Doors. No, not the rock group but a couple of doors in old Churchill Downs Race & Sportsbook were unique.
The sportsbook office door was especially noteworthy to say the least. The inside office side of it held a secret in the 70s. It had false molding that concealed a hidden compartment.
Those were different times with no computer paper trail. Tickets were hand written and lock boxes the Gaming Control Board required (to keep a carbon copy of all tickets for auditing) were about as efficient as the Russian bureaucracy.
The cash was counted like picking strawberries. This goes in this basket, this goes in that basket. Our “basket” was further divided into the day’s receipts the auditors saw and counted, and the rest went south into the door.
When they bulldozed Churchill to put up that gaudy Eiffel Tower I always wondered what happened to the door. There were quite a few false doors and walls around Las Vegas in those days, good times.
Churchill’s front door was sometimes manned by Paul the doorman. Paul was shabby, his teeth and eyes went different ways. He would open the door for somebody and ask them, “Do you want some shoes?”
Once in a while a square would say yes and Paul would produce a beat up shoe catalog for the square to make a selection. No one ever did but the Churchill regulars would give Paul a “deposit” toward a pair of imaginary shoes.
No one ever gave a thought to banning Paul. One day we wondered where he was as he didn’t show up anymore.
Can you imagine Paul at one of our new sterile mega resorts today? Never happen, those special times and attitudes are gone forever.
The inner doors between Churchill’s race side and sports side were always open and served no purpose that I could figure out other than separating the two areas. However my friend Ralph Dupas found them useful.
Ralph was a Churchill regular and my friend. He was a top-ranked boxer from the 1950s and 1960s who moved to Las Vegas after his boxing career was over. Dupas lost to Emile Griffith in a welterweight title fight in Griffith's return to the ring after he killed Benny “Kid” Paret in a tragic outcome. Paret fell against the ropes and couldn’t hit the canvas. Ralph, in fighter’s mode, kept going till the referee belatedly stepped in. It was much too late. Dupas later lost to the great Sugar Ray Robinson in a big fight in Miami.
Ralph loved to bet horses at Churchill. He’d place a small bet on a horse, run through the doors to the sportsbook side, and cover his ears so he couldn't hear the call of the race. Then he would slowly return to the racebook side, covering his eyes and slowly squeezing a peek at the result board, prolonging the anticipation before he found out who won.
Poor Ralph really didn’t have to worry too much about who won or cashing winning race tickets.
Unfortunately, Ralph suffered from the physical effects of a long career taking punches. After a while, he could hardly walk. He couldn’t make it to Churchill to bet his horses anymore, but I would still see him at noon Mass at St. Joan of Arc in downtown Las Vegas at least a couple of times a week.
Ralph must have gone to Mass every day because I always saw him there and we enjoyed a talk after. He got worse as time passed. I’m sure he was broke except for the help he got from Herbie “Hoops” Lambeck. Ralph, a real champion, just silently disappeared – but not his memory. Take care, and visit my website: wiseguys.com