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Gaming icon Mel Exber dies

May 14, 2002 9:14 AM

Gaming pioneer Mel Exber died last Saturday in Las Vegas at the age of 78. A resident of Nevada since 1947, Exber was one of the sports betting industry’s true originals, a pioneer and visionary.

"He was a real and talented bookmaker, one of the biggest and best ever," said Jackie Gaughan, a long-time friend and business partner. "He was also a great person and a dear friend."

After discharge from the Air Force, Exber landed his first casino job working at the Old Las Vegas Club, which was owned by Benny Binion. "It had the only sports book in the state," Exber told GamingToday in 1994. "Benny leased out a small space with barely enough room for a ticket counter and scoreboard on the back wall. I earned the majestic sum of $15 which was paid at the end of each and every day."

Born in Brooklyn, Exber grew up idolizing the Dodgers. In the early days he favored betting on baseball. "I bet on baseball and continued to work while winning my expenses along the way."

After two years, Exber took a "better job" with Eddie Moss, who put in a sports book at the old Eldorado Club at Casino center and Fremont Street, where the Horseshoe stands today. "There, my pay jumpted to $25 a day, still paid on a daily basis."

Later, he moved his operation to the Pioneer Club and then the Desert Inn, "where we took bets out of a private office."

Although he knew Jackie Gaughan, they didn’t become business partners until 1952, when they became involved in the old Saratoga race and sports book, which later became Leroy’s.

After their lease ran out, Exber and Gaughan moved to the Derby across the street, then back to the Saratoga before taking over the Las Vegas Club with Larry Hazzelwood as a partner in 1961.

In 1963, Gaughan and Exber invested in the El Cortez and later in the Union Plaza. "You couldn’t want to be partners with a better man," Gaughan said.

In addition to his son Brady Exber, Mel Exber is survived by his wife, Doris, daughter Laurie Alexander, and brother, Marty, all of Las Vegas; and two grandchildren.

Services were scheduled for Tuesday (May 14) at 10 a.m., at Temple Beth Sholom, with internment at Palm Memorial Park.