Monday, Nov. 6, 2006 | 7:37 a.m.
At the peak of its power, there was nothing like the sports book at the Stardust.
When the venerable hotel and casino closed its doors last week, it evoked little emotion in Scotty Schettler, the boss of the Stardust sports book from 1983 to 1991.
"Ah, it closed over 10 years ago," Schettler said. "They just forgot to tell 'em."
Far from being bitter, though, Schettler looks back with delight on the era of fast action and high limits, when the 'Dust was the undisputed pinnacle of the sports betting universe.
"The whole country waited on us to put up our (point spread) numbers," Schettler said. "Nobody would make a move without seeing our numbers."
The secret of the Stardust's success, Schettler said, lay in the skill of its oddsmakers. They not only could create point spreads with uncanny accuracy, but also set betting limits - higher than most, but not unmanageable - with precision.
"We were a true 'book joint,' " Schettler said. "We knew the limits we could get away with that would give us the maximum amount of action laying 11-10 both ways."
As a result, the book attracted a frenzy of betting not seen in Las Vegas before or since, Schettler said. During his regime, with betting limits of $3,000 on basketball, $5,000 on college football and $10,000 on the NFL, the book averaged 4,000 betting tickets a day in sports and horse racing combined.
That included as many as 700 to 800 maximum, or "limit," sports bets a day, and an average daily handle of $500,000 on sports.
For six years in a row, the book never sustained a losing month, Schettler said.
"The other guys said the Stardust was lucky," Schettler said. "I say it was skill."
A bookmaker in his native western Pennsylvania as a teen, Schettler held others from that part of the nation in high esteem.
"I hired all guys from back East," he said. "Kansas City was the furthest west I ever hired anybody from. They were bookmakers - no suits and ties."
Schettler also took risks, playing the renegade against conventional wisdom.
In the 1980s, for instance, any sports book customer holding a clipboard was marked as a "runner," someone hired by a betting syndicate to make large wagers against weak numbers. They were banished in short order from most properties.
The Stardust took the opposite tack.
"We gave clipboards away to anybody who wanted 'em," Schettler said. "We had 1,500 clipboards made up with the word 'Stardust' on them. I still have some."
To accommodate all the activity, the Stardust staff devised a lottery to determine places in line for the betting windows, a system that was continually revised. One rule stated if you signed up for the lottery, you had to place a bet of at least $300 - even if you drew a spot at the back of the line. Another prohibited talking or passing notes in the line, to discourage impromptu proxy bets.
"So you'd have guys betting thousands of dollars raising their hands and saying, 'Hey, he's talking!' " Schettler said. "It sounds like kindergarten, but it actually worked. It was an amazing sight."
Schettler gave credit to his bosses at the Boyd group for affording him autonomy to run the book (and, not coincidentally, make lots of money for the company).
"In return, they got first count of all the money," Schettler said.
None of it "went South," Schettler said, using a euphemism for gambling money "skimmed" under previous hotel ownership with mob links.
Schettler refers to the old owners, alternately, as "the Outfit" or "the other guys" - including Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, the original mastermind of the Stardust sports book in the 1970s.
"Lefty was a genius," Schettler said. "He saw the power sports betting had to draw customers into the hotel."
When the Stardust brass made a business decision in 1991 to tone it down and run a more conventional sports book, Schettler, never comfortable in a traditional corporate environment, opted to leave.
Today he runs an online simulated sports betting game (wiseguys.com) from his northwest Las Vegas offices, and still relishes his Stardust memories.
"It's too bad everyone couldn't have experienced it," Schettler said. "It was awesome. There'll never be another place like it."