‘Roxy’ offers words of wisdom
June 19, 2018 3:00 AM
by Robert Mann
It’s great to be Roxy.
Iconic Las Vegas oddsmaker extraordinaire Michael “Roxy” Roxborough is far too modest and self-effacing to tell you that himself, but sitting down for lunch at the Peppermill on the Las Vegas Strip recently with one of the seminal figures that helped prompt the staggering growth of Nevada sports wagering, one can’t help but admire his accomplishments and lifestyle.
“I got out of the business at the right time (1999) and really have never looked back,” he told me. “The legalization of sports betting in this country has been a long time coming; in fact, I’ve been waiting for it since the early 1980’s.”
With a distinctive moniker, his trademark designer ties (Gucci, Hermes and others) to go along with fashionable suits and sports coats, say the word “Roxy” and any Nevada bookmaker or seasoned sports bettor will know you are talking about Roxborough.
Now, in what has become an extended retirement, Roxy, 67, spends his time between homes in Thailand and Las Vegas, with stops to visit racetracks in Southern California, New York and even Royal Ascot in England, where mostly likely today, he’s in his dress morning suit watching and betting on the best turf horses in the world.
Because Royal Ascot is, as their website boasts, “synonymous with sartorial elegance,” Roxborough will fit right in.
As I said, it’s great to be Roxy.
The Canadian native’s notoriety stems from his work in the early 1980’s as founder of Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the pioneering oddsmaking firm that helped take bookmaking into a modern, computer-driven era in which sports opening lines began the transition from educated opinion to statistical projection.
His hard, pressured-packed work, long before the internet and even prior to the proliferation of the now-antique technology of fax machines, and view of the future helped shift sports wagering from the dark corners of the gambling world to the multi-billion dollar mainstream pursuit it is today.
Today, sports wagering is one of the few gambling growth areas, especially in Nevada, where entertainment and dining have reduced the state’s reliance on gambling as a revenue source.
After a stint as a college student at American University in Washington, D.C., where as a small-time bookie his dim view of the 1969 “Miracle Mets” meant he had to borrow money to pay off winners, he returned to Vancouver. He arrived in Las Vegas in 1975 where he worked briefly in the sportsbook industry and supplemented his income as a bettor.
When legendary linemaker Bob Martin was experiencing legal trouble, Roxborough, already known for what’s called in the business a “good opinion” was asked by friends to help with baseball lines.
The rest is history.
Chopping off his long red mane, a common fashion statement in those days, Roxy quickly terminated all his betting activity, viewing it as a “conflict of interest” and transitioned to an astute and always nattily attired businessman who, along with the leadership of gaming pioneer Vic Salerno, helped begin the migration from hand-written sports and race tickets to computerized betting, thus planting the seeds and starting to grow the sophisticated wagering platforms bettors and bookies take for granted today.
According to Roxy, his breakthrough came when he began helping The Stardust, Las Vegas’s foremost sportsbook, as a paid consultant, establishing what would become an industry-standard opening line. Having an opening line sought about by the industry meant finding a way to distribute it and Roxy moved from in-person delivery, to fax machines to a direct computer link. When the internet began to take over in 1999, sensing a seismic change in the oddsmaking landscape, he sold out and effectively has been retired ever since.
In those years the off-shore betting outlets began taking big U.S. action and putting out an early line mimicked by Nevada operators. Thus, Roxy’s ultimate wisdom proved he had made the right move.
After selling out he took a five-year non-compete at his own insistence, instead of three, and has been enjoying the good life ever since.
Roxborough currently holds no financial position in any bookmaking or oddsmaking company. However, his knowledge and perspective remain much sought after commodities in Las Vegas and elsewhere.
Regarding the roll out of national sports wagering, he cautions, “if sports betting companies make mistakes and the mistakes are repeated elsewhere, the results could be disastrous. That first impression will be crucial,” Roxborough said.
Roxborough also advises that the so called Nevada sports betting model may only really be viable in Nevada because the Nevada casinos subsidize the sportsbooks through big advertising budgets and by providing a steady stream of customers to the counter. This may not be the case elsewhere.
“Sports betting in Nevada is tied to casinos and has been subsidized by casinos,” he said. “This may work in New Jersey, too, but may not elsewhere.”
He emphasizes that legislators do not have a lot of knowledge when it comes to drafting sports betting laws, so they will look at what exists. He warns that if casinos run sports betting it can be used to drive foot traffic, but “if private businesses are running it they must have mobile apps to achieve any level of success” and that throws any idea of creating jobs totally out the window.
Most interesting among his current view of the industry is his contrarian belief that the various sports leagues should get a cut of the betting action.
In words that are in stark disparity to what bookmakers and most state lawmakers believe, he said, “paying a quarter percent to leagues would be a sensible move for bookmakers. If you don’t pay anything you don’t get anything. There are a whole lot of things a bookmaker could get for that quarter of one percent.”
A veteran of some back-channel sports betting negotiations with the NFL during the 1980s when a quiet move to partially legalize parlay sports betting was underway, Roxy said, “The NFL always has a back-up plan and is ready to get involved with sport betting legislation at some point. We just don’t know exactly what that plan is, just yet.”
Never underestimate the NFL, advises Roxy.
Now a frequently sought out guest on sports talk shows and for interviews, the same could be said for Michael “Roxy” Roxborough, an innovator in the past with a keen eye toward the future.