Pete Pazienza spent his entire career as a bookmaker in the background. Now at age 73 and not having taken a bet in 25 years, it’s recognition time.
“I was the opening line before there was a Vegas line,” said Pazienza, a distant relative to champion fighter Vinny Pazienza. “The New York Daily News would call me at 6 p.m. each night for lines and printed them the next morning. I never got paid. Then they syndicated it over 95 newspapers throughout the U.S. I never got a dime.”
What Pazienza did receive was exposure, the payoff for a life of bookmaking that began as a high school kid of 16 trying to make C’s instead of A’s in the streets of Yonkers, N.Y.
“I had guys bet me $3,000 to $5,000 a game and used to keep it,” Pazienza said. “At that time you could walk every 15 feet in my neighborhood and there was a bookie shop. I was the person they would go to make a bet.”
Pazienza ran his business from his Yonkers apartment and had a print shop for parlay cards. His six-person operation that began some 50 years ago was Las Vegas Sports Consultants and GamingToday rolled into one.
“We did it on Sunday nights when there were no lines anywhere.” he said. “I was arrested some 15 times. People would hack my telephone lines. It didn’t bother me. I told the judge at sentencing the only way I’m not legal is because you won’t allow me to be legal. I do exactly what OTB (Off Track Betting) does, but they’re legal. Why can’t I do it? So the judge didn’t give me time.”
Being New York City born and raised, I can remember when my dad brought home parlay cards and The Gold Sheet late in the week to bet on NFL games. Incredible that nearly 50 years later, the person who made those parlays is currently my next door neighbor.
“Back then you had neighborhoods that lived and breathed sports,” Pazienza said. “Now you don’t have any in the whole country. They’re all gangs.”
Pazienza stepped out from being “the house” to win the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s contest in 1978 as “Pete’s Picks,” hitting about 75 percent of his selections. Finishing second was Las Vegas icon and longtime GT contributing columnist Jim Feist.
“After winning, I was asked to be on the ‘David Susskind Show’ in New York, but I declined,” Pazienza said. “I had a certain honor about myself as a bookmaker. I didn’t want to go on TV and be known. I didn’t want to put myself in a position of ratting out other bookmakers.”
Instead, Feist did the Susskind show and became a Las Vegas legend. Pazienza got arrested.
“It was a joke because I never had anything to do with drugs in my life,” he said. “The police charged me with conspiracy, saying my money furthered the drug trafficking business. They never did get me on illegal gambling.”
Before and after Pazienza served jail time in the mid 1980’s, he would visit Las Vegas one week a month for over 40 years.
“I would stay at the Dunes and a bunch of other places,” Pazienza said. “The early 1970s in Vegas was remarkable. That’s when there was original entertainment, not imitators like today. I would fly first class out of Kennedy Airport, which back then cost like $1,150. I would bet $25,000 to $50,000 in Vegas and pay off my markers in New York. Back then, you got comps by reputation, not by being a high roller.”
Pazienza’s bookmaking business not only extended across the United States, but into Panama.
“I had the original WATS line,” he said. “I still remember my number. When I visited Vegas, I was a bettor, not the house.”
Today’s bettors have the advantage of the Internet, where information is instantaneous. Not so when in Pazienza’s day, yet his system was very similar to the way today’s top touts approach their craft.
“I used my own power ratings,” he said. “The Gold Sheet said a home team advantage was a certain amount. I didn’t think it was. If they said 6, I made it 4. I did all my own lines. That’s when I was really into it. Now I’m not into it at all.”
In fact, not a single sports wager since 1985.
“I was away and lost all interest in it,” Pazienza said. “I gambled on table games. I was attracted to the gambling part of picking winners, not sports. I liked being the house. Any 11-10 sports game bet two ways getting the juice, you have the edge. I’ll take that every time.”
Today, Pazienza is a host at Casa di Amore (2850 E. Tropicana), one of the most exclusive and busiest “Old Vegas” restaurant/supper clubs in town.
“I live off a fixed income and that’s what I enjoy doing,” he said. “I like having my own one bedroom place where it’s quiet and nobody bothers me. I have no regrets about anything I’ve ever done.”
OTM’s bowl plays (all played Dec. 18)
NEW MEXICO at Albuquerque
UTEP +12 vs. BYU: Hard to imagine the favored Cougars having much incentive here. Miners could gain a lot of respect with a victory. UTEP.
HUMANITARIAN at Boise, ID
No. Illinois -3 vs. Fresno St: The Bulldogs know all about the Blue Turf of Boise State stadium. Fresno is a very live dog here. FRESNO ST.
NEW ORLEANS at Superdome
Ohio U pick vs. Troy: The Trojans have bounced back nicely after allowing 56 to South Carolina. The tougher schedule works in their favor here. TROY.