For Stardust, it’s end of the Line

Jun 27, 2006 5:41 AM

After nearly 25 years, The Stardust Line radio show is pulling the plug.

The ground-breaking sports-betting talk show had its final evening show last Sunday night, and the morning version signs off for good on Friday.

Emanating from the Stardust race and sports book, the radio show "played host to thousands of sports fans from every corner of the country and from all walks of life," said John Kelly, the current host of the Stardust Line.

Kelly added that he was first just a listener to the broadcast, which reached him in Woodland Hills, California, then he later became a contributor and finally a host.

"Most of the time, I was a customer here," Kelly said. "I truly believe we had a close personal contact with the pulse of what was going on in Vegas."

That pulse skipped a few beats in recent months. First, line-making duties were taken over by the Gold Coast, which is now the hub of all Boyd Gaming properties.

"It’s no longer The Stardust Line, so the time is right to cease operation," said Gene Harvey, who for more than 20 years was program director for the Stardust radio shows. "You can’t fight progress."

Secondly, sports book director Bob Scucci left his post on June 1 to reunite with Joe Lupo at the Borgata in Atlantic City.

And, of course, the Stardust Hotel is expected to close this fall to make way for a massive new Boyd development, Echelon Place.

"It makes no sense to continue," Harvey said. "I hear the property will probably remain open until at least November, but that the sports area will be the first they will knock down."

Like the legendary sports book itself, the Stardust Line radio show has a storied and colorful past.

The first version of the show was staged by Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal in the mid 1970s, when he announced his betting selections with scantily clad showgirls holding posters of his choices.

Later, Lee Pete and Jim Brown put the radio show on the map.

Because of Jim Brown’s football celebrity, as well as Lee Pete’s sports connections (he was an All American college quarterback and New York Giant draftee before blowing out his knee), the Stardust Line show attracted such superstar guests as Michael Jordan, Joe Namath and Magic Johnson.

Oftentimes, the guests would remain hours after the show ended, signing autographs and hob-nobbing with Stardust customers.

Later hosts included Arne Lang, Dave Malinksy, Roxy Roxborough, Seat Williams and Stephen Nover.

Of course, the real power of the show was its format: handicapping and betting against the line.

"In the early days, this was something that was kind of taboo," says handicapper Dave Cokin, a frequent guest and co-host of the Stardust Line. "There was also a disclaimer at the end of the show saying the content was for news value only, and not to stimulate betting!"

Kelly said his favorite memories of the Stardust were interacting with customers.

"Sure you feel bad to see it end, but this is a changing market," he said. "The Stardust was considered the sports book of record. I don’t think any other place in town had that reputation."

The Stardust Line radio show closely followed the lead set by the sports book itself.

The space age, theater-like sports book that Rosenthal showcased during the 1970s and 80s was copied by every casino on the Las Vegas Strip and glamorized by Hollywood in the movie Casino.

In its early days, the Stardust race and sports book was also a breeding ground for high-stakes sports bettors, as well as some of the most colorful characters in the gambling fraternity.

Some of the names that come to mind, according to former director Scotty Schettler, include bettors such as Tiny Turtle Wing Ears, a bettor from Pittsburgh who was famous for "middling" games; Gorilla Lips, who was a marvel at NBA totals; Chocolate Layer Cake, an astute NFL bettor who was always ahead of the line moves; Hubert H. Humphrey (yeah, he was a dead-ringer for the chubby, former vice president); Roast Beef Au Jus Voice, who was so aptly nicknamed for his distinguished baritone that sounded exactly as you would expect roast beef au jus to sound; The Logical Alien, a flying monkey (runner) who worked for a group of middle-bettors that was put out of business when the cell phone crackdown took effect; and Opening Pitch, a colorful and very visible bettor from Cleveland.

"He was a small man, maybe 4’11, and he would fall asleep in the front row of the sports book, but his hand was always in his pocket on his bankroll," Schettler recalled. "One football season he drove from his hometown of Cleveland, in a rush to be at the Stardust for the NFL’s season opener. He made it but fell asleep in his car in the parking lot. He was 93 when he died. Let’s hope he rests in peace."

Schettler, head of race and sports book operations at the Stardust from 1983-91, told GamingToday that the sports betting business began to fade in the late 1990s.

"Ownership wanted to get rid of the wiseguys," Schettler said. "They scaled back and lived off the reputation of the Stardust. It was a business decision to get rid of the wiseguys."

Though most of the big bettors have moved on to other books or online casinos, the rank and file stayed, and most said they would miss the Stardust.

"I am very sad that the Stardust is closing," said David Campbell, who moved to Las Vegas with his wife a year ago. "I listened to all the radio shows. The Stardust was managed wonderfully. The agents took the time to help you if there was something about the line you didn’t understand."

J.R. Hicks, a Las Vegas resident and frequent bettor at the Stardust, said he’ll have to adjust to the Stardust’s closing.

"It’s an institution," Hicks said. "Anytime you lose something that has been so important in people’s lives, it’s going to have an effect on them. I listened to the radio shows. Like any gambler, I agreed with some stuff and disagreed with others. They had good insight on some things. I think they did their homework."

The Stardust’s ultimate legacy, according to Gene Harvey, was providing a market niche for the mid-level gambler.

"She’s a magnificent old lady," Harvey said. "It was a place for the common bettor, the tourist that brought $500 to spend and didn’t blow it just on a room.

"As for the radio show, it was time to stop," he continued. "Satellite radio is the wave of the future. Thousands of people over the years have passed by this radio booth. That’s what I’ll miss the most."