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Oddsmaker Bob Martin got bettors to make bets

Mar 13, 2001 5:53 AM

WHAT ARE THE ODDS? The death of Bob Martin, the Dean of Las Vegas Oddsmakers, saddens anyone with memories of the way it once was in the Valley of Dollars.

In the Land of Gambling, Bob Martin was a gambler. The fact that he was bright, well educated, well read and very friendly was a plus to his character.

Nearly everyone knew that the quarterback was going to ride the bench on a certain weekend. Bob knew why. And in his friendly fashion, he’d polish up the story to make the quarterback not look so bad.

For years, Bob Martin was my neighbor and my friend. He was also my angel. When I was stuck for a story to write, Bob was always available. All the years we lived in the same neighborhood, I can count on one hand the times I ever saw him outdoors. Bob spent morning, noon and night in his home reading newspapers and more newspapers. Bob’s unique reading habits kept him a step above everyone else when it came to information. I never met anyone who knew what was going on better than him.

Bob Martin had a fancy for news people. It probably had a lot to do with the fact that he was graduated from New York University with a degree in journalism. As far as I know, he never spent a day in the business. He loved it dearly, but it ran second to his main love: gambling. He crunched his knowledge in his personal Mix Master and added a twist or two of his own experiences. The results? The best odds ever written.

When Bob took a stand, he couldn’t be swayed. When he was wrong, he was wrong. Bring on the next proposition.

By the end of the 1980s, Las Vegas began to change. Betting on events took a back seat to the slots. When the government pounded on Bob to give up names of gamblers, Bob stood tallest. He did a stretch of time in prison in California for being a stand-up guy. His friends went to visit him every week in a long limousine loaded with goodies from Villa d’Este or one of his many favorite Jewish delis.

In his early days, he met up with Jackie and Michael Gaughan and later Harry Gordon. Their names were golden in the gaming business. They all loved Bob Martin. When Harry Gordon had him working for him at Churchill Downs racebook, a tiny gambling parlor for the "in" crowd, Martin blossomed.

It’s not easy keeping friends in the gambling business. That didn’t apply to Bob Martin. He identified with the bettors, and they identified with him.

One of his many friends, Scotty Schettler, a veteran bookmaker who also worked for Harry Gordon, has a great story.

"Bob had a habit. Every Saturday one of his pals, a taxi driver by the name of Sergeant, would have a standing order. He would go to a nearby Jewish deli and buy 75 egg salad sandwiches. As ordered by Bob, Sarge would then drive to Jasper’s (Tower of Pizza) to buy 75 steak sandwiches. Shortly before noon, the cab would pull up in front of Churchill Downs. By then, little bettors and big bettors would be lined up — some of them hotel owners — clamoring for the sandwiches to come.

"It was a sight to behold. There were guys betting thousands of dollars on the outcome of a game and they couldn’t wait to get a free sandwich from Bob Martin."

A funeral service was held at Palm Mortuary on Monday. Following the service, family and friends gathered at The Orleans, where groceries were waiting compliments of Michael Gaughan and Jack Franzi.

Faces in the crowd — although worn by age — were mainly those of gamblers from the old days.

Bob is survived by his wife, Carlotta; daughter, Stacey St. Claire; son, Bill Kilgore; grandchildren, nieces and in-laws.

Cancer was the villain. Although he suffered with a heart condition since 1992, the Big C was the real villain. His family was at his side when he signed off.

"My father was my best friend," Stacey told me over the weekend. "He was very devoted to his family and made sure we were all well-cared for. I will miss him dearly."