Taking over Stardust book was like getting keys to Cadillac

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When I took over the Stardust book in 1983 it was like getting the keys to a Cadillac. All I had to do was drive it and not wreck it.

We drove it to the pinnacle of odds making not only in Las Vegas but the country as well. We were featured on CBS, NBC, ABC, FNN (financial news network), half time of a Super Bowl, Sports Illustrated, Wall Street Journal and dozens of other newspapers, magazines and local TV stations all over the country. Our odds went out on two national wire services daily. What great publicity, all free advertising.

They came to us and asked our permission to use our brand. The most expensive advertising available anywhere but for us it was all free. Free money-wise that is but we paid for it with hard work every night and day of the week making the odds and running a fabled race and sportsbook.

Those endorsements were great and put us on top but the endorsements that really mattered, that made all our hard work worthwhile, came from our customers. It was like a love affair. We needed each other and we both knew it. Players and bookmakers around the country needed our odds to do business and we needed their action. It worked to perfection. We both understood and respected the positions on both sides of the counter.

Players and bookmakers from all over stayed and played with us whenever in Las Vegas. Big connected guys, corner BMs and their Runyonesque players whom we took care of even when they came up lame. The Stardust Hotel was mostly full; our bars, restaurants and shows were jumping with race and sports bettors who were loose with their BRs. It was beautiful. Our upper management never sweated decisions, never questioned big losses, because they also understood the game was in our favor.

A big loss in the book added to the table drop and boosted hotel amenities. They understood nobody won a bet then said they were going to keep your money and quit playing. I have to say though, our bosses probably got heartburn in private but never sweated a decision, at least for us to see.

It’ll never happen again in Las Vegas and I know by letters and emails there are plenty of us left who yearn for those times. We were part of it even though at the time never realized it. You’ll have to go outside Las Vegas to find a bookmaker/player relationship. No one today actually knows where the morning line comes from. All we know is it’s somewhere else, those huge, monster books in the islands.

Could we make it in today’s Las Vegas? Of course we could. Eleven is still bigger than 10. Could we get along with management? Not today because Las Vegas has morphed into a mercenary, super efficient money machine. Spend a double saw at the bar, a light goes on and you might get a free drink. Spend $20 more and you get a ham sandwich. Every bean is counted. Twice.

It won’t be long, only a decade or so, and there won’t be anyone left who remembers Lefty Rosenthal and the Stardust, Harry Gordon’s Churchill Downs and the great Bob Martin, Gene Mayday’s Little Caesars, which wasn’t so little when taking bets.

Sammy Cohen and his Santa Anita race and sportsbook is already forgotten as is Al Mangarelli and The Rose Bowl where Lefty first worked. It would later be owned by the infamous Gary Austin.

Very few remember Jimmy “The Greek” and his early 60s Hollywood book downtown or other storefront joints like the Derby, Saratoga (later called Leroy’s) or Bill Dark and his Del Mar out in North Las Vegas.

Gone from memory will be FM and Hershy and The Burgher Hut, Wednesday Nite Fights upstairs in the Silver Slipper ballroom, Chuck DiRocco and Sports Form (now GamingToday), Jerry Kilgore’s J.K. Sports Schedule, Ken Swanson with his race wallboards and race disseminating company.

Up North was Reno Turf Club, Carson Victory Club and Artichoke Joe’s. Great joints but already forgotten.

Las Vegas race and sports betting will continue to evolve and morph into whatever the market and circumstances in the country dictate. We can’t halt advancement or the march of time nor should we. Those joints and the characters who haunted them are history just like one-room school houses and widget factories. Bulldozers eliminated them but not their memories. Time marches on so march along or get outta the way. Take care, Scotty, www.wiseguys.com

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