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Life’s less sunny without Sonny

Dec 3, 2002 6:19 AM

   REMEMBERING SONNY! When Sonny Reizner checked out over the weekend, I was sad.

   Back in the mid-1970s when I first met him, sports betting in the books was in its infancy. He was working for Bill Friedman at the Castaways, a small joint on the Strip where The Mirage now stands. The book was not much more than a hole in the wall and that’s exactly what they called it -- The Hole in the Wall Sports Book.

   Sonny was always on top of the game. He knew the importance of getting ink in the local press to promote his book. But, he often had to explain things to people in the media who at that time knew little (if anything!) about sports from a wagering angle. However, my Philadelphia roots gave me a betting insight. Sonny knew that, too. But, he still got on the phone to keep me up-to-date “just in case!”

   Sonny was always loyal to his employer. He knew his first duty was to protect the house. But he never wanted to see anyone get burned and this put him between the devil and the deep blue sea. At heart, Sonny was just a really nice guy.

   In his quest to do what was right by his boss, Sonny was always alert to big money bets, surprise money bets and heavy one-sided action. Often he would call me to see if I had heard anything about a game. If it did, I shared it with him. It was a two-way street. He saved me several times from making a big mistake with information he had gleaned.

   While at the Castaways, Friedman allowed Sonny to be creative and it paid off. Sonny took sports betting out of the world of wise guys and professional bettors and brought it to the masses of armchair quarterbacks and would-be hoopsters. He made it simple and fun. And soon the Hole in the Wall became one of the most popular sports books in town.

   One day Sonny called. He told me he was getting plenty of action on a certain NFL game. He asked if I knew anything about it. I told him what I knew.

   The story was that some wise guys from Cleveland had come to town with suitcases full of cash to bet.

   “Are you sure?” asked Sonny.

   “That’s the way I hear it,” I told him.

   He wanted to know where I got my information. I told him he knew better than to ask such a foolish question. But, now he knew what I knew and he could do what he wanted with the info.

   I knew at the time that I tossed him for a loss with my words. Sonny was something else. He had a way about him of asking the same question over and over when he wanted a different answer.

   I wouldn’t budge. He signed off.

   Before I could continue what I was doing, he was back on the line.

   “How sure are you of what you said?” he asked.

   I told him I wasn’t sure one way or the other. It was simply the latest skinny.

   He got off the phone.

   Within a minute he was back on.

   “Are you sure you’re sure, Chuck?”

   Normally, by the third call I’d be annoyed with just about anyone. But, not with Sonny. Even when he was persistent he was down right nice. You just couldn’t get upset with the guy.

   And that’s how it went through the years. We were phone pals. We helped each other out. We were friends.