The true Las Vegas Hall of Famers
November 24, 2015 3:00 AM
by Scott Schettler
These guys influenced the evolution of Las Vegas sports betting. As time and technology advanced Vegas kept the headlines and some of the original mystic, but our real place in the betting world has diminished.
Vegas does about 2 percent of the betting handle in the USA and doesn’t register globally. For the most part odds now originate in the offshore books although LV has done a masterful marketing job to maintain the headlines.
Let’s begin with Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel who was cool with the very top gangsters in the country for a while. They financed him in the TransAmerica Racewire Service in 1941 to control the bookies and later the El Cortez downtown in 1945. His demise came in 1946 when he was murdered following his wasting millions of dollars of mob money on the early Flamingo on the Strip.
Dimetrios Georgios Snyodinos aka Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder. Originally from Steubenville, Ohio, he created a Las Vegas mystic involving odds and betting visions (i.e. he was a tout) that swept the country. It was mostly marketing. He wasn’t thought of as particularly sharp by those of us who knew him. In fact, his secretary “Sally the Greek” would call us at Churchill for our odds. It doesn’t matter. He was the first high profile spokesman, a boost for LV. A doomed TV career came after the fact.
Bob Martin. Now we get to real substance, the opposite of The Greek. Bob didn’t need or seek publicity. He was the real deal. Bob booked with his own numbers and bankroll and booked high. Bob’s numbers and his word were The Bible. Bob put the face of legitimacy and integrity on Vegas sports betting. He was good company, and was held in high esteem as a handicapper, bookmaker and gentleman. If there is a No. 1 Bob’s it.
Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal the left hander. Lefty was a visionary recognizing the power of race and sportsbooks as a driving force in the casino churn. He was way ahead of his time in creating the Stardust race and sportsbook in the mid-70s. He made the book a full department instead of an afterthought stuck in a corner.
From his still best-of-all-time race boards to a sportsbook that broke the mold and took big action, he was the forerunner of the huge, mega books of today. I took over that creation of his at the Stardust eventually and it was like getting the keys to a Cadillac. All I had to do was drive and don’t wreck it.
Chuck DiRocco the father of simulcasting live races into Nevada racebooks. He was also the founder of the popular SPORTS FORM weekly that was the precursor of GamingToday. Chuck upgraded racebooks in Vegas forever with his first simulcast from Arlington Park.
Don Bessette, who started a small computerized odds service across from the Stardust where he sent out the Stardust Line throughout the country. After his passing the original 35 customers became Don Best – the huge, worldwide odds service.
Michael “Roxy” Roxborough and I traveled over the deep waters together. He founded Las Vegas Sports Consultants who made numbers for 95 percent of Vegas sportsbooks at the time. Roxy put a positive spin on LV race and sportsbooks as mainstream America got on board big time. He was a spokesman for us and influential in ushering in the Las Vegas sportsbook boom.
We can’t forget Gene Mayday who booked as high as anyone in LV with his own money. His Little Caesars Casino will never be forgotten by anyone who played quarter craps right up to the biggest bettors in Vegas. Right with Gene is Harry Gordon, who owned Churchill Downs on the Strip and Hollywood and the Derby downtown.
Vic Salerno and I also traveled over those same deep waters. Vic was the force behind modernizing the betting industry, bringing it out of the easy to scam, burdensome hand writing days. His Computer Bookmaking System (CBS) was the catalyst after being installed in the Stardust. What once took a full day/night cycle to write and grade tickets was reduced to the push of a computer key.
The Computer Group. Three men (see last week’s column) with different skills joined to form a high tech, computer driven approach to identify the right side of games. They were experts at disguising “their right side” and getting down for as much as possible on the side they wanted. Of the original Computer, Billy Walters emerged as the most successful bettor ever in Las Vegas lore.
Collectively the Nevada Gaming Commission and their enforcement arm the Gaming Control Board. They both have matured from once being lost in the race and sports betting world to becoming the very top two governing bodies in the business worldwide.
They do an excellent job in vetting new games and watching the industry’s back by keeping the federal government at arm’s length. If they weren’t so efficient the Feds would have taken over long ago, and we all know how that scenario would have worked out.
I’m lucky to have known them all but Bugsy.
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, We Were Wise Guys and Didn't Know It is available on amazon.com. Contact Scotty at ScottSchettler@GamingToday.com.