Â Â THOSE WERE THE DAYS! Oh
what memories flooded my mind at the AGA Gaming Vision Awards Luncheon last
week when AGA CEO and personal friend Frank Fahrenkopf mentioned how he
remembered our first affiliation when he “was a young lawyer in Reno” and I had
come up with the idea for simulcasting horse races into the state’s race books.
Â Â That was just a few years
after my first effort to bring casino journalism to Las Vegas with the
publication Sports Form. The year was 1976. Yes, the Spirit
of ’76 was alive and well at the time of our publishing birth.
Â Â The way it was? The USA was
celebrating its 200th anniversary of independence . . . The Olympic games were
played in Montreal . . . ”˜Rocky’ was the movie blockbuster . . . Howard
Hughes left us. He was a man who changed Las Vegas into a corporate “good
Â Â Gross taxable gaming revenue
was $1.2 billion. Just think, it was this spirit that made it
possible for our newspaper, Sports Form/Gaming Today, to become
an integral part of this community and for that we have you, our readers, to
thank. You made it happen and we are grateful.
Â Â Table games ruled supreme.
In 1976 about 63% of total win was from the tables with only 37% coming from
slots. Then they fell victim to slots and the flip-flop came into play. Last
year nearly 65% of total win was from slots and the rest from table games. In
1976 a TV show named “Family Feud” debuted. It took a few years, but when the MGM
Grand unveiled a new high-tech video slot machine named “Family Feud” the
trend continued with slot machine games such as “I Dream of Jeannie,”
“Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune.”
Â Â Horseplayers, hungry for
action, had 12 places to place bets, but only two of the sites were at hotels ””
Stardust and Union Plaza. The others were smaller non-casino
shops throughout the city. Legendary places such as Sammy Cohen’s Santa
Anita and the Rosebowl, both on the Strip, were the rave. Today,
there are 143 bet shops taking race and sports bet.
Â Â Bill Walters and his
pals put computers to good work and put manners on sports book operators. As a
gambler, Bill was always ahead of the curve. He tracked one of Steve Wynn’s
roulette wheels so well that he took the Golden Nugget for $3.8 million.
Â Â The store with the most
reputation was the Stardust. That’s where legendary Lefty Rosenthal
operated. And, Allen Glick ran Argent Corp. (Stardust, Fremont,
Hacienda and Marina hotels); at least until he admitted he was
duped by organized crime figures.
Â Â Other pioneers at the time ””
Jay Sarno, Carl Thomas, Bobby Stella, Al Sachs, “Peanuts”
Nick Danolfo and Yale Cohen. Eddie Torres was running the Riviera.
Â Â On the other side of the
coin, Henry Gluck and Terry Lanni ran the best store in town, Caesars
Palace. The Sands handled good action, but couldn’t keep up with the
Â Â It was a time to be around.
It was also a great town to get lucky in. Ask Paul Lowden. He came to
town in 1965 with a U-Haul toting his Hammond organ and about $7,000 in his
pocket. Little did he know that his career as a lounge act would propel him to
the top as a casino owner (Sahara and Hacienda).
Â Â The showrooms featured the
biggest headliners of the day: Frank Sinatra, “The Chairman;” Dean
Martin, Sammy Davis, Peggy Lee, Alan King (who is
appearing next weekend at Texas Station), Debbie Reynolds,
Wayne Newton, Ray Charles, Bill Cosby, David Brenner, Joan
Rivers, Engelbert Humperdink, Robert Goulet, Tom Jones, Joey
Bishop, Bob Newhart and the beat went on. The lounges were the spot
to be. Louis Prima and Keely Smith, together with Sammy Butera,
did their shtick. And, what about the Mary Kaye trio, Chris
Fio Rito, Sonny King and many more?
Â Â Production shows began
popping up in 1976. Lido de Paris, Folies Bergere, Hallelujah
Hollywood, Hurray ’76, Country Music USA, Bare Touch of
Vegas, Spice on Ice and many others.
Â Â Vegas was a different place
then. Its operators were mainly gamblers from other parts of the country who
knew the business inside out. They lived by the rule ”” “Give them anything they
want!” I can remember one casino host at a Strip hotel who upped a player’s
limit by $10,000 when the player begged for more credit. After the player lost
the extra $10,000, the host erased the debt by ripping up the marker.
Â Â Ken Uston was just
coming on the scene. Some casinos feared his skills. Looking back, I think he’s
the best thing that ever happened to the game of blackjack. He attracted new
players to the game ”” professional people who admired Uston from his days in
high finance and wanted to emulate his skills at 21.
Â Â Most of the memories center
on days before the corporations moved in. Since there weren’t enough
experienced gamblers to man the casino pits, they changed the rules into a mathematical
formula that can never compare to the way it used to be. But, in fairness, they
reach out to far more people than just gamblers.
Â Â Those were the days, my
friend. And, believe it or not, they haven’t ended. The faces have changed. The
antics are different. But, the spirit, the spirit