Gaming icon Mel Exber dies

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Gaming pioneer Mel
Exber died last Saturday in Las Vegas at the age of 78. A resident of Nevada
since 1947, Exber was one of the sports betting industry’s true originals, a
pioneer and visionary.

“He was a real and
talented bookmaker, one of the biggest and best ever,” said Jackie Gaughan,
a long-time friend and business partner. “He was also a great person and a
dear friend.”

After discharge from
the Air Force, Exber landed his first casino job working at the Old Las Vegas
Club, which was owned by Benny Binion. “It had the only sports book in the
state,” Exber told GamingToday in 1994. “Benny leased
out a small space with barely enough room for a ticket counter and scoreboard on
the back wall. I earned the majestic sum of $15 which was paid at the end of
each and every day.”

Born in Brooklyn, Exber
grew up idolizing the Dodgers. In the early days he favored betting on baseball.
“I bet on baseball and continued to work while winning my expenses along
the way.”

After two years, Exber
took a “better job” with Eddie Moss, who put in a sports book at the
old Eldorado Club at Casino center and Fremont Street, where the Horseshoe
stands today. “There, my pay jumpted to $25 a day, still paid on a daily
basis.”

Later, he moved his
operation to the Pioneer Club and then the Desert Inn, “where we took bets
out of a private office.”

Although he knew Jackie
Gaughan, they didn’t become business partners until 1952, when they became
involved in the old Saratoga race and sports book, which later became Leroy’s.

After their lease ran
out, Exber and Gaughan moved to the Derby across the street, then back to the
Saratoga before taking over the Las Vegas Club with Larry Hazzelwood as a
partner in 1961.

In 1963, Gaughan and
Exber invested in the El Cortez and later in the Union Plaza. “You couldn’t
want to be partners with a better man,” Gaughan said.

In addition to his son
Brady Exber, Mel Exber is survived by his wife, Doris, daughter Laurie
Alexander, and brother, Marty, all of Las Vegas; and two grandchildren.

Services were scheduled for Tuesday
(May 14) at 10 a.m., at Temple Beth Sholom, with internment at Palm Memorial
Park.

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