Bookmakers hailing from sports betting culture-rich neighborhoods of the East Coast took the top two spots in our 2021 Bookies Battle.
Closing the regular season with back-to-back 12-win weeks, Max Schmerin, Sportsbook Manager at Rivers Casino Pittsburgh, finished in first place, claiming the $3,000 top prize. Schmerin picked winners at a 58% clip, going 156-111 on the season.
Duane Colucci, Race and Sports Manager at Rampart Casino in Las Vegas, came in second with a 153-114 record (57%) to win $1,000.
Max grew up in Pittsburgh – the hometown of legendary bookmakers like Jack Franzi, Jimmy Vaccaro, and Franzi’s nephews Chris Andrews and Art Manteris. He played Division 1 tennis at Youngstown State in Ohio, located in another town known for its sports betting history.
In fact, he worked under Vaccaro when the Las Vegas veteran returned to Pittsburgh for a brief stint in 2019 before heading back to the South Point in Sin City.
“It was pretty cool to have worked with Jimmy Vaccaro,” Schmerin told Gaming Today, “kind of showing me how Vegas works and every morning coming in and saying, ‘Hey kid, let me tell you a story,’ and always having a reference point and helping immerse me in the industry.”
Schmerin got his start in the casino business as an intern in slots operations in 2015. From there, he became a slots supervisor, but the legalization of sports betting was on the horizon, and Andre Barnabei, VP of Gaming at Rivers’ joint in Pittsburgh, tabbed Max for the sportsbook.
“He sat me down and told me how great an opportunity this was. I was just so excited to be part of something new and growing,” Max recalls. “…. I just thought, imagine how big this could be down the road. …. This was just a fantastic opportunity. I just took full advantage and ran with it.”
Duane grew up in Queens, New York, around some of the neighborhood bookies who serviced the borough. After graduating from Christ the King High School, he attended Queensborough Community College, “like one exit from Belmont Park,” where he could be found on daily basis. His dad took him upstate every summer to bet the ponies at Saratoga.
With gambling in his blood, Colucci moved to Vegas when he was 20 years old and enrolled in dealer school on Fremont Street downtown. He then landed a gig dealing craps and blackjack, took a break from the casino business to help out at his father’s cigar shop, and was soon approached by Sid Diamond and Eric St. Clair, who ran the sportsbook at Rampart he frequented.
“(They) said, ‘Duane, why don’t you get into the business?,’” Colucci said this week. “I had a knack for it. I grew up all around it in Queens. I was at the track every day.”
In those days, the Rampart posted its own lines (the book is now associated with and offers the same product as the South Point, run by Vaccaro and Andrews), and Colucci moved up in the organization, from ticket writer to supervisor to making parlay cards and adjusting lines.
Bookies Battle Playoff Pool
Schmerin and Colucci lead a group of 11 bookmakers heading to the playoff portion of our Bookie Battle.
Here are the contenders for the $1,000 first-place prize:
1. Max Schmerin (Rivers)
2. Duane Colucci (Rampart)
3. Nick Smith (Snoqualmie)
4. Mike Lewis (Suncoast)
5. Bert Cirincione (GVR)
6. Marc VanderWeele (DraftKings)
7. Edwin Ruvalcaba (The Orleans)
8. Robert Kowalski (Baldini’s)
T9. Michael Smoller (Wildfire)
T9. Art Heun (Gold Strike)
T9. Brian Hebert (Harrah’s)
Friday, we’ll be analyzing the wild-card picks of the remaining contestants and sharing some insights from our winners, Schmerin and Colucci.