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In 30 years of booking, 'Johnny Spot' seen it all

Aug 5, 2008 7:04 PM

by Kevin Stott | He’s seen Las Vegas go from a town to a city, the price of gasoline go from 63 cents to over $4 a gallon and the building he works in go from being called the Barbary Coast Casino to Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon.

On Monday, John Druzisky celebrated his 30th year in the gaming industry in Sin City.

And although his family knows him as John or Dad or Grandaddy, sports gamblers and almost everyone else in Las Vegas knows him as "Johnny Spot," a nickname garnered from his prowess with a pool cue in his youth.

After heading west in 1972 to California from his native Youngstown, Ohio, Druzisky ended up in Las Vegas in 1978. He started in the sports gaming industry on Aug. 4, 1978, at The Royal Inn on Convention Drive when he was hired as a ticket writer by none other than Jimmy Vaccaro.

"That’s when we opened up that little hole in the wall," Druzisky said of The Royal Inn.

In March of 1979, Michael Gaughan, who owned The Royal Inn, opened up the Barbary Coast Hotel & Casino and Druzisky moved on to the new property where he has been ever since – a real rarity in Las Vegas.

Druzisky, like a number of renowned sports book managers in Las Vegas, became interested in getting into the sports gaming industry because of influences from his childhood.

"Of course, being from Youngstown, Ohio, we had a lot of betting back there," Druzisky said of his childhood in the Rust Belt.

The 62-year-old Druzisky – who has a wife, four kids and nine grandchildren – had an opportunity early on in his career to leave that well-known building on the corner at 3595 South Las Vegas Boulevard, but decided to stay where he felt the most comfortable.

"I had a chance to go to the (Golden) Nugget at the time when Mr. Vaccaro went down there to work for Steve Wynn but I decided to stay at the Barbary (Coast) with the Gaughan family."

Asked who has influenced him the most in his 30 years on the Las Vegas Strip, Druzisky was quick to answer.

"Mr. Gaughan himself," he said. "(I liked) the way he did business and the type of person he was."

Druzisky was promoted from a ticket writer to assistant manager to manager in the race and sports book, a post he still holds, with three supervisors and eight clerks now underneath him at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall.

On March 1, 2007, the Barbary Coast – aquired from Gaughan by Boyd – was sold by Boyd Gaming to Harrah’s Entertainment, from which the casino got its’ new name (Founder Bill Harrah). And Druzisky stayed put.

In his 30 years in the race and sports book, Druzisky has seen a lot of money come and go but he said his most memorable transaction was a big payday for one of the race book’s best customers.

"Not too long ago, of course we were still part of Boyd, we paid out that $1.4 million Pick Six from Hollywood (Park) in our room," Druzisky revealed. "We wrote a story on the fella that had the winning ticket and I interviewed him of course and just some of the ways and reasons he picked some of the horses was the story of it all.

"One of the horses that won paid $27-something that day, it was called Bullet Train. The gentleman was from California, but he was one of our regular customers, and still is, and there was this train that goes back from where he lives and it’s called the bullet train."

Ah, that four-letter word, luck.

Druzisky, a two-time winner of GamingToday’s annual "Battle of the Bookies," also recalled his worst memory on the job over the last three decades.

"The worst (thing I’ve seen) were the fires across the street back at MGM Grand (now Bally’s) back in 1980," he recalled of that Nov. 21st day which left 85 dead in what is still the worst tragedy in Nevada history. "We opened up our doors and tried to help everybody that was in trouble over there. I’ll never forget that, looking out the side door."

And asked what the biggest change is in Sin City over the last 30 years, Druzisky, who has been in Las Vegas so long he remembers the days when sports tickets were written by hand, said it’s the unpredictability now of the modern sports gambler.

"There’s just more of everything now," he said. "You have no idea who’s going to come to the window, how much money they want to bet. You just have no idea want they want to do – bet anywhere from between $500 to $10,000. That is one of the greatest things of the job, all the different people that come through our doors. You never know what’s going to happen."

So exactly 30 years on the job for Johnny Spot on Monday. Was he planning on doing anything special to mark the occasion?

"No," Druzisky said without pause of the job he said he just can’t wait to get to every day since Day One. "It’s just another day."