Jasper Speciale was a New Yorker, Sicilian and mobbed up. Jasper and his partner Bobby “Hunchy” Berent (a Sicilian and a Jew) owned the Tower of Pizza Italian restaurant on the south end of the Strip, past the old Dunes.
One Sunday, 1969, in the July heat of Las Vegas I walk to the Tower looking for a job. They’re not open yet but the front door is open so I go in. I see a guy behind the register and say, “I’m looking for Jasper.”
I’ll never forget the rest.
He has on a blue shirt (always a blue shirt buttoned at the collar). He looks over his granny glasses and says, “I’m Jasper. Can I help you?” It was just him and me in there.
I reply, “Little Nicky sent me; he said you might have a job for me.”
Jasper says, “You wanna work?”
“Well, go get a white jacket and go to work.”
I say, “What do I do?”
“I don’t care what you do. Just do something.” Little Nicky sent me. That was enough for Jasper.
Jasper was exiled from New York by the NYPD. He came to Las Vegas in the early 60’s and began booking out of the Santa Anita race and sports book on the Strip. The Santa Anita was licensed by the Gaming Commission, which didn’t like the arrangement so they kicked him out.
No problem. Jasper opens the Tower of Pizza restaurant, puts out great Italian food and books out of there. He partnered up with Bobby “Hunchy” Berent.
A Sicilian and a Jew. Good parlay. Bobby came by his nickname “Hunchy” because he had a hunched back, he wasn’t offended by the moniker and it wasn’t meant to be either.
Besides booking, Bobby was a great sports handicapper but he loved the horses. Bad parlay. He could make a nice score on sports and blow it all on the horses.
The only time Bobby showed up at the Tower was at 5 a.m. to “work” on the books. Jasper and Bobby booked, loaned out a few dollars, and put out good Italian food.
We made our own bread and were well known for it. Nobody could copy Vince the bread man’s recipe. We made our own sausage, meatballs and sauce. Everything was made from scratch.
Once my friend Frankie Bruno, who was a chef and preparation man, had his weekend work hijacked. Frankie made trays of sausage, meatballs, lasagna and sauce for the weekend. He comes in Sunday morning and goes into the walk-in cooler. He comes out and says we must have had a busy night because most of his stuff is gone.
No, we weren’t extra busy. He finds out Patsy, a friend of Jaspers, came in and said J told him to get the trays and take them to Jasper’s house. Not true. He took the trays of food home and threw a great party. Patsy was a big hit for a night.
The Tower’s atmosphere was laid back. Strip headliners could come in without being hassled. Jasper’s clientele wasn’t impressed with celebrities. The “guys from out of town” would get a table in the side room, quietly have a good Italian dinner, and not be bothered.
The New York crowd stopped by to pay respects to Jasper. After the showrooms closed, maitre d’s, showgirls, dealers, cocktail waitresses and assorted wiseguys headed for The Tower to cap their night. It might be morning before everybody was gone.
If the barmaid was away from the bar, special customers would go behind and pour their own drinks; they’d never forget to put something in the register. They could walk back into the kitchen and tell the cooks how they wanted their food prepared. The system worked well; the cash register was always ahead, waitresses and barmaids were well taken care of and they cut it up with us guys in the back.
I remember Ernie, a Strip maitre d’, coming back and asking me how long it had been since I got a toke. I said, “Geez, I don’t know. We don’t get toked much back here.” He gave me a cecil ($100 bill).
It worked both ways. Walk into a casino then, and if you were connected, worked for the right people, you’d probably hear, “You eat yet? You wanna see the show?” No matter how many people were with you, same thing, “You need anything? You wanna eat?”
Jasper would either be behind the bar or the register. He’d take a phone call and it might go like this: “What’s that? Sausage sandwich, okay…a pizza with pepperoni, okay…and a parlay with Alabama and Oklahoma, okay.” A tourist over hearing this while at the register paying his tab, might wonder what’s an Alabama pizza? You could get a pizza delivered and a parlay on the same phone call.
Jasper Speciale passed away much too early from problems made worse by five years he did in the can. The Feds put him away till he either turned state’s evidence or the grand jury was excused. He refused to turn state’s evidence and spent the entire time in the Federal Penitentiary in Missouri where his health went in the tank.
Jasper finished his days running a flower shop and as gardener at Our Lady of Las Vegas. Sunday’s 6:30 a.m. Mass was called the bookmaker’s Mass. Assorted BMs and bettors went to this early Mass so as not to miss any action.
Jasper later owned J&J Sports, a phone-in line service that his daughter Chris took over. He passed away just after Christmas of 1991, keeping a Christmas tree in his home year around.
“Everyday’s Christmas” he said. His pool out back had bases on the corners and his backyard fence was a replica of Yankee Stadium. Jasper and The Tower can’t be replicated though.
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].