Old Vegas book managers did work the hard way

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Las Vegas book managers have the volume of work they use in their jobs done for them. Just show up for work, fire up the computer and it’s all there.

Games by location, date and time followed by odds. Injuries have been researched. Games or teams with problems are noted. It’s all packaged on various Internet sites, available not only for Vegas book managers but the whole world.

There are exceptions, of course. A couple Vegas books still have operators who do their own work and use what’s available on the Internet. That’s the smart move. Nick Bogdanovich is at the top of the list while Kenny White is the heir to oddsmaking in Las Vegas.

Don Best and a handful of huge offshore sports books really service today’s Vegas action. Keith Glantz has a national following in many newspapers.

Balancing nostalgia with rapidly advancing technology, let’s try to put it in some order that gives credit to the pioneers who paved the way for today’s computer savvy, and computer dependent, operators.

First off, a bookie books with his own money. Myself and others like me didn’t use our own bankrolls so we are nothing more than book managers.

Early odds were compiled using pencil, paper and meticulous record keeping, using their own sources for information, including scouring newspapers and word of mouth from contacts around the country.

Next, oddsmakers and handicappers used their own systems to crunch the info and come up with a number. What masterpieces those old record books were! Teams were still broken down with individual player stats updated by hand!

Power ratings were adjusted by different methods depending on the capper’s system. As the season went on you became like a passenger on the team bus. You knew every player and their value to the team, and the value of every team heading up or down; who plays better on the road than at home (huge stat); who’s out and what do they mean to the team; weather where applicable.

This personal hands-on working with teams and their players gave us a feeling for their chances that may be missed when a computer crunches the information. Good or not so good, who knows? I do know you still have to pick winners and 11 is still bigger than 10, that hasn’t changed. The latest technology and information is there for bookie and bettor alike. It’s a push more so now in my opinion.

I have a treasured football run down sheet from 1944 with 17 games put out by Gorham Press Football Service out of Minneapolis. It has pointspreads as opposed to fractional odds. The Green Sheet, also out of Minneapolis, was where Mort Olshan learned his handicapping skills before moving to Los Angeles to put out his Gold Sheet, considered the bible of handicapping for many years.

The first to use computers in Vegas to handicap was John Bura aka “The Machine.” Also Ray Vara, from Vegas via Canton, Ohio, and Bob Martin, the king of all handicappers.

Martin was an absolute genius at making numbers to book with. Nobody ever completely knew what he did or how he came up with his numbers, numbers he booked to, numbers that could get two-way action. Bob said, “When it fits like a glove, you know it’s the right number.”

Bob was the judge of the sports betting world. His word could settle disputes anywhere in the country. No one has filled that universal position since.

Ray Vara was the best handicapper of them all, in my opinion. “The Spaniard,” as he was known, made numbers he used to bet off of. Martin made the best bookmaker line, it was unimpeachable. Vera’s numbers were betting numbers. You couldn’t book with them, but you could sure tell when the BMs had a bad number or even a wrong favorite.

Vera handicapped baseball and football, but it was the baskets he was most dangerous in, specifically college. Ray made a couple fortunes betting. Money was useless to him, except to bet with. If he won $20,000, he might bet it all on a four-team parlay or something. Sometimes the money would just pile up. Once the feds raided his safe deposit box at the Dunes and confiscated $500,000, which he never got back.

Later came Michael “Roxy” Roxborough who did a masterful job of bringing the sports books into the modern era. Roxy owned Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which made numbers for 95% of all Nevada sports books. Roxy was more than just an oddsmaker. He was well versed and the official spokesman for Nevada race and sports books.

There were many more big time handicappers, especially out of New York and Chicago. Now that it’s over I realize what special and honorable people paved the way for today’s breed.

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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