Former Las Vegas bookmaker Bert Osborne has proven you can go home again, but that it’s a heck a lot more fun if they’ve got legalized sports betting there.
It’s going on nearly four years since Osborne, part of the famous Western Pennsylvania connection that ran so many Nevada sports books during the industry’s heyday, left Vegas to return to the Pittsburgh suburb of Fayette City.
He’s a cancer survivor who went back home to help care for his ailing parents. His father, Bert Sr., passed away in March. His mother, Shirley, 86, has battled through Parkinson’s, breast cancer and a broken hip suffered a year ago at this time. Osborne is living in the home where he grew up. The holidays are a reminder of why he came back.
“Being a caregiver has brought me to a whole new world of what life is all about,” Osborne said during a recent telephone interview while sitting in the new sports book at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, a 45-minute drive from where he lives. “That first year (after leaving Vegas) I think I was at Pittsburgh hospitals more than I was home. One time my mother was checking out and my dad was checking in.
“But I got lucky. I got to spend two years with my dad. How many people can do that? So I feel pretty good. This Christmas is for my mother. She’s like 95 pounds. She’s all bones, but she keeps on going. I’m not guaranteeing she’s going to be here next year. This whole Christmas is going to be built around her. I tell her my goal is to make every day comfortable for her. We’ll make it a nice Christmas.”
Osborne, 63, has had to overcome his own health issues since being diagnosed in September 2013 with bladder cancer. He was in charge of the South Point sports book at that time, but ended up being replaced by Jimmy Vaccaro. It ended a 31-year career that started as a ticket writer at the old Barbary Coast.
“I spent a lot of time going back and forth to Los Angeles (for treatments),” Osborne said. “It really took a toll on me, mentally and physically. I wasn’t able to give work the full amount of time.”
Of his departure, Osborne said: “It was one of those things.It was for the best. I had a great career. I enjoyed it. I wanted to get back and help my family.”
Osborne, who worked in a steel mill for about nine years before moving to Vegas, said he’s had several surgeries since first being diagnosed, including two in the last 14 months.
He feels particularly fortunate doctors caught the cancer in its early stages.
“Everything’s good right now,” he said. “I’m feeling good. There’s a strong cancer unit here. So I’m in a pretty good place if anything goes sideways.”
Osborne has been a regular at the Rivers Casino sports book since it opened nearly two weeks ago. He’s also become active on Twitter (@BertLOsborneJr2) in recent months, often posting about sports-betting issues. He has considered trying to get back in the business, but neither the money nor the role has been attractive to this point. He called the potential jobs nothing but “glorified administrators.”
“I want to be where the action is, moving the lines,” Osborne said. “Once you’ve done that, you can’t go back. There’s just something in you that you can’t.”
Micah Roberts, a former race and sports director for Station Casinos and a current columnist for Gaming Today, called Osborne “One of the smartest bookmakers I’ve ever known.”
For now, Osborne plans to stick with making the bets instead of taking them.
“I’d rather the challenge of playing on this side of the counter,” he said. “I’ve just enjoyed sitting here watching them (younger bettors). That’s what’s fun now. There was a kid running up and down the book like he was riding a horse to celebrate (a winning bet). I missed this. I forgot what this was all about.”