Money in ‘the Bank,’ at 86, Lem Banker is still hitting bets

Jul 23, 2013 3:01 AM

It has everything that a great gambling movie would want – intrigue, love with a beautiful model, gambling big time, Las Vegas, the mob.

It is a movie that would rival “Casino,” which was about my old workplace, the Stardust, and the boys who ran it like Lefty Rosenthal. That movie, “Casino,” may have never been made if it weren’t for Lem Banker, who just happened to be the one person responsible for getting Lefty his work card.

“Lefty once told me, you will never be successful in life unless you go broke a few times,” Banker said during a conversation I had with him at his house in a gated community where the likes of Jerry “The Shark” Tarkanian lives, among others.

When I walked into Lem’s beautiful house with the Olympic-size swimming pool in the back and a workout room, it was like a walk back in time. All of his past sitting there – talking to me through photos and many scrap books. Photos of his beautiful model wife who passed away just awhile back plus many big name sports players in all sports, especially boxing.

How Lem met his wife was a story in itself. He tells about getting fixed up: a nice Jewish boy bookmaker and gambler meeting a beautiful Catholic girl who was an up and coming model.

Lem was a patriot along with his father. He served his country in WWII and is proud of it. His father’s army picture rests on a mantel alongside one of him. I am just wondering how much money Lem took his fellow army buds for during that tour of duty.

Lem got his gambling start behind the candy store his dad ran in New Jersey, booking whatever anyone wanted to bet. It didn’t take Lem long to move on after his college days when he was a boxer and basketball player.

Lem told me many stories about his betting days and how his information was the key to getting an edge on the bookies back then. It was all about knowing before they did, and having the ability to get down the big money.

“There’s so much parity in NFL these days,” Banker told me. “The worst coach in the NFL is in Detroit (Jim Schwartz). Cleveland’s got a new GM in Michael Lombardi. Not a lot of fanfare, but I like Cleveland.”

Lem had the ability to get down $30,000 on a game but sometimes collecting the money was another thing all together. He would need to put the gloves on in some cases. In others he would make a call to the right person.

Banker is a legendary bettor in Vegas, overcoming the odds and, in many cases, overcoming people who he would send out to make some bets for him, never to be seen again, but that was Vegas.

“Vegas was better years ago when the mob controlled it,” Banker said. “There are too many corporations now.”

Lem told me a story about how he was responsible for breaking the color barrier in Vegas back in 1957 when he was dating Eartha Kitt, and how he started the -1½ and +1½ run lines.

Lem also pulled a lot of strings and got UNLV games on the betting board in Nevada. He showed me the many articles that were written on him, especially one in the Chicago Tribune, and so much more.

One thing I noticed when looking at all of his wonderful memorabilia was that his mind is as sharp as it was when he was beating up on us at the Stardust. I noticed on his desk was the schedule with the games of the day and his work alongside.

“I bet every day, but just a few for $100 or $200 a game,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “I just do it for the action. Breaking even is a good thing.”

I asked Lem if he was in his prime in today’s marketplace and – without missing a beat – he said no.

“With the Internet, everyone has the same lines and is privy to the same info,” he said. “They (bettors) all get the injuries – not like in the past before the ‘Net when you needed connections and had to do your own work, and have many outs to make or get off a bet. Now the only outs are in the Islands and betting with there is not legal. Plus, you may never get paid.”

I asked Lem, if he were to give some up-and-coming wannabe gambler some advice, what would it be?

“Marry a rich woman! When you take a tough beat do as I would do – don’t drink, don’t smoke and work out after a bad day,” he said. “That is how I lived my life.”

It was a wonderful day. Lem told me the Bears were also a good bet-against in the early going and college hoops are his best sport to bet on.

His story is one that needs to be written in a book or novel, but a movie would be great. I think a young aspiring director/producer should get involved.

I would be the first person in line to buy a ticket to see the movie.

Lem does have a book out in paperback available at the Gamblers Book Store (5473 S. Eastern Ave.) called “Lem Banker’s Book of Sports Betting.” It’s a good read and, as the late Mort Olshan of The Gold Sheet wrote” “Lem Banker is arguably the most successful sports bettor in America. His insights and understanding of this difficult exercise are unparalleled, and his reputation unmatched.”

I agree.

Thanks, Lem, and I hope you get that call very soon. “The Lem Banker Story” would look good on the marquee.

Encore: A little Lem advice from his book for the weekend bettor:

“Bet not what you want to win, but what you can afford to lose.

“Devise your own power ratings to take the guesswork out of choosing a team.

“Go against public opinion. Play to make money, not just to pick winners.”

Richard Saber, a former director of race and sports at the famed Stardust book, is GamingToday’s horse racing and sports handicapper.  Follow Richard on Twitter @SabesBet. Contact Richard at [email protected].

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