell. She puts it on the counter in front of me.
We ask her: "How much is in there?" We take a look, and it's packaged very neatly in bundles of hundreds. We guess there's about $50,000 in the bag (we’re good at that). So my friend Joey Boston, who's working next to me writing tickets, says, "I'll take it back in the office and keep it safe for you, take it off your hands." She didn’t let Joey have it. Good move. Anyways she’s raising all kinds of hell. "This isn’t mine, it’s your fault I have it."
Turns out her husband was booking sports and pleading poverty to her at the same time. She found his stash hidden in a closet. We had nothing to do with it or him but she associated it with bookmakers, so she decided to blame his deceit on us.
She didn't leave the money with us. Thank heavens she didn’t let go of it. The last we saw of her, she ran out the front door and boarded a city bus. We later heard she was OK.
Another very nice lady was familiar to some of us. I ran a sportsbook for Joe Slyman at the Royal Casino not to be confused with the Royal Inn next door. Joe booked as high as anyone in LV. That’s all time. Joe hired Sam ‘The Plumber’ Cagnino to help with our college basketball numbers. Sam was an uncanny college basketball handicapper, which was his only sport. Joe wanted to bet on Sam’s games, but he also wanted Sam to write tickets. Bad idea, Sam was a pencil and paper guy and had no chance to operate a ticket machine. None.
Sam kept his basketball figures in an oversized, loose-leaf, beat-up notebook. He tracked hundreds of college teams and kept his figures, box scores, and updated power ratings in the smallest pencil entries possible. Any smaller and they’d be invisible. If the FBI had it they’d throw it away, they’d never decipher it. It’s an amazing workbook. I know because after Sam passed away, his wife gave it to me. She said Sam wanted me to have it. What a treasure. I drag out when I attempt to tell people about pre computer days.
Sam and his wife were a completely happy, compatible couple. She would go around the casinos betting for Sam. Their oldest son, Scott, would follow her undercover. Quite a sight. She was a large lady and would be at least pick’em in a fight if someone tried to get Sam’s money. Being a large woman, Sam gave her a job to do one night. Sam told us in all sincerity, as if it was completely normal, that he had her sit outside on their satellite dish to keep it steady in a wind storm, while he watched his beloved college basketball inside.
RODNEY "GORILLA MAN" FERTEL
One of Churchill’s more eccentric inhabitants was Rodney "Gorilla Man" Fertel, a wealthy land baron from New Orleans. Rodney Fertel owned a big parcel of land in downtown New Orleans, which he leased to high-rise owners. Rodney’s wife, Ruth Fertel, owned the Ruth’s Cris Steak House chain. They liked to eat in the original Cris steak house, so they bought it and she expanded it into the chain. Point being Rodney was insanely rich.
His nickname "gorilla man" was a badge of honor for him; he was proud of it. For some reason, Rodney was nuts about gorillas, in addition to being just plain nuts. He actually ran for mayor of New Orleans on his campaign promise to buy two gorillas for the city's zoo if he won. He gave me a business card promoting his mayoral run, and it has a photo on it of him with two gorillas. He was about a million votes short, but he bought the gorillas for the zoo anyway. He would visit them in their cage till they grew up and beat him to a pulp, his last visit.
One day in 1975, sportscaster/author Larry Merchant was in Churchill with a TV crew filming and interviewing some guys in the sports book, including Rodney. As he was being interviewed, Rodney was holding a stuffed gorilla and he was shaking. Larry said, "Are you nervous, Mr. Fertel?" And Rodney said, "Oh no, that's the gorilla shaking, not me."
Churchill was his second home. He would stay in Las Vegas for long stretches driving his beat up, trashy, gray Mercedes. All he wanted to do was bet sports. He liked me because I gave him some winners in football, and he could pump me for information on what the sharp money was on.
One day, somebody hit him from behind on Tropicana Avenue in Las Vegas. He turned himself in to a hospital. I visited him in the hospital, and he was on the phone. He got off and told me that his accountant just told him he was worth around $60,000,000. Meanwhile, he was claiming to be injured, hoping to sue the poor slob who hit him for a couple thousand.
Rodney had racehorses and wanted blue and white silks for his jockey. So Conne, who is a good seamstress, made him the blue and white silks. He was supposed to pay her of course, but he never did. Finally, I gave Conne some money telling her, "Here, Rodney gave you this." She’ll never know till she reads this.
RALPH DUPAS AND A FEW OTHER SUPERSTIOUS BETTORS
Another New Orleans native and Churchill regular was my friend Ralph Dupas, a top-ranked boxer from the 1950s and 1960s who moved to Las Vegas after his boxing career was over. Dupas lost to Emile Griffith, in a welterweight title fight, in Griffith's first bout back after he killed Benny "Kid" Paret in the ring. Dupas later lost to the great Sugar Ray Robinson in a big fight in Miami.
Ralph loved to bet horses at Churchill. He’d place a small bet on a horse race, run through the doors to the sports book side, and cover his ears so he couldn't hear the call of the race. Then he would slowly return to the race book side, covering his eyes and slowly squeezing a peek at the result so he could prolong the anticipation before he found out who won. Poor Ralph really didn't have to worry too much about who won or cashing winning race tickets, though.
Unfortunately, Ralph suffered from the physical effects of a long career taking punches. After a while, he could hardly walk. He couldn’t make it to Churchill to bet his horses anymore, but I would still see him at noon Mass at St. Joan of Arc in downtown Las Vegas, at least a couple of times a week. Ralph must have gone to Mass every day. He got worse as time passed. I’m sure he was broke except for the help he got from Herbie "Hoops" Lambeck. Ralph Dupas, a real champion, just silently disappeared but not his memory.
Harry Beggs, by coincidence another New Orleans native, made a four-team parlay for $1000 at Churchill. He then made another for $100 and put it in the collection at Guardian Angel Cathedral on the Strip. He figured God would make it win so the church could cash theirs. It lost.
A New Orleans degenerate who went by the nickname 'Yale' (for lock) comes to my window and makes a $200 two teamer. I give him his ticket, he rips it up right there and throws it on the floor. He says he loses every bet anyways, why go through the aggravation. True story. A few bettors would never let a southpaw write their tickets, and some would never accept a $50 bill. It had to be broken down. Who knows?
Herbie "Hoops" Lambeck also went away, but unlike Ralph Dupas, we knew Herbie was okay back in his native New Jersey. Herbie was one of the all-time nice guys of Las Vegas. He helped Ralph out and also ex middleweight Jimmy Flood, another title contender. Jimmy was a bit more aggressive than Ralph. Jimmy would ask, "You wanna rent a couple hand grenades?" and Jimmy held up his fists. Jimmy put the bite on (borrow) most of his pals, especially Herbie.
Herbie Hoops helped a lot of people while living modestly himself in the spartan Casbah Hotel downtown. Herbie was sharp as they come, especially in the NBA and boxing. His boxing numbers were the best, and most Las Vegas sports books used them. He was very particular how his numbers were used and if a sports book misused them, became too timid, or built too much juice into them, he would not deal with them or anyone who did. Eventually his s… list included almost every sports book in LV. I never made the list, which is an honor in itself.
Where Did Everyone Go
There were some memorable characters who kept us writers on our toes in Churchill Downs on the Strip. Not all were big bettors or even close to being considered wiseguys.
Like Bing Weinstein who parked himself next to a writers station waiting for an odds change. When a change happened he would tell the writer, as his head shook, that he was just ready to bet that number before it changed so could he have the old number. Bing was harmless, a $50 bettor, if he ever benefited from his scheme it didn’t matter since his score went right back through the betting windows.
Or Charlie Brown, a little old guy with a constant scowl on his face. His scam was irritating if nothing else. He would change a bill at the sports counter and head for the racebook and change it back hoping for the clerk to make a mistake. Then visa versa.
Vincent F------ who as a teenager at the time was already the most corrupt person imaginable. His break in scam, his earliest I know of, consisted of going to the bar two doors down from Churchill. There he would get comp quarters for the juke box, play a song and head for Churchill when he had enough to change them for a dollar bill. They were painted blue on one side so we Vinny was around.
His Dad, Vince Sr had a construction business with two employees, Vinny and his older brother. Vinny sold his Dads truck and all the equipment. Nice. Once he rented a furnished apartment and advertised a furniture sale in the paper. It sold out. He was so mean and conniving his Dad, in the hospital with cancer, asked for him to visit. Vincent Sr said he just wanted to get one good shot at him. Of course it never happened.
Next to me behind the counter was an older writer Ralph DiDinato who always had a young girl hanging around. Ralph was a mystery man who could go next door to the Aladdin on his lunch break and blow a year’s salary on the craps table and come up fresh next day.
Well, one baseball afternoon in 1977 my boss and good friend Ray Lenzi and I were working when we both thought it was really quite for a Churchill afternoon. None of the counter pests were in the room. Vinny, Bing, Charlie nowhere in sight. Everything was eerily quiet. In fact nobody was in sight in either the sports or horse rooms.
Ray and I were the only living humans in the building. Reason being a bomb scare was called in and they evacuated everyone but Ray and me. Finally someone opened the front door and hollered for us to get out. We did and later the threat was declared a hoax. Maybe someone went broke after too many bad beats or who knows how this caller went over the edge. This was in pre terrorist days. Now it’s a daily occurrence.
MIKE THOMAS, 1975 NFL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
There were quite a few attempted scams by Stardust book personnel. Some were big and others not worth the effort put into them. Some successful (most were uncovered) others not so much. One stands out simply because of the perpetrator.
A very real bag of money was intercepted, right in the Stardust, on its way to the count room. Mike Thomas, Oklahoma and UNLV running back, 1975 NFL Rookie of the Year with the Redskins and later a Stardust security guard. Mike’s knees were shot, and in the mid-80s he had a payback job like lots of other high profile athletes athletes who hooked up with LV Hotels. Mike was on the sports book security detail. One of his duties was escorting bags of cash from the race & sports book to the count room. The money was counted at the writers’ stations and then put in heavy canvas bags and padlocked. Mike simply slashed open a bag, took the cash, and stuffed it with paper. We never saw Mike again. He didn’t get that much, not enough to retire anyway, but I guess he couldn’t help himself. I'll wager he had no trouble running with his loot.
JIMMY THE GREEK
Demetrious Georgios Synodinos, known as Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder, left the wide open gambling dens of Steubenville, Ohio, and set up shop in Las Vegas in the 1950s. Jimmy the Greek was a promoter, a natural public relations man, and marketed himself as a great sports prognosticator. He had his own sports book in downtown Las Vegas till 1962 when Attorney General Bobby Kennedy's crusade shut it down. Didn’t matter, the Greek would introduce the nation to Las Vegas sports betting. His odds and picks were distributed in newspapers and on TV around the country.
Jimmy the Greek was a living legend in those days, even if most of it was BS, but he helped make Las Vegas a Mecca for gamblers. Jimmy the Greek was an almost mystical character as people back East waited for his selections in the 1960s and 1970s. He rode the myth to the top becoming a national sports commentator on CBS TV for twelve years. He appeared on their NFL Today pregame show from 1976 till 1988, but you know the saying, "You can take kid out of the street but you can’t take the street out of the kid." He was fired from CBS for making a stupid racial remark on national TV in 1988.
He died eight years later at seventy-six. The impact the Greek had on the sports betting masses around the country and therefore Las Vegas can’t be underestimated. It was pre-Internet, someone had to be "it" and Jimmy the Greek was. Thanks partly to The Greek Las Vegas was talked about the way San Francisco must have been during the Gold Rush.
"Wow, you can book and bet in Las Vegas, and won't get busted".
A Basketball Junkie
I’ve often talked about the one year spent in Reno opening then running the Cal-Neva Race & Sports book for my good friend Warren Nelson. One good thing I did, not out of foresight but by accident, was hiring Chris Wallace.
Chris was the ultimate basketball junkie. Chris had a tout service that gave out nothing but teasers. That business model was dead on arrival of course but Chris wasn’t and lived for his love if basketball.
In 1981 Chris asked me for a job in my sports book to be closer to his beloved basketball, not to mention he needed a paycheck. Chris, in his early twenties, didn’t even bet as far as I know, he just loved basketball. He told me his dad was from Aliquippa, Pa., and that was enough for me. Aliquippa was and still is a football factory in Western PA. The Quips have sent 18 kids to the NFL. I hired Chris to write tickets. It was a perfect spot for Chris, but not so for our sportsbook. Chris couldn’t balance his drawer and was always coming up short. He was 110 percent honest, but he just couldn’t count money. He counted cecils from the bottom of the stack he made me nervous as hell just watching him. If he came within a hundred or so, I’d tell him, "Good job, Chris, we’ll find it later."
Chris continued his passion for the baskets while writing tickets. He put together his first edition of The Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook covering the 81–82 season. It was betting oriented but he made a good move with his second edition. He moved the theme away from betting, and the rest is history. It became a detailed textbook, an in depth coverage of every school’s program, coaches, and players. It became mainstream, the Bible among coaches, athletic directors, the NCAA and media. As a bonus the handicappers still bought it big time.
Chris sold his Blue Ribbon publication in 1996 but it continued publication using Chris’s exact template. The Blue Ribbon alone made him a success but his pure love and knowledge of basketball propelled him further. Chris went from a bad ticket writer at the Cal-Neva sports book and his successful College Basketball Blue Ribbon to several high-level front office jobs with different NBA franchises. The Heat, Blazers, Clippers, Nuggets, GM of the Celtics and GM and VP of basketball operations for the Memphis Grizzlies where he took over for retired Jerry West.
Chris said at his 07–08 season debut with Memphis that "I feel a kinship to the fans. I was not a big time player or coach. I was a fan before I became a basketball professional, and I’ll be a fan long after I leave this game, and they pull me off the stage."
And to think I hired him because he mentioned his dad was from Aliquippa. I didn’t see the real Chris Wallace in there.
Both of These Stories Involve Janitors (Part 1)
It took 12 hours and 2,750 shots for Tom Amberry, a 71-year-old retired California podiatrist, to set the world record for free throws consecutively shot and made. Over and over, 10 bored witnesses watched his six-second routine — parallel feet, three bounces of the ball, bent knees, tight elbows — inside the Rossmoor Athletic Club in Seal Beach, Calif., on Nov. 15, 1993.
Amberry stopped at the 12-hour mark, but only because the gym janitors made him. “I could have made a bunch more,” Amberry told the Orange County Register in 1995. “I was `in the zone,’ as the kids say.”
On Saturday night, amid the height of March Madness, Amberry died in California at 94.
(Part 2) *********************
One NFL Sunday a little old man, Yocum from Cleveland, is in Churchill sportsbook as usual. Every year at the beginning of football season, Yocum would drive from Cleveland and stay in Las Vegas for the entire season. Yocum was in his eighties and was maybe 5’ tall. He would nap in the book, front row because of his stature, so he could see the odds boards. He always dozed with his hand in his pocket around his cash.
Once Yocum got a $30(70s LV prices) hooker and told her first he needed to take his nitroglycerin pill. She broke all records getting herself together, giving him his $30 back, and getting the hell out of there.
The other participant in this LV tale is Rodney "Gorilla Man" Fertel who was a multi millionaire from New Orleans where he owned much of the land in downtown New Orleans. His wife Ruth Chris owned the Ruth Chris Steakhouse franchises. Rodney also showed up every football season. In spite of his wealth he slept in his decrepit Mercedes Benz.
Rodney was obsessed with gorillas, don't ask. He ran for Mayor of New Orleans on the promise he would buy two gorillas for the zoo, on the level. In a huge upset he lost. He still bought them and donated both to the zoo. Rodney would visit them in their cages till they grew up and beat the hell out of him.
Now imagine 5' Yocum, in his eighties at the time, shooting foul shots to settle a bet with Rodney. It happened. Yocum bet Rodney he could make ten straight foul shots only Yocum was an ace foul shooter and a sandbagger. Rodney should have known something wasn't right. A crowd of Churchill characters, most with money on the outcome, followed them to the North Gum at UNLV for the shootout. No contest, 5' and 80+ years old Yocum makes his first nine. Then Rodney, with no shame, began to raise hell, shouting and hollering. The janitors called security and the whole bunch were thrown out. Rodney called no contest and kept his money. He still slept in his car.
Joe "Indian Joe" Finesilver
Joe Finesilver aka Indian Joe perfected the art of picking the low hanging fruit. He could spot an apple and zero in on them like a torpedo. An apple in Joe's world was one of the many squares who could be separated from their money, not by heavy handed methods but by willingly handing it over.
I've watched him pick apples in different race & sportsbooks. He'd spot his apple, slide right up to them and begin his pitch which was confined to his "brilliant handicapping". Joe could convince an apple he had a game that can't lose. Joe overcame his homeless, unkempt appearance and curmudgeon persona with the confidence of a pitbull. Joe never, ever smiled. Always with a whoa is me look. When he had his apple convinced his 'game that can't lose' can't lose he would give it to him. Two apples got opposite sides of course. When the game ended the one who got the winning side got a visit from Joe looking for his cut, his fee. Believe it or not some gave him a piece of the winnings. Joe kept it simple, maybe $50 or less.
A couple scores a day simply fed Joe's degenerate gambling habit. Maybe he believed his own BS but whatever, didn't matter because all his scam income went right back thru the betting windows. One occasion saw Joe put together a fantastic hand at the craps tables. He cashed out $25,000 but it only took a couple days to lose it back and Joe was once again in his comfort level. He didn't buy any new cloths, car anything of substance. A friend made him rent a room for a couple weeks in advance but that ended with Joe sleeping on the roof of the Rose Bowl race & sportsbook. He was broke, happy and looking for an apple to pick.
Indian Joe Finesilver was constantly rumored to be dead. He'd disappear for weeks or months only to reappear at a Southern Cal racetrack or in the fertel apple orchards of Las Vegas. He still might be out there somewhere.
Jimmy Flood, Middleweight contender, 42-7-2. Jimmy was a fixture in the race & sportsbooks going from one to another as put the bite on anyone he knew. Jimmy was a bit punchy and a bit paunchy. He would put the bite on you but offered you his fists in return. "You need a couple hand grenades" as he took his stance. He implied those hand grenades were for hire but I never knew him to use them. It was easier to give him a double saw and he wouldn't bite you for a month or so. Jimmy always had a smile, closer to a laugh, even as he deteriorated from too many punches. Jimmy left us in 1993 after 63 years entertaining us in the ring and being a friend out of it.
Try Picking Losers
A lady listener to our weekend Stardust Line radio show comes in the racebook and approaches Calvin, a ticket writer who was awake at the time. Calvin had a habit of "resting his eyes" as he put it. Calvin was a big, soft-spoken black kid, a harmless teddy bear. He’s just sitting there, and this lady hands him $20,000. She wants to leave it and have Calvin bet it on the steam football games and call her with the teams. She was from San Diego and was under the impression we had such arrangements. Of course, we didn’t since that would be against every law and regulation known to man.
Anyways, Calvin writes her a receipt on some kind of Stardust form he dug up, gets her phone number, and the $20,000 goes into his pocket. Calvin just went from a broke ticket writer, sleeping in the lounge on occasion to owner of a $20,000 bankroll. All he has to do is wait till the games he gives her lose, the money is "used up" and he’s home free. The $20,000 is his. What a plan. Calvin never, ever won so this would be easy. Just give her his usual string of losers and he’s home free.
The hitch in his plan now bites him. He can’t pick losers either. The teams he’s giving the lady are winning. He's trying to lose as usual and can't. She "runs it up" and wants to cash out. That’s when I get a call from GM John Minor and Casino Mgr Richard Schuetz to come upstairs, now!! We figure it out and Calvin is in a real jackpot, big trouble. They had to appease the lady and punish Calvin.
The $20,000, who knows? That was years ago. My guess is Calvin bet it on the other team and lost both ways.
Crying Kenny was the biggest complainer in the history of LV. He was world class in variety of curse words, volume, endurance, originality, and annoyance. No one could sweat a game (worry about the outcome) like Kenny. Kenny bet sides (teams) but mostly totals (bet over or under the combined score of both teams) for big money. He could have the over or the under. First pitch, first basket, fumble, pass, coin toss didn’t matter. It was a disaster as far as he was concerned, and the crying and bitching would start. It was the loudest, most gut-wrenching complaining you've ever heard. Every pitch. Every snap of the ball. Every play, he would bitch and curse. He really was pissed off, and he'd stay that way the whole game. Kenny got incredibly drunk. He’d come in to Churchill on an NFL Sunday with two-fifths of whiskey or whatever he was drinking, a big bucket of ice, and he'd set it up on top of the cigarette machine. It was his own booze buffet. The game would start, and he’d start watching, drinking, and bitching. And he'd never quit. The regulars were used to him and could ignore him, like background noise. The tourists, that was another story since they didn’t understand him. Crying Kenny might have been the best show on the Strip.
Once at Bill Dark's Del Mar in North Las Vegas, he was cursing, shouting at the TV, and really had some momentum built up. He left suddenly, and we were all relieved, but the door swung open and there was Kenny. He just went out to his Cadillac, came back with his gun, and shot the TV. Hard to imagine but absolutely true.
Crying Kenny was a Texan with a sick sense of humor. He'd say, "Tom Landry, you son of a bitch. I hope the Russians launch a missile, and it lands right in Dallas." He offended every ethnic group, religion, and both sexes (back then there were only two). Once at the Stardust, as the showroom line snaked around the back of the sports book, Kenny looked at the line of tourists, who were looking at him, and said, "I wish I had a machines gun. I’d mow all you son of a bitches down." He got so drunk and pissed I once saw him take his expensive, tan leather coat and rip the buttons off one by one. He'd reach into his pants and claw his balls. He got so mad one Sunday in Churchill he put his head down like a bull and charged right into the wall, full speed, and bounced off. Like good Texas stock, he shook it off.
Another NFL Sunday, I was at my window, and Kenny said, "I'm gonna go jump in the fountains at Caesars. You wanna come?" Me: "Nah, that's okay. I think I'll stay here. El Passo (pass) on that Kenny." Next day, we heard they arrested Crying Kenny for jumping into the fountains at Caesars Palace, and took him downtown to sober him up. When being booked, he gave them a fictitious name. Kenny had a soggy $8,000 in his pocket when he got arrested, and he forgot the name he gave them. They gave him a hard time getting his cash back. All he wanted to do was lose it at the betting windows.
Crying Kenny was usually in the bag, but well groomed, white hair always neat pre-rants. A slightly plump Texan, Kenny always had a new Cadillac and remained a mystery man. We never completely knew where he got his money. All we knew was he had a lot of it, he loved to bet, and he loved to bitch. Crying Kenny eventually disappeared. Nobody knew what happened to him, but whatever it was, he wasn’t the favorite. Kenny assured himself the underdog role: drunk, big diamond ring, Caddy, cash.
While waiting for the Steelers/Chiefs matchup I remember the greatest Pitt/Pirates/Steelers cheerleader of all time, Tiger Paul Auslander. To portray Tiger, without a seeing him in person, isn't possible. To see him in action, even for a minute, would give more insight into Tiger Paul than writing a novel about him. Tiger was a little, pudgy guy with a haircut that was atrocious in those days but would be cool today. He lived on the cheap in a Las Vegas motel room while eating mostly comped meals. Car, clothes, or a night out, fugedaboudit. He was by no means broke though. His only noticeable expense was betting sports, and in retrospect, his only interest in life was sweating games. Tiger Paul was from Pittsburgh where he delivered papers and had a successful sports score service. He had over one hundred phone customers on his score service. He once confided in me "people think I’m dumb, but I make more than most of them and don’t pay taxes."
Paul appointed himself as an unofficial cheerleader for his beloved Pirates and Pitt Panthers. He'd get up on the Pirates dugout, run back and forth, flailing his arms in windmill fashion, and Three Rivers Stadium would go nuts. Every team has one of these guys but none like Tiger Paul. He carried it to the extreme. Ted Turner, owner of the Braves, tried to get Paul to cheer for the Braves. He brought Paul to Atlanta and wined and dined him, as much as you could a guy like Tiger. Tiger wouldn’t budge, he was a Burgher (Pittsburgher). He should have considered the offer because the Pirates told him to take a hike when he wanted on their payroll and to go on the road with them.
When the football Panthers upset Notre Dame under Jackie Sherrill, Sports Illustrated (2/18/1974) ended their coverage by giving Tiger Paul credit for getting the crowd into it: "With all the success, it remained for a 30-year-old newspaper delivery boy named Tiger Paul Auslander to get the campus aroused…" The article continues: "For basketball Tiger Paul wears a white shirt, tie and old letter sweater as he leads the Pitt team onto the floor and conducts cheers from the sidelines. Tiger's antics, which include tearing off the sweater and tie, pin wheeling his arms, dashing into team huddles and belly-flopping along the hardwood, were an embarrassment to the school administration. But the students liked him so much he was allowed to stay, and even to go on road trips. The other day Tiger Paul threw his arm out of whack exhorting the Panthers to another victory. Later, a radio announcer read off the Pitt hospital report: Knight—bruised shoulder. Martin—damaged thigh. Tiger Paul—pulled arm muscle. When you're 19-1, even the cheerleader's injury is news."
The students ignored their cheerleaders but would cheer with Tiger. It all came to a head one game when the Pitt cheerleading coach went after Paul and ripped his white shirt during a basketball game. Tiger demanded an apology from the cheerleading coach in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. The dean of students backed the cheerleaders and their coach, and the basketball coaches backed Paul. They said Tiger was valuable to their success on the floor. The whole city became involved.
Tiger says unless he gets an apology and a new white shirt he’ll go over to Duquesne to cheer. The Pitt coaching staff is behind Paul and are trying to persuade him to stay with Pitt. Bettors would try to find out if Paul was in or out like he was the point guard. They figure he’s worth about 1.5 points. It finally ends up with the Pitt cheerleading coach quitting and the dean eventually leaves Pitt also. Paul wins. The whole thing became an absurd comedy. Paul once told me he doesn’t use up his momentum until the team needed a boost. He didn’t just cheer just to be cheering, he picked his spots (+1.5 pts).
Tiger headed for Las Vegas in the mid-70s. I'm working in Churchill Downs sportsbook when in walks this little guy dressed in a pirates costume. It was black and gold, but we didn’t equate that with the Pittsburgh kind of Pirate. Lots of characters were ignored and got the freeze in Churchill, but it was hard to ignore a pirate standing in your midst. No one knew what to make of him, especially since a pirate didn’t equate to anything within our circle. That soon ended when he began to run up and down in front of the sports counter flailing his arms windmill style. He would stop, close his trigger finger, put the knuckle in his mouth, squint and bite the knuckle all the while shaking his head. Then back to the windmill. This all was done at full throttle, 110 percent emotion, he left nothing on the floor. One of our customers correctly nailed him as Pittsburgh’s Tiger Paul. Paul’s Las Vegas run had started.
He brought two $30,000 certificates with him on his move to LV and began betting, mostly totals. Five dollars or ten dollars, it didn’t matter. He'd sweat a $5 parlay from the first pitch, basket or whatever. Tiger mostly just sat there, twirling his hair, with a look of utter despair on his face. As far as he was concerned he never, ever had the right side of a bet. It was never going good, beginning with the first pitch of a four-team parlay. Then when a crucial part of a game came up, so did Paul—full blast into his routine. He could have been in Pitt Stadium, Forbes Field, Three Rivers, or Fitzgerald Field house instead of one of his sportsbook haunts. Downtown, Churchill, the Stardust, it didn’t matter. Those familiar with him weren’t shocked. I can’t say we ignored him, how could you, while some egged him on. Tourists were in shock, "what the hell". Was he having a fit? Was he dangerous?
Myself, being the social worker of the Las Vegas sportsbooks and a Burgher myself, hired him to write tickets at the Stardust one football season. He was a great employee till the first kickoff Saturday morning. Up till that kickoff, Paul was so nice to our customers we had to sweep up the sugar around his window. "Thank you, sir. How would you like your change? Here’s your ticket and good luck, sir." Then the first kickoff, Paul turned his chair around, ignored customers at his window, and started sweating games.
As an employee he couldn’t do his routine behind the counter however' so one Saturday I go into my office, and there’s Tiger lying on the floor, just writhing in his "pain" watching games on my many TVs. That’s it. "Paul, get the f*** outa here." I had to do something, to get him away from the public and hide him from my bosses. The best spot for him was up in the sports boardroom. He’ll have a TV, sports ticker and no one around him. What a great plan. Paul figured a way to screw this up also. He could only put scores and change the odds on the bottom three boards. He was afraid to go up on the ladder platform to get the top three boards. We stumbled through for a while, getting him partially over his fear. Paul was happy up there, we could even hear him singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on occasion through the ductwork while working on his 'nightclub routine'.
Paul came in second in the Boyd Group company-wide talent contest. It was held in the Stardust showroom and featured some great singers, dancers talented Boyd Group employees. Paul did his 'nightclub routine' and had the packed showroom in stitches. Not a lick of talent, not a hint, but he didn’t know that. He thought he was a legit showman. He placed second and pissed some more talented performers off, but that’s entertainment.
Our race and sportsbook Christmas party in 1988 was held in an upscale Italian restaurant off the Strip. We had a big room to ourselves but in full view of other diners. Paul was the entertainment. He came running out from backstage (the kitchen actually) grabbed the microphone and did his Sinatra songs—ones he choreographed up in the boardroom. He just knew he was good, we understood him, but the other diners didn’t know what to think. Was he a comedian? What the hell? Most just kept their heads down, kept eating and pretended he wasn’t there. We got him. What a great night.
Tiger would move on to other endeavors. Legendary gambler and hotel/casino owner Jackie Gaughn liked Paul and gave him a writing job downtown in his El Cortez. Paul blew that juice job also when he asked Jackie to loan him $6,000 to chase a bet he lost. Tiger had a scheme that he figured he could grind out a living. You know the one—if you lose your first bet, you then double up on the next one and the next till you win. Tiger had it figured if he started with a $5 lay down, he'd have to lose fourteen straight to go tapioca (tapped out, broke). The trouble came when Paul broke his system of starting with a $5 bet. He bet $500 on the initial bet. He never won another. Paul turned into a despondent, depressed figure. The fun, the spirit was gone. So was most of the sizable BR he nursed and accumulated. He's now a tragic figure.
This last event is amusing if not ironic and exposes an unhappy, disturbed individual. Paul calls up a good friend of his—we’ll leave him nameless—and Tiger says he’ll give him $2,000 to shoot him. The friend replies "Tiger you’ve got money left—wait till you’re broke." Paul later took his own life, alone in his motel room. Tiger Paul took the edge off some rough times for us. His memories still do.
Eddie "Fast Eddie" DeLeo passed on much too early at age 42 but while with us he sure made the most of it. His livelyhood was furnished courtesy of some very big guys in Las Vegas. These guys, mostly Black Book entries, generated so much money they had to bet to get rid of it. They were mostly followers and Fast Eddie was their beard. Eddie spent every waking hour in the Stardust going from our racebook to the sports book and when we closed he headed for the poker room or, on the square, he sat at the big horse machine, the one with those little horses running around a track. Didn't matter, he rooted for his horse like he was at Santa Anita.
Eddie was given a bankroll, usually in the six figures to bet every day. He ran, literally ran, between the book and the phones on the other side of the casino to get his orders. Once on a sprint he knocked over a tourist and as the poor guy was sprawled on the floor Eddie threw a cecil at him and kept going.
He would get his order on the phone and sprint back to the book. He usually had the correct side to get down on but on occassion he screwed it up. He once middled himself, he layed Notre Dame -7.5 and took the dog + 6.5. It fell Notre Dame by 7. Blunders like that and the fact Eddie couldn't resist the call "new shooter comming out" as he passed the crap pit on his way to the phone he was always working off a figure that he never overcame. Who knows what it was when his heart quit.
He once came running back to the book with an order that we said "Eddie we're burried with that side" so he says "OK you tell me who to bet on".
One day in the racebook Eddie had an order on a horse at Arlington. It was a foggy day in Chicago and the similcast on our screens was impossible to see. Didn't matter. They're off and our man is staring at a fogged up TV screen and rooting like he could see the horses. " I see him, he's gonna do it". He couldn't see squat, didn't matter though he still had a bankroll to get rid of. RIP Eddie.
Joe Robino Jr
The 2016 Presidential election had nothing on the 1976 version, at least in Las Vegas, when Joe Robino Jr threw his huge hat in the ring. Joe Rubino Jr. was a huge man; I’d make the over/under 350 pounds. Joe Jr. and his dad Joe Sr. were from Atlanta and were Churchill regulars. Both were extra sharp when booking and betting was involved. That's where the sharp designation ends
Joe Sr. would sit in Churchills sportsbook and make you a number on any pitch, on any play, on any situation in any sport. However, these odds were “must bets,” meaning if you asked for a price, you were obligated to make a bet.
Joe Sr. owned a newspaper and hotel in Georgia. Joe Jr. was a decent handicapper and a bookmaker in his own right, but he was certifiably goofy. So goofy in fact he ran for president – not of the Rotary Club, but of the United States. Goofier yet, he bet he would carry two states. Bob Martin gave him some ridiculously long odds, and Joe Jr. actually bet his money with some big guys around town.
Joe called his party the Peace Party. He had a Secretary of Defense and State picked out. His campaign headquarters were in the Casbah Hotel downtown. Joe campaigned quite a bit in Churchill where he handed out daily Peace Party sports schedules with his party’s logo, slogans and platform printed on them. One day during his campaign, he comes into Churchill (remember, he’s a huge guy) wearing nothing but white boxer shorts, t-shirt and a necktie. He starts shouting, “They locked me out of my room!” He was comped in the Sahara Hotel at the time. “They locked me out. They won’t let me in.”
He was ranting, raving and took a seat in the back row. In a bit, top Las Vegas handicapper Ray Vara shows up. Ray’s in his pajamas and bathrobe since it’s basketball season. (This was his regular attire until the Final Four and nobody thought anything of it.)
Ray spots Joe. Joe owed Ray serious money. Ray goes over to Joe, says he wants his money, and starts beating on him. Joe just lifts up one huge ham to defend himself, hiding behind his huge, fat leg.
Here's Ray in his pajamas and bathrobe pounding on Joe in his underware and necktie. Finally we pull Ray off, and Joe, in all sincerity says, “I’m a presidential candidate. You can’t do that to me.” He was dead serious. He goes to the pay phones outside, calls the Sheriff, the Feds, the Secret Service, everybody he can think of, saying, “I’m a presidential candidate and I demand protection.”
Soon, the trauma unit shows up. They see Joe sitting in the grass in front of Churchill, still ranting. Having had previous dealings with him they knew how to handle it, and soon Joe quits squawking and gets in the ambulance, riding shotgun like it’s all normal as they drive off to the psych ward.
But Joe wasn’t completely nuts. He spent his entire psych ward stay taking action on sports, not his presidential aspirations.
Yes, Joe lost the presidency, he didn’t even get on the ballot wink,wink but he did do the honorable thing and paid off his bets.
More Joe Jr
Each Joe Robino recolection is goofier than the last one. There's the time he became pissed at a local street bookmaker and published every BM he knew along with their phone numbers and handed them out. That ended with him going across the Strip to the Dunes and wedging his 350 lbs under a craps table. He wouldn't come out or maybe he couldnt. Anyways Dunes owner Sid Wyman comes down and pleads with Joe to come out. Sid was a grandfatherly type man, a fellow Churchill loafer and familier with Joe. So here's the Owner of a Major Strip hotel trying to talk a slob out from under one of his craps tables. Eventually Joe surrenders, his self imposed hostage situation is resolved with no penalties rendered.
A Saturday afternoon in 1984-85, with me in charge of The Stardust race/sportsbook, the hostess from our Palm Room Resturant comes to the sportsbook and asks for me in a panic. She tells me a huge man is in the resturant and he's raising all kinds of hell. She comes to me because I comped him to the reaturant. I figured the best way to get him out of the book was to feed him. I go down there and sure enough Joe is the main attraction, the best show on The Strip.
Joe has eaten all the condiments. Next he poured a pitcher of ice water on his head because he claimed he was too hot and we were predijuced against fat people. Moreover he was going to sue for discrimination. That's it. "SECURITY". They threw him out and I'm not sure they opened the door either.
by Scott Schettler
The NCAA Basketball Championship aka March Madness is not as maddening as it once was for those of us who were behind the scenes years ago, before the cookie cutter lines of today.
Today’s sportsbooks open after their personnel in charge wake from a good night’s sleep, breakfast at a reasonable time and not exerting much energy or input into the information they’re about to put on their odds boards. Fire up their computers, copy the offshore numbers or use a local line service, change a few games a half point and call the line yours. Much less aggravation, frustration and energy involved compared to what we did to open the Stardust sportsbook each and every day.
Then most sportsbooks just used our work instead of the offshores and don’t get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with this as far as I’m concerned. Now jump ahead to today. All those who think any Las Vegas sportsbook today actually makes their own numbers on sides and totals raise your hand. No hands that I can see.
We must have been nuts or else what we did was a labor of love. I’d say both. We started work on the next day’s games as soon as the current games were done and the scores were in. Jim Feist’s National Sports Service did all the work on the schedule, matchups, times etc.
We actually made our own numbers on those games.
We had three oddsmakers on the payroll at the Stardust. Most important to us was Roxy Roxborough and his Las Vegas Sports Consultants. We also employed Jerry “the hat” Taffell, Kenny White and his dad Pete. To complete this sausage making process our supervisors Richard Saber, Sylvestor Vallella and Patty Garrett added their input.
I had my own opinion and was the final say on the numbers we booked, not because I was smarter than anyone else. Far from it, in fact. I only hired decision makers who I considered to be smarter than me. There’s no way in hell I could make a line without other input.
I was the final say simply because I didn’t want my supervisors to move numbers. They didn’t want to look bad if the numbers were off. It would be my fault not theirs so now they were free to move numbers the way they should be moved, i.e. according to our action.
We opened every day at 8 a.m. sharp with a new menu to a SRO crowd. Our line went out around the country and if ever, God forbid, we were late the Stardust switchboard would light up like a Christmas tree. People from all over wondered if the Stardust was on fire or worse.
Why else would the line be late? Then after we had the day’s games booked and scores in we started on the next day’s menu. Win or lose we had to be ready by 8 a,m.
It was an enormous amount of frustrating work and responsibility. I think it must have taken its toll but I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but only if I had the same people helping me. Thanks Roxy, Jerry, Pete, Kenny, Richard, Syl, Patty, Richard Schuetz and the rest of Stardust management who let me do my job.It won’t be long, really only a couple decades from now, and there won’t be anyone left who remembers Lefty Rosenthal and the Stardust, Harry Gordon’s Churchill Downs, the great Bob Martin and Gene Mayday’s Little Caesars which wasn’t so little when taking bets.Sammy Cohen and his Santa Anita Race & Sportsbook is already forgotten as is Al Mangarelli and The Rose Bowl, which would later be owned by the infamous Gary Austin.
Very few even now remember Jimmy “The Greek” and his early 60s Hollywood book or the other downtown store front joints like the Derby, Saratoga (later called Leroy’s) or Bill Dark and his Del Mar out in North Las Vegas. Those days of numbers shopping from book to book are no longer necessary. Finding a good number was like getting what you wanted for Christmas.
The Westgate will still be around as will Caesars, The MGM, Bally’s, Mirage and so on. They might be booking UFC fights between robots or become eSports arenas with racing and sports becoming a sideline of proposition bets.
What won’t be around or remembered is the Rivera, The Sport of Kings or The Hole in the Wall Sportsbook in The Castaways. Hand held parlay cards don’t have a prayer. Gone from memory will be FM and Hershy and The Burger Hut along with Wednesday Nite Fights upstairs in The Silver Slipper; Chuck Di Rocco and Sports Form simulcasting company (not to be confused with the former name of this publication) that brought Las Vegas the first ever live horse racing simulcast, the J.K. Sports Schedule, Ken Swanson with his wall race boards and race disseminating company. Up North the Reno Turf Club, Carson Victory Club and Artichoke Joe’s will be long forgotten.
Sports betting will evolve and morph into whatever the market and circumstances in the country dictate. We can’t halt advancement or the march of time. Those joints and the characters who haunt them are history. One room school houses and widget factories are gone just as the bookie joints and current betting rules will also disappear. Time marches on so we have to get with the times or get out of the way.