Amazing how pay phones were such a hot commodity
November 21, 2017 3:00 AM
by Scott Schettler
There are phones and then there are pay phones that could make top selling videos if someone taped the action around them.
The pay phones outside the Stardust south doors by the race and sportsbook actually were taped and tapped by the Feds as they watched from a car in the McDonald’s parking lot to see who used them and at what time.
The bank of seven pay phones were a gold mine for the phone company and outperformed many quarter slots in casinos. Phones are welcome in sportsbooks today but at one time that could get you busted or 86’d at best. Since it was illegal to have a hand-held phone in a book let alone use it, most calls on our pay phones outside went to street bookmakers or a local office. The rest went out around the country as our line and line movement was closely monitored. Of course many a lay down was made on those infamous (to the feds) phones as well.
What a scene if the time Bobby “The Owl” forgot his false teeth on top of one of them was on film. Or the time Sam “Spinner” Brown and another guy were calling the same BM (bookmaker) to get in first and the guy reached over to disconnect Sam’s phone.
Once a tourist called security to report a fellow hung up his phone and shoved him out of the way. It was just when we put up our opening numbers and every line was tied up. “Fast Eddie” needed to call some very important people.
Then there’s Montana Mel, who had a client he called long distance every morning with our line. Montana Mel wasn’t well groomed plus his diet consisted of warm Coors and raw hotdogs while he lived in a camper shell on his pickup. When this regular bothered the customers in the book I would temporarily 86 him, only to lift it later. Montana could recite the nickname of every college team, big and small. Hundreds of them, and he couldn’t be stumped.
On one of those days when Montana was 86’d, he had to get the line to send out to his client. If unable to come in and copy the line, he would listen to someone else read it on the pay phones. One day a guy on the phones knew Montana was listening and pretended to give out the line – all phony numbers that Mel copied and sent out to his client. I’ll bet the client he was servicing is still paying off.
One of the better ideas I had for the Stardust was to take advantage of other books chasing customers who they considered sharp. I wanted that business and did the opposite of the other books in town.
To boost our handle and reap the juice I installed free phones so our players could call other sportsbooks and bookies from the Dust.
By GCB regulations, a player couldn’t have a cell phone in the book. The casino couldn’t have public phones, including pay phones, within viewing range of the odds boards. By the GCB reasoning, you could call back East and read the line directly off the boards. Thank heavens they didn’t outlaw pencil and paper.
It was, and still is illegal to call the line across state lines per Title 18, but locally the GCB now allows cell phones on property.
I noticed a small room at the back of the book where our porters stored their mops and stuff. It seemed like a pretty expensive space, right on the Strip, to be storing mops. We took the room over and had five phones installed.
They could only reach out within Las Vegas – no long distance, and would not accept incoming calls.
They were placed where the sports boards couldn’t be seen while using them. Now our players could call other sportsbooks and offices (street bookies). If our players could call out, they wouldn’t have to leave the Stardust to see other numbers. Also the scalpers, who were playing both sides of the same game, could find and bet strange numbers on the pipes (phones) then make a play with us, on the other side, a play we would never have gotten.
Now our players didn’t have to leave the Stardust, which they didn’t want to anyway. They figured, correctly, if they left the Stardust a number they were waiting for may appear on our boards and they’d miss it. Worse yet, someone else would get “their” number.
Who knows what the landscape will be if sports betting is legalized state by state or even country wide. We’ll see.
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, We Were Wise Guys and Didn’t Know It is available on amazon.com. Email: ScottySchettler@GamingToday.com