Goofy Joe was a memorable Vegas character

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Churchill’s sportsbook was the hub of sports betting because of Bob Martin. His odds and influence spread throughout the country. He was the “go to” guy whose word was the Bible, the final say in any beef or quandary brought before him.

Bob took big action, especially on boxing, but one bet he booked is for the ages. It is 1976, Bob is gone from Churchill but still in action. He books a bizarre bet on the presidential election with Joe Rubino, Jr.

Rubino for president

Joe Rubino Jr. was a huge man; I’d make the over/under 350 pounds. Joe Jr. and his dad Joe Sr. were from Atlanta and were Churchill regulars. Both were extra sharp.

Joe Sr. would sit in Churchill and make you a number on any pitch, on any play, on any situation in any sport. However, these odds were “must bets,” meaning if you asked for a price, you were obligated to make a bet.

Joe Sr. owned a newspaper and hotel in Georgia. Joe Jr. was a decent handicapper and a bookmaker in his own right, but he was certifiably goofy. So goofy in fact he ran for president – not of the Rotary Club, but of the United States.

Goofier yet, he bet he would carry two states. Bob gave him some ridiculously long odds, and Joe Jr. actually bet his money with some big guys around town.

Joe called his party the Peace Party. He had a Secretary of Defense and State picked out. His campaign headquarters were in the Casbah Hotel downtown.

Joe campaigned quite a bit in Churchill where he handed out daily Peace Party sports schedules with his party’s logo, slogans and platform printed on them. One day during his campaign, he comes into Churchill (remember, he’s a huge guy) wearing nothing but white boxer shorts, t-shirt and a necktie.

He starts shouting, “They locked me out of my room!” He was living in the Sahara Hotel at the time. “They locked me out. They won’t let me in.”

He was ranting, raving and took a seat in the back row; Joe was a back row guy. In a bit, top Las Vegas handicapper Ray Vara shows up. Ray’s in his pajamas and bathrobe since it’s basketball season. (This was his regular attire until the Final Four and nobody thought anything of it.)

Ray spots Joe. Joe owed Ray serious money. Ray goes over to Joe, says he wants his money, and starts beating on him. Joe just lifts up one huge ham to defend himself, hiding behind his huge, fat leg.

Finally we pull Ray off, and Joe, in all sincerity says, “I’m a presidential candidate. You can’t do that to me.” He was dead serious. He goes to the pay phones outside, calls the sheriff, the feds, the Secret Service, everybody he can think of, saying, “I’m a presidential candidate and I demand protection.”

Soon, the trauma unit shows up. They see Joe sitting in the grass, still ranting. Having had previous dealings with him they knew how to handle it, and soon Joe quits squawking and gets in the ambulance, riding shotgun like it’s all normal as they drive off to the psych ward.

But Joe wasn’t completely nuts.  He spent his entire psych ward stay taking action on sports, not his presidential aspirations.

Yes, Joe lost the presidency, he didn’t even get on the ballot, but he did do the honorable thing and paid off his bets.

A crazy dice game

Another time, Joe was upset about something, so he went across the Strip to the Dunes and wedged himself under a craps table. He got stuck and no one could get him out.

Sid Wyman, who owned the Dunes, started talking to him, “Come on, Joe, come on out of there. Let’s talk about it.”

Sid was a really nice, grandfatherly type man. “Come on out, Joe. We can talk about this,” Sid calmly pleaded.

Meanwhile, the game went on. Shooters coming out, dealers announcing the game, all oblivious to the fat man wedged under the table and their boss, trying to coax him out.

Eventually, Joe worked himself out. Most thought he got hungry.

Too hot for Joe

Sometime in the 80’s when I’m running the Stardust race and sports book, Joe is back in my life. He shows up at the sports counter and asks me for a comp to eat.

My first thought after “Oh, no,” was: What can I do to get him the hell out of the book?

“Yeah, Joe, here you go.” I wrote him a comp for the Palm Room. 

Shortly, the hostess comes to see me. She’s really upset and tells me,“Some guy’s down there who you comped. He ate all the condiments – all the jelly, and asked for more. Then he poured ice water over his head. Now he won’t leave.”

So I go down to the Palm room and ask him to please leave. He won’t.

Joe claims the Stardust is prejudiced against fat people. That’s why he poured ice water on his head. He said it was too hot for fat people and he’s going to sue the Stardust for being prejudiced against fat people.

“Security!”

I never saw Joe again, but then he wasn’t the favorite to survive.

Take care, Scotty

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,  is available on amazon.com. Contact Scotty at [email protected].

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