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With the acquisition of Brandywine Bookmaking’s Lucky’s brand by England’s William Hill, and speculation that Brandywine’s head man Joe Asher may become Hill’s point man in Vegas, it’s time Vegans discover who Asher is, where he came from, and how he has moved so fast in the fiercely competitive Las Vegas environment.

I have known him since he was a kid at Brandywine Raceway in Wilmington, Del., now gone and lamented. Asher was driven then as now by determination to succeed and the smarts to back it up. His dad operated a well-known newsstand in Wilmington – Joe started working with him at six – and at 14 he was fortunate enough to find wise and caring foster parents, Buddy Finestrauss, and his wife Andrea.

Joe had become fond of harness racing at Brandywine, knew the track’s crack publicity man Marv Bachrad from casual contact, and called Marv at the track one day, at 16, looking for work.

He had been an exceptional student in high school, and Bachrad had recognized young Joe’s talent. Marv went to the track’s general manager at the time, Hap Hansen, and told Hansen, “We should hire this kid. He is something special.”

Hansen agreed, and Asher began work, for $100 a week.

He left Brandywine, called races at Harrington Raceway and Dover Downs in Delaware, then moved to Foxboro in Massachusetts. He returned home to enroll in the University of Delaware, graduated and moved on to Widener University’s School of Law, and graduated magna cum laude.

Along the way, both Joe and his close friend Chris McErlean, former general manager of the Meadowlands in New Jersey and now a VP with Penn National Gaming, won $5,000 academic scholarships awarded by my old stomping grounds, Harness Tracks of America, to deserving young people in the sport.

His brilliance already demonstrated, Joe obtained a clerkship at the Delaware Supreme Court, and after a year was invited to join the prestigious law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom, one of the best known and most respected in the country.

One of Skadden Arps’ clients was Cantor Fitzgerald, and Asher moved to that account. Like Skadden Arps, Cantor Fitzgerald was quick to recognize his talent, and hired him.

From there Joe grew restless, and moved on to utilize his own ideas and form his own company, Brandywine Bookmaking. In three years it has grown to a firm employing 90, operating 16 sports books in Nevada, including the Riviera, a sports book in the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, and as bookmaker for the Delaware State Sports Lottery. William Hill reportedly is paying $15.7 million for its acquisition of Brandywine.

Asher has accomplished all this at 43, and lives an idyllic life in Vegas with his beautiful wife Cynthia, also a lawyer, who is leaving a post at UNLV to have their second child in July, a sister for their first daughter, now two and one-half.

Micah Roberts, writing for GamingToday, speculates that William Hill may turn to Asher as its point man in Vegas. It would make eminent good sense. There is no one better qualified, more intelligent, or more knowledgeable on gaming, in the state.


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