Camaraderie existed in Old Vegas but corporate America snuffed it out

May 23, 2017 3:00 AM

The dictionary defines camaraderie as brotherhood especially united by a common cause, literal or figurative combat, mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together.

That’s mostly missing from the betting scene in Las Vegas today. The camaraderie among bettors has been eliminated by the vastness and amenities of today’s race and sportsbooks. They have, by design, been blended into the hotels, casinos, restaurants and attractions. The books for the most part are located in huge cavernous areas close to hundreds of thousands of square feet of gambling tables and entertainment.

In fact, the books are another form of entertainment for a good portion of the people occupying a seat in them. I purposely used the word people and not player or bettor. You can sit comfortably in the book or close by while eating. You can be entertained by huge TV displays that carry most any game you’re interested in. The odds boards may be full of mind teasing propositions to ponder. You might even score a drink if the cocktail waitress thinks you’re George. You don’t have to be a player to enjoy today’s books.

Before hotels took over race and sportsbooks there was a common thread we all shared. It’s now gone along with all the storefront books and hole in the wall betting counters first located casinos. That common thread of making a bet and expecting a payoff is missing. Those rooms were small compared with the mega books today. One TV or two at the most. No food or drinks or cocktail waitresses. People didn’t go there for the amenities or to be entertained. We shared a common purpose and that was we were all race or sports bettors or both.

Those joints were alive with characters and stories of good and bad beats. Some were even true. Tuesday was settle up day around town for those of us who still had money or were owed. If you came up lame for the week we’d carry your figure over till you located a fresh bankroll. Those books, especially Churchill, were like banks. I owe you, you owe him so I’ll pay him and you and I are square. Camaraderie.

Even the Stardust was in that old time category in spite of being a big book in a Strip hotel. It was the center of the locals Las Vegas betting market. It was a serious betting establishment full of like-minded bettors.

Those haunts are gone, never to return to Las Vegas. Gone with them are the characters and events, humorous and not so. They’re only memories but we can yearn for the camaraderie that was so thick in them.

One of my favorite sayings applies here: “Times change, change with them or get out of the way.”