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Mel Exber: bookmaker, friend, leaves us softly

May 14, 2002 9:03 AM

CROSSING THE FINISH LINE! It was wisely said that death is a sad thing. It takes away the great gift of life. When word spread that Mel Exber had cashed in, sadness was widespread among those of us lucky enough to know him and call him friend.

Mel was a self-made man. He worked out of the back room at the Derby sports book with Jackie Gaughan years ago in downtown Las Vegas. The story goes that he got lucky one day with some games and won close to $100,000. That kind of a score should never be kept in the pocket or soon the pocket will be empty. So Mel went out and used the money to buy the Las Vegas Club.

One of his many friends, Don McKinney, best known as The Duck, used to get his hair cut at the old Sands hotel. So did Mel.

"I was always happy when I walked into the shop and saw Mel either waiting or in the chair. Oh, what stories we told about the days of old. He was a sweetheart," McKinney told me.

SINATRA SINGS SINATRA! "And," said an attendee, "he sounds just like him. It’s amazing!"

He was talking about Frank Sinatra Jr.’s show at the MGM Grand that pays tribute to Ol’ Blue Eyes, who passed away May 14, 1998.

DON’T BE SURPRISED to hear that Illinois lawmakers are about to expand gambling in the state to help fill the cash register, which has been hit with a massive budget deficit. One way might be to allow riverboats to take in more than 1,200 gamblers at a time.

PIPE TALKS! A pipe in Carson City insists that state gaming regulators are drafting up an anti-monopoly measure It will be designed to stop a company from having more than 40% of an individual county market or 10% of the Nevada State market. I hear the measure is expected to be ready for lawmakers within six months.

NERVOUS NEW YORKER! A New Yorker called to tell me of his neighbor’s nervous condition. It seems that he called Dial-A-Prayer and the mechanical voice told him: "Leave your name and number. And, pray we call you back."

TAKE ME ALONG! According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, 13% of Las Vegas visitors last year brought children with them on their visit to the city.

LAID TO REST! The public is invited to attend a memorial service honoring the late Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. It will be held July 19 at Hill n Dale Farm near Lexington, Ky. Slew, 28, was the last surviving Triple Crown winner and the sire of more than 100 stakes winners. He died Tuesday at Hill n Dale. He will be buried in a courtyard at the farm, which will be open to visitors after it is memorialized. A statue will mark the grave.

PREAKNESS PICK! I’m sad to report that there will be no Triple Crown winner this year. The way I see the Preakness: Medaglia d’Oro will go wire-to-wire in Baltimore.

DID YOU KNOW? Shuffle Master Gaming (SHFL) has a nifty new game on field trial at Treasure Island. It is a combination of "War," blackjack and poker. It is played against a pay table. If the player isn’t busted out after being dealt six cards, his win is based on the pay table. Ray Koon tells us the dealers enjoy dealing the game and the patrons enjoy playing it. However, proprietary rights to the game and certain patent issues are under question . . . Bob Vannucci was named president and chief operating officer of the Riviera Hotel. It was approved by the Nevada Gaming Control Board and Commission . . . Lionel Sawyer and Collins has opened an office in Washington, D.C., under the direction of former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan. Key Reid, son of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, and former Nevada Attorney General Brian McKay also will participate in the new practice . . . It’s up to the voters in Kansas to expand legalized gaming in the state. A measure would allow slot machines and other electronic gaming devices at race tracks if voters in the counties where they are located approve . . . Frank Biondi Jr. has been appointed to the board of directors at Harrah’s Entertainment (HET). He is former president, CEO and director of Viacom Inc. (VIA) and former chairman and CEO of Universal Studios.