Jack Franzi, one of the old-school Las Vegas linemakers, always knew the odds — even when they weren’t always in his favor.
He had hip surgery 4½ years ago and when the surgeon met with him just before the operation, he told Franzi that he expected everything to go well and that Franzi would have a good five years ahead of him.
Franzi said to the doctor and in front of his family: “I make the under a slight favorite.”
Franzi was right. He came up short of the five-year anniversary after he died Monday of natural causes with family members at his bedside. He was 91.
Known to everyone as “Pittsburgh Jack,” Franzi was a well-known figure on the Las Vegas Strip. He oversaw the point spreads for Michael Gaughan at the Barbary Coast sports book and later, the Gold Coast. He, along with Bob Martin, was considered one of the deans of the sports betting industry.
“He was always disciplined and principled and loved sports and gambling and successfully merged those traits and passions for about three quarters of a century,” said Art Manteris, Vice President of Race and Sports Operations at Station Casinos and Franzi’s nephew. “His observations and ability to analyze sports was uncanny.
“Even to the end, he loved basketball and said going into the NBA playoffs to watch out for Toronto and that Kawhi Leonard alone could carry that team a long way.”
Another of Franzi’s nephews, Chris Andrews, who runs the sports book at the South Point, said: “He was a man who had tremendous respect throughout the sports betting industry. He had a very commanding presence. He had a commanding voice.
“When Jack posted a number at the Barbary, people knew that was the right number.
Gaming Today columnist Richard Saber knew Franzi well.
”Jack was liked by everyone he came in contact with,” Saber said. “He was a true gentleman who loved his family and love doing what he did.”
Kenny Epstein, the current El Cortez owner and former business partner of the Gaughan family, had this to say about Franzi: “He was an old-timer, a real character, and a hell of a guy.
“And he was well respected in the Las Vegas bookmaking community as he was counted upon to keep operators informed on correct lines. He also enjoyed the spirited competition of fantasy football among many of his peers.”
Manteris said Franzi was one of the best at hanging a number when it came to college basketball or boxing.
“In his prime, he was probably the best handicapper Las Vegas has ever seen when it came to boxing and college basketball,” Manteris said. “He taught me and many others so much about work of course. But also about life. “
Franzi did have a run-in with state gaming officials when he was investigated in 1995 after he won $11,000 on the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX. He denied any wrongdoing in the two-year investigation. But in 1997, Franzi stepped down from his position rather than cause his boss, Michael Gaughan, any further embarrassment.
“I was fighting the battle for him,” Gaughan said. “Jack wanted it to stop.
“We were together for a long time. He was never a bookmaker. He was a bettor, and a good one. He protected me and made me a lot of money.”
Franzi had long left the industry when analytics and other information dominated the way lines were set. But Saber said Franzi had a knack in his head on how to make the right number, much the same way Martin did.
“He was a bookmaker held in high regard, when Jack talked we would listen,” Saber said. “He will be dearly missed and Las Vegas has lost a legend.”
Andrews said his uncle loved to gamble and he was able to support his family and himself through his betting.
“Very few guys were able to make a career of it,” he said. “But he lived his life and did his thing right up to the very end.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.
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