Sports’ ‘prodigal son’ returns to ‘Mecca’

Jul 13, 2004 6:35 AM

Jimmy Vaccaro, once hailed "the most influential linesmaker of the last 25 years," by a local newspaper, has another shot at making a difference.

The sports betting industry’s "prodigal son" is back in Las Vegas, working for Leroy’s and spreading the gospel on talk radio shows.

"Vegas is my favorite place, the reason that I am back," Vaccaro told GamingToday last week. "My kids and family are here. What I’m doing is a work in progress."

Vaccaro took a hiatus from Las Vegas 14 months ago when his "Caesars Palace connections" provided an opportunity to work in the Bahamas at the colossal Atlantis casino. Prior to that, he was out of the game for five years.

"When I was at Atlantis, a lot of people didn’t know me," Vaccaro said. "Atlantis gave me a free hand. The only thing was I could not bring anybody with me. Bahamians had to run the book. Thank goodness the (staff) there were receptive."

Vaccaro kept a tenuous link with Las Vegas through his annual participation in the Stardust Invitational Handicapping Contest. His famed $550 bets on behalf of an audience member always spiced up the action and usually rewarded a lucky Stardust customer with a nice $1,050 prize.

"I extended those bets to the customers at the Stardust Invitational where they would have the chance to make some money," he said. "I would designate a $550 bet. If it won, the next week it would rollover to $1050. It would be the choice of the winning customer whether to cash the ticket or double it."

Vaccaro’s generosity may be best remembered for a winning parlay bet that once paid $32,000. He gave half the winnings to the writers at Sam’s Town.

"The bets were something I did to give something back to the industry," he said. "I believe that people working in the race and sports book have been underpaid through the years. I got all the ink and I just tried to give back."

With his return to Las Vegas, Vaccaro won’t have to phone in his selections in the contest (he rarely and very begrudgingly flies on an airplance!).

"I had no intention of working in Nevada again," Vaccaro said. "I was here for a few months to resolve a few issues prior to taking the Atlantis job. It was about time to head back to the Islands when I received a nice offer from Leroy’s. I had a handshake agreement and now I’m back."

Vaccaro’s presence renews a link to a glorious past in Vegas gaming.

"Vegas is Vegas," said Vaccaro, who grew up with his famed brother Sonny (Adidas founder) in Trafford, Pa. "It can’t be equaled. The crowds are getting younger in the race books and March Madness has gained enormous popularity over the years.

"But football still reigns and no matter where the lines appear, everyone wants to know what it is in Vegas."

Vaccaro got his start nearly 30 years ago with Coast founder Michael Gaughan.

"I made a career decision by moving to Las Vegas in 1976 and working at the Royal Inn Casino for Michael Gaughan," he said. "Michael wanted to open up a sports book. I didn’t know how to run a book, but I was anxious to help Michael make it work."

Vaccaro climbed the corporate ladder, moving on to the Barbary Coast, Golden Nugget, the old MGM Grand (now Bally’s) and ultimately running the race and sports operation at The Mirage for Steve Wynn.

With Sonny’s shoe deals and college basketball brokering combined with Jimmy setting the lines, the brothers "V" at one time were arguably the two most powerful individuals in the sport.

Vaccaro doesn’t know what the future will provide, but he would like to divide time between here and the Atlantis.

"It’s an unbelievable resort, similar to the Rampart," said Vaccaro, a past contributor to GamingToday. I had talked about going back and spending half the year there. But, this is an exciting opportunity to try a few things that I think can work. I’m optimistic about the business. That’s why I took the job."

For a little more than $550, we guess.