The first bookie joint I ever walked into was back in Steubenville, Ohio, back in 1950 something. It was called the smoke house.
My father “Broadway Bennie” took me for a walk downtown so he could make his little parlay and maybe bet a few bucks on a horse. They had a chalk board and one of those old bubble gum ticker tape machines spitting out the scores.
There was a big box filled with sandwiches wrapped in wax paper. I thought I’d died and went to heaven.
Later on in my travels I got to the big time, Las Vegas, in 1970 something and the Stardust became my betting home before I moved behind the counter.
In the early days of legal sports betting in Vegas it was almost like I was still back at the smoke house in Steubenville as the tickets were all hand written. The boards were all done by hand.
At the Stardust there was a boardman who walked a plank putting up plastic numbers on the huge board, a job I was doing for a few months. I loved it up there. I had a phone, TV, couch and my own ticker.
There was an ice box and water cooler that my fellow boardman and I usually had filled with Chianti just in case one of the Lido girls would happen by after the show. We always had some good Italian bread and cheese ready for a wine and cheese party.
But basically we were still in those smoke filled sports betting parlors.
One day back in 1980 something this big chubby smiling guy walks into the “Dust” along with his side kick and CPA Mark Alden. This dentist turned bookmaker wants to bring us out of the dark ages and into the 20th century with his new CBS computerized betting system that was programmed by an Indian genius.
Scotty Schettler and myself were still stuck in the smoke house-type of bookmaking with our trusty clip board and our X’s and O’s. We were very reluctant to make any kind of change, but it was in the cards. We were all going to need to adapt. As the happy, chubby ex-dentist would say, it was like pulling teeth.
There were a lot of glitches in that early CBS system as we would get together several times a week to do input with the Indian genius, but the new system got up and running thanks to the innovative mind of that ex-dentist, Vic Salerno.
It was Salerno who turned the Nevada race and sports books into basically what they are today. Single handedly along with that Indian genius (whose name still escapes me) he took us from our stone age of bookmaking into the 20th century.
What the computer system did was enable the books to hook up with one another and thus came Leroy’s, Station Casinos, Boyd Group, MGM, etc. Now we have Cantor and William Hill entering the fray.
Is this good for the bettors? I would say probably, for the most part. For us bygone bettors who loved to walk up and down the Strip searching for some bargains, it is not good. But we are a dying breed and most books can’t wait for us to go.
The stand-alone books are just about gone, with only LVH, Jerry’s Nugget and Wynn left along with South Point. They also run a few other books so they do not stand alone any longer. As we old guys from the dark ages of sports and race books say, “those were the good ole days.”
Getting back to Vic, who made it all happen, he was a good business man. I spent many days downtown in his Leroy’s book hashing over things. What he did best was host a party at his house. He threw the greatest parties in the history of Vegas.
Vic had valet parking, tents in his huge backyard and would fly in bands from L.A. to perform. The food was all five-star.
Maybe the best party he ever had was when his sidekick and CPA back then, Mark Alden, got married for the umpteenth time – this time to one of his ex’s. I don’t remember much except dancing with Yolanda Acuna. This was some party and the wedding was beautiful.
Those were the days, my friend, I thought they’d never end. But as always, they did. The betting landscape is rapidly changing with Cantor and William Hill. Vic and Leroy’s are in the glorious past and we thank him for all the good times.