The first ‘Burlesque and Book’ at the Royal Casino

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The Royal Casino, not to be confused with Michael Gaughan’s Royal Inn next-door, was a made to order movie set.

Located on Convention Center Drive across from the Stardust, we were a confusing mystery to the Gaming Control Board, loved by the biggest of big players and generated the most money per square foot in Las Vegas sports book history.

That’s quite a sentence but it’s actually an understatement.

Joe Slyman, from Cleveland, was granted an unlimited gaming license. He leased a small casino from a very small hotel. A few table games, limited slots, a restaurant and bar with one cocktail waitress. The casino had a one-window cashier cage but a nice vault that suited Joe’s style.

Out of the blue in 1978 Joe asked me to operate his yet-to-be sports book. I was still writing tickets at Churchill and, of course, accepted his offer. Ticket writer to sports book manager, I had no idea what was next.

The plans for his sports book took about 15 minutes. We would book out of the casino’s “showroom,” which had a small-time burlesque show at night. We figured we could put the sports book in there along with the burlesque show. Why not? The show was making money so why close it down?

So we built a sports counter and odds boards on the opposite side of the room. Now the room had a burlesque stage on one side and a sports book counter on the other.

A curtain was lowered to cover the sports counter while the burlesque girls worked at night. In the morning that curtain was raised and another one was lowered to cover the stage. Turn the chairs around to face the opposite direction and – shazam! – a sports book appeared.

It worked perfectly. Sports bettors, the serious ones, only care about getting down. They aren’t interested in the amenities – just take their money so they can try to win it back. This was a gut shot to the expensive, elaborate casino sports books.

It was unsettling to the Gaming Control Board how we could out- handle the bigger hotel/casinos’ sports books. We didn’t even have a race book. Million dollar days in midweek…in sports…what’s going on there? All cash, no credit.

So you can imagine what the Control Board was thinking with a joint like this handling that kind of money.

What was going on wasn’t hard to figure out – we took big bets – lots of them!

For every sports bet taken, we wrote a legitimate ticket and paid all appropriate taxes. The Control Board eventually came in every day for a while, set up a table on the burlesque stage, and counted beans to their hearts’ content. They would go to work for the day, just like us. It reminded me of Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog punching into the same time clock every morning in the old Warner Brothers cartoons.

Our opening day was on a weekday during baseball season. The Cincinnati Reds were playing a day game, and some guy bet $60,000 on the Reds. Of course, I was used to bookmaking where you would at least try to get some money on the other side. It was our first day in business with no chance in hell of getting much on the other side. Joe says, “Don’t worry, just take it – we’ve got a well; ask him if he wants more.”

That made it pretty nice. It’s easy to book when you don’t have to worry about balancing the action or even winning.

I don’t remember if the Reds won or lost but it didn’t matter. Joe just wanted the action. I learned a lot from Joe, especially about totals and how to move them for the greatest value.

It now became the Royal Casino that put up the most sought after numbers. Most bettors and bookmakers respected our numbers because we took mostly sharp action. People would wait for us to open in the morning and monitor our numbers. Serious gamblers looked for a weak spot in the line. “Service guys” sent our line back East and around the country.

Joe would call with his numbers in the morning. There were games he wanted to gamble on, so he’d shade them in a particular direction. Once we put the line up, it was a race to the front door and get to the pay phones first. They had every pay phone in the entire neighborhood mapped out.

It was like the running of the bulls, out of the place to get to one of the phones. No cell phones then. If somebody was looking at it and didn’t know any better, he might have thought it was a bomb scare. That’s what it looked like.

They had their cars parked at angles so they could peel away fast, like a bank robbery. Some of them would park so they were blocking the other guys in to get a head start to a pay phone. It was like a circus, but getting down before the line changed was very serious business.

One afternoon Joe calls me over to the vault, his favorite place. He reaches in and grabs a bag, looks inside and puts it back. A couple bags later he says, ”this is it” and hands me a brown paper bag full of cecils (hundred dollar bills).

Can you count this for me. I count it by hand, one million, in a brown bag.

That’s all I ever did, count other people’s money.

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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