Sports information was Vegas' game back in the day

Sports information was Vegas' game back in the day

April 04, 2017 3:00 AM


Sports information powers the betting world. It might be diligently searched for or simply fall into our laps through generic means like ESPN, other sports broadcasts and opinion shows, newspapers or various mass media.

It’s everywhere now and almost impossible to avoid if we’re going to wager, watch and listen. 

We’re bombarded with injuries and all sorts of intrigue, some useful and some pure nonsense. It wasn’t always so in-your-face however.

We had niche info providers whose position, contacts or hustle got them into the information pipeline early, like us writers at Churchill Downs sportsbook. Churchill’s writers had phones at their stations in those early days. Throughout the 60s and 70s, those of us who were motivated took advantage of our position.

As writers we were near the bottom of the food chain but near the top when it came to first-hand information. We were first to know of big line moves and usually knew the reason. 

We each had our individual customers who were sitting at home or in their offices. They paid us to call them with big line movements and the reason, if we knew it.

We each had our own order of who got called first. The most generous got the first call, therefore most valuable. Some of our clients assumed they were first. There could be only one first but who was I to hurt their egos.

Time marches on and so did the sports information business. In 1983 I took over the Stardust race and sportsbook. Our original numbers were in demand not only in Las Vegas but all over the country. 

Big bettors and offices around the country would pay a “runner” to sit in the Stardust all day, monitor our odds boards and call them with big line moves.

In those days they had to go outside to our pay phone bank to make their calls. Then in the mid-80’s things changed big time. A man named Don Bessett had an ingenious idea. He was way ahead of his time. Since the Stardust line was in such demand throughout the country he figured out how to get it disseminated almost instantly, by those day’s standards at least.

Computers were on the cusp of an impending tech revolution. He invested in computers and software to transmit the Stardust odds to anyone who had a computer and monitor on the other end.

Bessett rented an upstairs office in a small strip mall across from the Stardust. He had a runner, Jimmy Sirodi, sit in the sportsbook and call him with our line moves. Bessett would then put those valuable moves into his system by hand and out they went to his limited customers. In a few months he built his clientele up to 35 users.

Sirodi was getting on my nerves so I told him, “If you’re going to use our seats and benefit from our hard work making odds then at least make a $10 parlay.” He left the book for Bessett’s office and soon Don came across the street in a panic, telling me he’d be out of business without the Stardust odds.

He then took me across the street to proudly show his impressive layout and unique idea. I told him he can have access to anything we have. Scufflers were my soft spot. After all, I was one of them.

Bessett never knew he had created a worldwide business model. He died from cancer, but before he left us he sold to Al Corbo, who was from Philadelphia and well respected in the business. Al called his new business Don Best after Don Bessett and moved to bigger digs on Spring Mountain Road.

With Al’s business smarts and contacts Don Best was destined to be the world’s leading odds service. Sadly, like Don Bessett before him, Al never lived to see it. He too passed from cancer. Al’s wife and three sons took over. The business they inherited was like a Rolls Royce, all they had to do was drive and not wreck it. Al was one of us, his family was not. His oldest son, Dana a lawyer, took over as CEO.

Years later after I had left the Stardust I was working for Jerry Irwin, a huge bettor who also had a phone odds service. Jerry sold his phone service to Don Best and that’s where the story takes a turn.

I’ll follow up next week. Take care, Scotty,