The number of Las Vegas luminaries with ties to the way things used to be before the population of the valley exploded over the past 15 years is dwindling. But many of those who remain were in attendance last Wednesday at a memorial service for legendary sports book director Sonny Reizner, who passed away the previous Saturday.
Sonny was, and continues to be, held in high esteem within the sports wagering community. That esteem was evident in the many friends and colleagues that joined Sonny’s family to pay tribute.
The service, marking a solemn occasion, was much more a celebration of the life of the man who is responsible for so much of what is commonplace today. Sonny was not just a pioneer who brought about many innovations that increased the popularity of sports books in Nevada but he also generated huge amounts of positive publicity, both nationwide and around the world, for the industry.
Noted sports bettor Lem Banker was in attendance and eulogized his long time friend with some stories that highlighted Sonny’s good nature and sense of humor.
Casino executive Bill Friedman reminisced about the days back in the seventies when he allowed Sonny free reign to run the sports book at the old Castaways. It was at the “Hole in the Wall” sports book that much of Sonny’s creativity and foresight came to fruition. Bill talked about other sides of Sonny that showed his compassion for both his employees and visitors to his book.
Larry Grossman, author and host of the popular radio show “You Can Bet On It” and long time friend of Sonny gave an eloquent eulogy that touched on his humanity — the kind of humanity for which we would all like to be remembered.
Sonny was a popular guest on Grossman’s show — one who could be available on a moment’s notice. Sonny could always wow an audience as he reminisced about his life in sports betting on both sides of the counter.
One of Sonny’s sons, Adam, spoke about his dad in very personal terms, relating some stories that showed how the roles of father and husband (to wife Rolene) were filled with love and compassion.
The services was a Who’s Who of the past 40 years in Las Vegas and it spilled over into the ensuing reception. Another friend of many years, Lee Pete, and his wife were also in attendance. Lee — a pioneer in his own right in the sports talk industry in Las Vegas — hosted his nightly radio show from the Castaways, which eventually evolved into the Stardust Line show.
Writers Jack Welsh, Steven Nover and Arne Lang also paid their respects, as did Vic Salerno and Keith Glantz. Even a pair of long time Las Vegas’ lovable “characters” — Donnie Bader and Sam Angel — came to honor the memory of their friend.
The size of the crowd, and the quality and celebrity of those in attendance, showed how much Sonny was loved, liked and respected. He leaves those of us who were fortunate to have known him with many vivid memories that will perpetuate his legacy. The aptly nicknamed Sonny will be sorely missed and long remembered.