March Madness was years in the making

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I was asked recently what it was like during March Madness when I was at the Stardust. My answer was, “If you weren’t lucky enough to be there, it is just impossible to explain.”

To say that times have changed is an understatement. Just try to imagine no computers, no opening lines from the Islands and hand-written tickets. Just plain, old-fashioned bookmaking.

One good thing was that we thankfully didn’t have to fill out all those government forms when a bettor laid $5,000 or $10,000 on a game, as that law had not yet come into effect.

The day would start at 7 a.m. and we had all eight windows open from that time until we closed after the last game of the day went off. And the lines at the windows never stopped, with bettors coming in with grocery bags full of cash, just laying it on the counter.

As for moving the line, I would have my trusty clipboard in hand and we just charted $500 bets and higher. We would move the line mostly based off of “faces” or limit wagers from the phone station. The “faces” were the wise guy bettors who we knew.

The toughest part of those pre-computer times was getting results to the cashier and for our ticket writers to keep track of all the line moves. Everybody on the staff had to be sharp, and I would say we had some of the sharpest ticket writers in the business.

Now, you can cash a ticket at any window in the sports book after a game is over. Before computers, we had to wait and get a confirmed final score from our Associated Press ticker. Once we got the final, we would give it to the sports cashier — and we only had one — and the cashier would write it down and start to match tickets up to cash.

What a tough job. How they balanced their drawer, and they did for the most part, was a thing of beauty. But the ticket writers, and especially the cashiers, were professionals and had to know the game.

At the time, we only had wagers on the sides. There was no totals on college hoops, no halftime, no first half or in-game wagering, etc. The endless array of betting options available now has only been made possible through the use of computers.

Back then, when the day ended we had no idea if we won or lost. We had to wait until we got the report from the bean counters the following morning. And we were usually surprised one way or the other. Twelve-hour days were the norm, but they went by fast and it was fun.

Yes, you had to be there to believe what was going on during March Madness. I was lucky enough to be part of it and I loved every minute, every line movement and every buzzer-beater, even if it meant a loss for the house.

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