In my opinion, the best handicapper of them all was “The Spaniard,” Ray Vara.
Bob Martin made the best bookmakers line, it was unimpeachable. Vara’s were betting numbers. You couldn’t book with Ray’s numbers but you could sure tell when the BMs had a bad number or a wrong favorite. He handicapped baseball and football, but it was college baskets he was most dangerous in.
Ray made a couple fortunes betting. Money was useless to him, except to bet with. If he won $20,000, he might bet it all on a four-team parlay. Sometimes the money would just pile up. Once the feds raided his safe deposit box in the Dunes and confiscated $500,000, which he never got back. Ray’s weakness was managing his winnings. He could win 14 of 15 games, and if the final one of the day was a loser, he could end up tapioca (tapped out).
Once I bought two pieces of electronic equipment from M, who was an “electrician” around town. M kept lots of phone lines clean. These things were supposed to alert you when your phone was bugged (they didn’t). Well, I took Ray’s over to the Vara house, and was going to install it for him. Simple, just hook it to the phone jack.
Ray was in his office in his pajamas. He wore pajamas for the duration of basketball season. I grabbed a line from a phone on Ray’s desk, and was following it to the floor where the jacks were. Ray got uneasy and insisted that I let him hook it up. Too late, I found the jack, moved the rug, and there set a hollowed out space full of money. I found a stash the feds must have missed.
Ray and I became close while I was working at Churchill. One day in basketball season 1976, I ask him if so and so was out for some obscure college team. He answered “how’d you know he’s out?” I told him I noticed he was missing from their last box score. Vara, the greatest, was quizzical. How did I get the box score so quick and why would I notice this player was out?
Well, I told him I had two friends, Joe and Charlie, who I met through Churchill. They worked for TWA Airlines in the warehouse. Joe and Charlie had the cleaning crew on incoming flights save sports pages passengers brought in from all over the country. I would go daily to the airport and pick them up. I had injuries and game information hours before others in Vegas in many cases.
Remember, the Internet wasn’t around.
Next week: Part 2.
Scotty Schettler began his Las Vegas journey in 1968. By the time he quit the race and sports book business he had booked over $1.5 billion for different employers. He says he knows where most of the cans are buried. His book, is available on amazon.com. Contact Scotty at [email protected].