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The real story behind the Stardust lottery

Oct 29, 2002 6:04 AM

   LET’S SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT! That was the sentiments of former Stardust race and sports supervisor Richie Saber, who had become tired of hearing all of the “watered-down, corporate-driven” stories of how the Stardust started its lottery.

   The lottery, in case you’ve been living in a vacuum bottle, takes place when the first betting lines are made, and an anxious group of bettors line up for their first crack at the numbers.

   Well, this has been going on since the mid 1980s, Richie says, mainly because of a character named Crazy Jim and his .38 revolver.

   “Back then, everyone wanted to get their first bets down because the lines weren’t as sharp as they are today,” Richie explains. “We were the first to release the lines, and during baseball and basketball season, we had players lined up starting the night before.”

   Rather than stand in line overnight or for days at a time, bettors would often pay flunkies to stand in line for them. That’s where the trouble started.

   “We’d come to work in the morning and the sports book would be filled with these guys, some of them bums, waiting to bet the first lines,” Richie says. “We finally had to herd them away from the counter, but when we opened the betting there was a mad charge that often resulted in these guys diving in front of each other like they were diving at $100 chips on the floor.”

   The changing point came when one of these designated stand-ins had to leave the line for a bathroom break, and tried to regain his spot.

   “He tried to move back in, but Crazy Jim — that was his actual name, he had it legally changed to “Crazy” — who was in line behind him, pulled his .38 and told him that when you leave the line you’ve got to stay out of line.

   “Not only did the guy stay out of line, I think he made another bathroom stop, but quick!”

   As weird as it sounds, nothing really happened to Jim. Except the Stardust security boys told him he wasn’t to bring his piece into the casino anymore, even though he had a permit to carry one.

   “That’s when Scotty Schettler and I decided we had to eliminate the mad dashes to the counter and the endless lines of waiting stand-ins,” Richie says.

   So they hatched the idea of using playing cards, kind of like the way bakeries use numbers to sort out their customers.

   “The bettors would pick the cards at random, then line up behind the appropriate window, based on the hierarchy of the cards,” Richie says.

   Thus, from one deck of cards, you’d have the potential of 52 bettors lined up for one window.

   “On Saturday during the basketball season, we had to have seven windows open, with dozens of bettors at each window,” he says.

   Handling the volume of bettors, who often had their choice of 100 games, was a nightmare back then because most of the line moves and every bet was logged by hand.

   “We once had 200 line moves in the first hour,” Richie says. “Most times we had no idea what we had on each game. We just kept track as best we could!”

            Now, computers do most of the work, and the lines aren’t as “soft” as they were 20 years ago. And, hopefully, you don’t find characters like Crazy Jim keeping the peace!