Bookies tap Pittsburgh connection

Apr 10, 2001 10:57 AM

While Western Pennsylvania is known for its quarterbacks like Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Joe Montana and Dan Marino, it is also known for producing Las Vegas sports bookies.

Those bookies include icons like Scotty Schettler, Art Manteris, Bert Osborne, Don Williams, Jimmy Vaccaro and many others.

So why is Pittsburgh such fertile ground for Las Vegas bookmakers?

"There is a lot of gambling that goes on back in that area," said Manteris, Las Vegas Hilton’s race and sports book director. "Sports is a hot issue. A lot of athletes have come out of that area."

Manteris is one who made his way across the country to sports gambling’s big leagues. After growing up in Forest Hills, Pa., which is 10 miles east of Pittsburgh, he moved to Las Vegas and started working at the Fremont Hotel & Casino sports book on the day he turned 21. From there, he worked at Stardust, Caesars Palace and Barbary Coast, and went to the Hilton in 1986.

Schettler, who is the manager of the Las Vegas Sports Consultants, said the connection is ironic.

"It’s just how it happened," said Schettler, who moved to Las Vegas in 1968. "We’re not a club. There’s really no connection (among any of us) from back there."

Schettler, who is from Grove City, Pa. and worked at Churchill Downs in Las Vegas, Casino Royale and Stardust, said sports betting is prevalent in that area.

"That’s what (a lot of us) did back home," he said. "But I do miss it back there. I hate the weather here. I like the four seasons."

Osborne, who grew up 40 miles south of Pittsburgh in Fayette City, Pa., moved to Las Vegas in 1985. He is now the Gold Coast race and sports book director.

"I moved here because there was a lot of opportunity here and I had a lot of friends here," he said. "Back there during the 1970s and early ’80s, you had the Pirates and Steelers and they both had hard core fans. High school football was big and it was great there on Friday nights. That area was a great sports pocket."

Osborne and Williams were friends back in that area. Williams is from Belle Vernon, Pa, 35 miles south of Pittsburgh. He and Osborne struck up a friendship watching games at a local tavern.

"Bert and I came out about the same time. I actually had a good job working at a steel mill company there," Williams said. "Well, the steel mill industry dried up and I lost my job. I had an accounting degree, so after Bert came out here, I came too. With an accounting degree, this job deals with a lot of numbers, and I needed a regular paycheck."

Williams has worked at the Barbary Coast and went to The Orleans when it opened in 1996.

"I’m happy here (in Las Vegas), but I would have been content back there," he said.

Vaccaro, from Trafford, Pa., got his start at Casino Royale. He was the sports book director at the Barbary Coast, the old MGM Grand and The Mirage. He now has a sports handicapping service.

With all those names in the sports betting industry from Pittsburgh, it’s hard to believe the Pittsburgh connection was actually bigger in the past.

"It’s not as big as it used to be," he said. "It used to be unbelievable how many of us were from Pittsburgh.

"Now, everyone has gone their own ways. (Las Vegas) has gotten big. There’s been the corporate mergers and satellite books that have started."