The opening of the book: The humble beginnings of the sports game

LAS VEGAS – An enraged Lem banker stomped on Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder’s Hollywood Race and Sports Book in the downtown core in the 1960s. Snyder stood across the counter.

“Where is my money?” said the banker.

“Don’t have it,” Snyder said.

Banker, a sports betting legend and former boxer who trained religiously, walked up to Snyder, who grabbed a baseball bat. The banker rushed to the counter and threw down the gun. A struggle ensued.

They slipped behind a partition, in an office. The banker left with his loot, possibly $ 5,000, said fellow pro Ron Boyles.

Eyewitness Harold Kulic, a longtime El Cortez ticket writer known as “Hungry Hal,” relayed these theatrical facts to Boyles during the inglorious era of Vegas sports betting.

“Everyone called him Hal and thought that was his name,” Boyles said. “He liked to eat. Never paid for a meal. He bought the best baseball numbers and everyone cooked him meals.

During those decades, Vegas punters have patronized either illegal bookies or independents like Snyder’s. Legal stores continued, barely at times, until cheaper taxes led to wider acceptance and the bacchanal of sports betting today.

For the first time, Nevada achieved $ 1 billion in monthly sports betting, the number, in October, a month after New Jersey became the first state to lose $ 1 billion. Profit, or hold, generally hovers around 5%.

Industry experts expect Illinois to join this exclusive 10-figure fraternity soon.

On December 9, Maryland became the 31st U.S. jurisdiction (30 states, plus Washington, DC) to legalize sports betting. Sixteen other states are discussing the legislation.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court let states pursue their own sports betting ambitions in 2018, more than $ 82 billion in business was generated nationwide, according to the watchdog. SportsHandle industry.

For decades, a legal sports bet on a single game could only be placed in Nevada, which had an amount of $ 8 million in 1974.

Sometimes there were only three stand-alones in Las Vegas.


Herbie Hoops, Dick the Pick, Bobby the Tower, Hunchback Bobby, Crazy Louie, Jolly Joe, Fat Dave, Michael the Weasel and Fast Eddie were some of the eccentrics of this unglamorous period.

“Characters,” Boyles said, “who made those holes in the wall interesting.”

They frequented the Rose Bowl, Derby, Saratoga, Santa Anita, Hollywood or other books, whether on the Strip or downtown. Longtime handicapper Dave Cokin remembers real scrimmages outside of pay phones.

Nevada legalized gambling in 1931. Sports betting, however, was not popular due to reported fixes, allegations of harmful activity, and thorny taxes.

In 1951, a 10% federal tax on sports betting helped both regulate and shut down businesses. In 1974, this was reduced to 2%; in 1983, at its current ¼ of 1%.

Union Plaza, in 1975, became the first hotel-casino to integrate a book into its premises. A year later, at the Stardust, Chicago native Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal – who had directed the Rose Bowl – developed the “theater style” decor that has become de rigueur.

These independents kept the business afloat from the early 1950s, when politicians banned the bookie almost twice, and the mid-1970s.

“Very inhospitable places,” said Rosenthal in “Casino,” Nicholas Pileggi’s 1995 book. “Sawdust joints. I had spent my life in these places and I knew what they needed.


In June 1976, at Bill Dark’s Del Mar in North Las Vegas, famed Vegas hothead Cryin ‘Kenny had bet on Game 5 of the Suns-Celtics NBA Championship Series to finish below his planned total.

The triple overtime game has ended. Before the end, the mad-eyed Texan had left and returned with a gun, firing six bullets into the Zenith television suspended from the ceiling.

Kenny returned the next day, wrote South Point sports betting manager Chris Andrews in his “Then One Day.” . . book – and apologized to Dark who, after making Kenny pay for TV, took Kenny’s bets. Business as usual.

South Point and Vegas Institutional Sports Marketing Director Jimmy Vaccaro said the last independents were Little Caesar’s and Churchill Downs, at opposite ends of a simple mall.

At the end of the 1990s, this section of the Strip became Paris Las Vegas.

Tommy Lorenzo, a 49-year-old resident of Southern California, snuck into Little Caesar’s out of curiosity when he was 19. The casino books all carried him on him. But at LC, he bought a beer in a 16-ounce Dixie mug for a dollar.

“The characters brooding,” Lorenzo said, “could have inspired the cantina scene from“ Star Wars. ”I wasn’t patented and I felt like a king in this location, which was really a dip. .

Boyles called it the vibe.

“Runesque characters in every corner. At the Rose Bowl, they faked a flight; they had lost all kinds of money and couldn’t pay people. Handwritten tickets. Could make a movie about them.

The Rose Bowl, run by Gary Austin, has never reopened. Horse racing was recreated, after the fact, from broadcaster Joe Deluca reading the ticker over loudspeakers.

“Straight out of ‘The Sting’. He had come on the mike, “Boyles said,” with that old racetrack voice and gave the call. Huge.”

Vegas mainstay Michael “Roxy” Roxborough was dating the Santa Anita. In an email he called out the free-standing pigsties. You would never bring a woman to one of those.

He praised the operating books of casinos.

“They had little tolerance for the unhealthy characters who were used to old bistros. Simply put, you couldn’t stand on the chairs and throw beer bottles at the TV anymore.

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