Steubenville had gambling, hometown pride
August 14, 2018 3:00 AM
by Robert Mann
As legal sports betting blooms nationally, book after book is seeking just the right person to head their operation. I’ve even been asked to recommend someone willing to move back east to take a job in West Virginia.
The suggestion here is to put an ad in newspapers in Pittsburgh and Youngstown and Steubenville, Ohio.
That’s because that small region of the country delivered to Las Vegas a significant number of individuals to deal blackjack and craps at Caesars Palace in its early years. Additionally, numerous natives of that part of the country (some now retired) continue to remain on the frontlines in Nevada casinos, especially in the world of race and sports, having heavily influenced the industry.
Among them are the retired Bert Osborne and his successor at the South Point, Chris Andrews. Others include South Point colleague Jimmy Vacarro, the late Robert “Muggsy” Muniz, Art Manteris, Johnny Spot, Jerry Ludt, Tom Blazek, Tommy Saber and many, many others.
Before I hang up my keyboard, which, I hope is far, far in the future, I’d love to compile a list of all the race and sportsbook employees and blackjack and craps dealers, for that matter, that over the years migrated here from Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania.
Feel free to email me any I have missed (and I’m sure there are many).
In trying to understand the reasons behind this, I spoke with my GamingToday colleague Richard Saber, an extremely proud native son of Steubenville along with Dean Martin, of course, and Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder.
According to Saber, when growing up in Steubenville he never realized gambling was illegal. “One of the first things I remember is my father always taking Sunday off from his restaurant. We lived downtown and, along with brother Tommy, the three of us would walk down to what was called a “cigar store” and go in. I can still smell the cigar smoke, even now. Anyway, my dad would play a punch card and then we’d go into the back room.”
He continued, “What I loved about it was once you got in the back room, you were on a different planet. My dad loved to bet his $5 baseball parlay and that’s where he’d do it. They even had free sandwiches. We loved it.”
Stated quite frankly by Saber, “That’s how I learned about gambling as a six-year-old. I loved it.”
The thought here is most of the other Western Pennsylvania/Eastern Ohio boys had a similar experience. Saber even got a bit of the gambling bug from his mother, Mary, who booked the numbers while working as crossing guard at the high school. “The teachers who liked to play the numbers all bet with her,” he recounted.
Saber learned many of the basics of gambling on the arm of his father, including that it was the bookmaker who was driving the new Cadillac and the bettor, who just borrowed fifty cents from his dad that drove away in the beat-up Volkswagen.
Saber recalls as he got a little older, while betting the NFL on Sunday, even the policemen would pull up to the cigar store, make a bet or two, say hello to everyone and go back to work.
Saber has a theory as to why the Pittsburgh/Youngstown/Steubenville triangle became the cradle of bookmakers in the same manner that Miami of Ohio became the cradle of coaches for football including Earl Blaik, Paul Brown, Woody Hayes, Bill Arnsparger, George Little, Weeb Ewbank, Sid Gillman, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler, John Pont, Carmen Cozza, Bill Mallory, Jim Tressel, Joe Novak, Ron Zook, Dick Crum, Paul Dietzel, Bill Narduzzi, Randy Walker, John Harbaugh, Nobby Wirkowski, Gary Moeller, Larry Smith, Dick Tomey, Terry Hoeppner, and Sean McVay.
According to Saber, who began his Las Vegas career working under Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal at the Stardust, it lies with the fact that Pittsburgh, Youngstown and Steubenville were steel cities. After these guys got off work at the mill they had very little to do except drink a bit and gamble. The mob had a lot of influence on leisure time activities and, as is often said about Las Vegas in the 1950’s, the mob just wouldn’t stand for any crime.
“Everybody knew each other and most people in a small town like Steubenville didn’t even bother to lock their doors,” he said.
According to Saber, everyone bet with cash in small amounts. There was no credit, so collecting money was not an issue. There were about 15 gambling joints in town and everyone got paid, if they won. Every neighborhood had a bar and they all wrote numbers and had the punchboards.
“There was gambling everywhere, so as my generation grew up, if you didn’t want to go the steel mill to work, you had to move to Las Vegas where gambling was legal,” he said.
Steubenville is a legendary city, Saber points out with great pride, even though its been shrinking in recent years (from 25,000 to 18,000). “Everybody has heard of it. I went to a great high school with great teachers and everyone got a great education. Even though it was a gambling city, everyone led his or her life as a good neighbor.”
Pride in your hometown: anyone who doesn’t have it is surely missing something.