Corporations began crowding out storefront race and sportsbooks till every single one was gone.
Stand alone books more than held their own vs. the mega books so what to do about those pesky joints? Get rid of them, not by competition, but by changing the rules. The Nevada Gaming Commission made it a regulation that every race/sportsbook must be accompanied by 200 rooms. No hotel, no book.
Successful books in smaller hotels also fell but to the wrecking ball, making way for mega hotel/casinos of today’s Las Vegas. Most famous and missed was Gene Mayday’s Little Caesars.
Mayday at one time owned Checker Cab Company and a piece of Valley Hospital. Gene opened Little Caesars casino in the 70’s. It was situated next to the Galaxy Motel in the same little strip mall as Churchill Downs Race and Sportsbook. Little Caesars Casino had a quarter craps game and maybe 100 slots, free coffee for cab drivers, and popcorn and hot dogs were the menu. What a special place it was.
Gene was granted a sportsbook license in the early 80s. His book anchored one end of that little mall and Churchill Downs the other. Gene balked at a hot dog comp, the carpet was mostly tape, but he took monster action on sports. Gene was fearless, booking with his own bank roll, on his opinion and the advice of some very sharp handicappers behind him.
Bob “Blackie” Black was Gene’s right-hand man in the book. Gene was also a bettor himself and put a dent in us at the Stardust on occasion. The Little Caesars line was highly regarded. Pay phones out front were legendary, as were the Churchill phones up the block.
Little Caesars pioneered “Midnight Madness” in which they gave extra half points on football bets Friday and Saturday nights. In 1989 Caesars booked Bob “Polish Maverick” Stupak’s $1 million bet on the Super Bowl. Stupak won and he presented Gene with a custom-made, three wheeled, one-man car, which Gene proudly parked out front. It became a landmark.
Churchill and Little Caesars co-existed till Gene passed and Little Caesars closed. Little Caesars, Churchill Downs, the mall they both occupied and the Galaxy Motel next-door are just memories now.
The Paris Hotel and its gaudy replica of the Eiffel Tower stand in their place.
The Sport of Kings, after many delays, opened in 1992 but was doomed to fail from conception. Capable and well respected Jack Lysaght, who was with Vic Salerno at Leroy’s downtown, would manage their sportsbook. It was located on Convention Center Drive and Paradise Road, across from the Hilton (now Westgate). The Sport of Kings went belly up for various reasons including top-heavy management salaries, extravagant comps for horse players, and their sportsbook got hammered.
They featured fixed odds on horses while most of Nevada had gone pari-mutuel. Conceived to cater to high-end horse bettors, the 25,000 sq. ft. luxury racebook featured a Turf Club with a $10,000 membership fee. But free buffets, chefs, valet parking, hostesses and ticket runners to collect and pay while VIP horse players sat in luxury boxes couldn’t be overcome. All this while not enjoying the table games casinos depend on.
The sportsbook, crammed into a corner, took big action while getting hammered. It’s rumored they even borrowed a couple million dollars from Billy Walters, who was also beating them from the betting side of the counter at the same time.
Las Vegas hotels, which held sway with the Commission, were afraid to lose business to the Sport of Kings, whose foreign investors were under great scrutiny by the GCB. They finally folded.
Jack later took over the book in the Riviera. Jack put his opinion into their numbers, which helped increase our handle as players ran back and forth between our two properties looking for strange numbers. To get to the Riviera, you had to cross the busy Strip generating side bets on who would get run over first. Most bettors were very good at dodging cars, the law and shylocks.
By now Jimmy “Chuncy” Vaccaro was at the Mirage taking big action from their high rolling hotel guests and various wiseguys around town. My friend “Chuncy” is the only one of us left still in action. He’s finally settled in with his first boss Michael Gaughan at the South Point.
Some big hotels did good jobs with sports as well. Keith Glantz was at the Palace Station running a good store. Rich Baccellieri was at the MGM, Nick Bogdanovich would take over Binion’s Horseshoe sportsbook, and Bert Osborne had the old Gaughan sportsbooks. All were well thought of and capable book managers.
A famous book, but not for taking big action, was the Castaways on the Strip. Sonny Reizner did a masterful job promoting the Castaways brand while discouraging big or sharp action at the same time. His operation was called “the chicken store” by wiseguys around town, but Sonny was well liked by the masses and the media. He had an infectious smile and a masterful marketing approach.
Sonny created the first big Las Vegas football contest and started the Monday Night Football parlay cards. They were hard to miss being pink, orange, etc. Sonny was first with the Grand Salami in which all hits, runs, and errors were tallied to bet over or under. Sonny, a hero to the little guys, passed away in 2002.
More on this subject later but for now I have to mention Bill Dark who had the Del Mar in North Las Vegas. Bill was the originator of totals. His first OVER/UNDER was 3.5 on a Dodgers game with Sonny Koufax on the mound.
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].