Bobby the Owl a real character in the old Vegas sportsbook

Bobby the Owl a real character in the old Vegas sportsbook

September 12, 2017 3:00 AM
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We take getting scores and updates for granted. Every game on the board is updated at least every quarter or inning, but more often than not most games are on the overwhelming banks of TVs so you get up to the minute information. It wasn’t always this convenient.

We had to wait for the lumbering Western Union ticker or the air-driven reader boards to spit out scores or squeeze them out of the newspaper the next morning.

Getting scores was how I met Bobby “the Owl” a.k.a. BTO. He kept a pocket full of quarters and used the famous pay phones in front of Churchill Downs to get scores. He called schools, stadiums, newspapers, anywhere he could get a score before someone else. Why? Who knows?

He’d bet $22 on a game and $22 on scores. Even if he won, he lost the juice.

Bobby went to South Bend Central. They won the Indiana State Championship in 1953, the year before Milan won the “Hoosiers” game. He had no living family; he was alone and completely devoted to handicapping, betting, and getting scores. The nickname? I suppose it was the glasses, squeaky voice, and hyper energy, although that doesn’t describe an owl.

Besides his score obsession, Bobby had other quirks. He was the absolute worst driver in the world. He’d step on the gas with his right foot and the break with his left. He was also a world-class speed eater. The over/under on a full course dinner with dessert was 59.5 seconds. He was such a nervous wreck he once left his teeth on one of the pay phones outside the Stardust.

Once while working at the Silverbird sportsbook, he wrote a customer the wrong team for $22,000. The man never looked at his ticket (his mistake) and had to eat it since the game was over. He waited for The Owl to leave the Silverbird and punched him right through his car window.

Later the GCB (Gaming Control Board) would take Bobby’s work card away in arguably the worst bureaucratic decision of all time. They said he was involved in OC (organized crime). The Owl was the absolute last pick for playground games let alone organized crime. Laughable decision except they ruined a decent person’s chance to earn a living.

Bobby was “working” for me at the Stardust at the time. It was his dream job. I paid him a nickel ($500) a week, with benefits, but he had to stay away from the Stardust. He couldn’t come in because he caused too much confusion in the back room. He stayed home, gathered sports information for us, and made numbers (which we couldn’t use). In case anyone wonders, I liked Bobby, so I accepted the baggage.

Bobby was one of my “creative hires” as Richard Schuetz, my Stardust boss at the time called them. I hired a few people with no job title or description in the manual. I’d have to make up a job title, and it usually upset HR. I called Bobby an information coordinator.

I talked him into following me to Reno while I opened the Cal-Neva book for Warren Nelson. Sportsbook talent in Reno was thin but free drink tickets weren’t. They were a big thing, like an underground currency.

On the street one Cal-Neva drink ticket could get you two Harrah’s tickets or three from Harold’s Club. We sometimes ran out of the darn things and had to borrow them from our customers, who had stacks of them hoarded. Reno was a different town, really the wild West.

For Monday Night Football, we had a promotion: if your team was ahead at halftime you got a free hot dog and a beer. You had to bring your wagering ticket to the counter, show it to the Owl, and he was supposed to stamp it and give you a comp for a hot dog and beer.

During one MNF game Bobby was at his writing window, but he didn’t really want to do this. So he threw the tickets at people.

It turns out one guy he threw the ticket at was the governor’s brother-in-law. Warren heard about it and told me to get Bobby out of his casino. That was the Owl’s last break.

Prior to this latest escapade Bobby got big break from Nelson. He was getting writer’s wages and betting $5,000 a game for his buddy in Vegas, but Bobby pretended the bets were his. I had to convince him to quit betting for the guy or he’d be fired. Besides, he was making it look like I didn’t have a handle on the book. Combined with the hot dog incident it was too much; I couldn’t save him.

Bobby and I remain friends. I understand and appreciate him. He’s good people.