It's Churchill Downs by a length

Apr 19, 2016 3:00 AM

In the mid-70s all race and sports books were stand alone, store front type joints all named after race tracks: Del Mar in North Las Vegas, The Derby, Saratoga, Paddock and Hollywood downtown with Santa Anita and Churchill Downs on the Strip.

The cream of this motley crop was Churchill. It was situated on the south end of the Strip so if you started downtown and visited them all you’d end up at Churchill and that’s exactly what LeRoy did.

LeRoy was a monster bettor for those times or any time. He wasn’t a particularly good handicapper, but didn’t have to be since he only bet huge favorites, never laying less than -300, -280 for sure. His favorite chalk was southpaw Vida Blue of the powerful, three straight World Series winning Oakland A’s.

Looking at LeRoy you’d never guess he bet every Las Vegas book till they’d take no more. He had a scruffy looking beard long before they became fashionable. He wore the same plaid shirt every day, his lucky shirt.

He was accompanied on his rounds from book to book with huge sums of money by his bodyguard son, who was on the big side but could have been knocked out by a good shot of whiskey.

Say Oakland with Blue was -320 against a bunch of stiffs. LeRoy would start downtown and bet the first book and the word spread: “LeRoy is on the A’s.” The books knew he was coming and would raise the price but it didn’t matter to LeRoy.

He’d lay any price till they said “uncle” and his last stop was Churchill whether by geography or we took the biggest bite. The room waited patiently till he arrived. It was a big deal.

We knew who he wanted but still asked, “Who you want LeRoy?” He starts by laying the -320 (we never moved it on air), -350 and right up the ladder till his whole bankroll was in action. He didn’t even save enough for a new lucky shirt in case he ever lost, which he didn’t.

That last statement comes with a disclaimer. LeRoy was from Fresno and he’d go home when baseball was over. I worked in Reno for a year, opening a book in the Club Cal-Neva for my good friend and mentor Warren Nelson, RIP.

The Fresno crowd visited Reno since it’s close. It’s football season 1979-80 and LeRoy is at the Cal Neva betting small teasers. He made the Fresno layers fat betting football. He had the same look, same demeanor and you’d never guess he blew a fortune won on baseball by betting football. Just his teasers were a few 000’s less. He must have changed his shirt. He was still in action though and that’s what mattered to the LeRoys.

No Hollywood-type ending here. LeRoy is just good history. Another big winner quitting losers.

Take care, Scotty.

Scotty Schettler began his Las Vegas journey in 1968. By the time he quit the race and sports book business he had booked over $1.5 billion for different employers. He says he knows where most of the cans are buried. His book,  is available on Contact Scotty at [email protected].