Race and sports book figure, Rick Herron passes

Jul 30, 2013 3:00 AM

It is with extreme sadness I report Rick Herron, a pillar in the Las Vegas race and sports book community for the last 33 years, passed away in his sleep last Sunday.

Rick was 59 and a friend to many around the book business. He was one of the sharpest people in the business, but what set him apart from so many was his easy going nature and kindness.

Herron, a Pittsburgh native like so many of the legendary bookmakers in Vegas’ history, got his start at Michael Gaughan’s Barbary Coast, which set the tempo for sports books as we know them on today. Under the guidance of Jimmy Vaccaro, Jack Franzi, and Art Manteris, Herron sharpened his vast knowledge of race and sports gambling to a level that made him attractive to sports books popping up at casinos all along the Strip.

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From 1985 to 1989, he was the race and sports director at the Sands. Then in 1990, he was reunited with Manteris as the manager of the Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook, at the time, the highest standard for a book operation in town with its giant room and booming display of race and sports video feeds. One of the staples he contributed to there that still exists today was the creation of the Pick the Ponies contest.

Rick worked at the Hilton through 1998, then worked for Gaughan again at Coast Resorts as the executive race and sports book host through 2004. He brought in some of the biggest race players in the country and helped make them one of the highest handling pari-mutuel race book conglomerates in the state.

Herron also left his mark there by designing the National Handicapping Challenge, a favorite of horse players from all over. From there, Herron began doing a daily local sports betting show on KSHP with Brett Grant and Ralph Siraco.

I had known Rick casually through acquaintances over the years, and was always impressed by his thorough knowledge of the sports book business. But it wasn’t until three years ago, when I got to work with him daily on “The Linemakers,” that I truly got a firm grip on how sharp he was.

He was a walking database of information on anything to do with all his favorite sports, which included football, basketball and golf. Pros or college, Ricky could recite anything to do with any of the teams. He kept small notes on everything, but the knowledge that came out of him in an instant was astonishing.

I would ask him a week in advance what he’d make the line on an arbitrary college basketball game like Middle Tennessee State at Arkansas State, and he’d say something off the top of his head like, “I know the rating on this game will say Middle Tennessee should be about a 5.5-point road favorite, but they really shouldn’t be favored more than 2 in this spot.”

And wouldn’t you know it, he was right on the money. Arkansas State would win outright. That was the type of information he regularly passed on to listeners of his radio show and viewers on television.

The week before he passed, he wrote an article detailing how Phil Mickelson, at 20-to-1 odds, was great value to win the British Open. I don’t know if he got to see Mickelson actually win, but somehow, I think he knew by Saturday his pick – as usual in golf – was in great shape.

While race and sports came natural and was a way of life for him, his true passion was playing golf. He went to Duquesne University and played on the golf team. For the past three decades he regularly showcased his skills on courses throughout the Las Vegas Valley and Palm Springs with his regular group that included colleagues Kirk Brooks and LVH Super Book’s Jay Kornegay.

Last Wednesday in an impromptu celebration of his life, Kirk Brooks got the word spread around for a gathering at his bar, Brooksies, on Flamingo and Fort Apache. This was a day or two after many of us had just found out about his passing, and yet over 100 of Ricky’s friends from around the business showed up to pay their respects, reminisce and share stories of his life. It was a great scene and reunited many of us who hadn’t seen each other in a while.

I came away from the gathering with bittersweet feelings. On one hand, I was so happy for everyone to have the opportunity to gather, and felt great for Ricky that there was so much love and support for him. On the other hand, I felt awful about not ever telling Ricky something simple to his face like, “You know what, Ricky, you are really a great guy, one of the best dudes I have met. It’s a pleasure to be your friend.”

I think a lot of us have feelings when someone close passes that we failed to communicate our true feelings, and maybe feel we’re too macho to be sensitive. But there is a void, a lack of closure to the entire situation that will gnaw at me for some time.

Just like all the people who showed up at Brooksies, I think there is at least some solace in knowing we were fortunate enough to have had him be a part of our life, and hope we somehow made his life more enjoyable along the way.

We’ll miss you, Ricky, rest in peace.

Here are a few comments from Rick’s friends and colleagues compiled last week by “The Linemakers” on Sporting News:

“I, like many of people of the gaming world, had the privilege of calling Rick my friend. He’s going to be missed by a lot of people. He was very well liked...A lot of us in the sports book world went to him with questions and situations just because we respected his thoughts so much. It didn’t matter if we were talking about what a line on a game should be or what club to use on the course; Rick’s opinion mattered...We were actually supposed to golf on Wednesday. Ricky loved his golf and was passionate about it.” – LVH SuperBooks’ Jay Kornegay, one Rick’s closest friends in Las Vegas

“Very sad news. Good guy. We worked together at the Barbary Coast in the early years. What a crew we had...Chauncey, Pittsburgh Jack, Jerry Ludt, Mugsy Muniz, Chris Andrews, Blake Sartini – all working for Michael Gaughan, Frank Toti and Kenny Epstein. Then we worked together again at Hilton in the 90s...Ricky sure loved sports and gambling. Loved Las Vegas. Lived life his way. Sad passing, but I suspect Ricky enjoyed his stay.” – Station Casinos’ Art Manteris, who hired Rick at the Las Vegas SuperBook

“When you work with somebody as I long as I had in one way or another with Ricky over the years, he no longer is just a friend, he’s more like a brother. A lot of people in town feel the same way about Rick. He’s going to be missed.” – The Linemakers’ Richie Baccellieri

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].

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