Monday, March 12, 2012 | 2:01 a.m.
Race and sports books weren’t always staples on the Strip. What used to be stand-alone shops in the shadows grew up in the 1960s, came into the casinos in the ’70s and went high-tech in the 1980s and ’90s. Now, you can make bets on your smartphones. Here are some of the figures that helped build the modern sports books in Las Vegas:
Bob Martin (1918-2001)
Martin set “the line” for sports odds in Las Vegas in the 1970s. No one questioned him, as he set the odds for football every week on a chalkboard at the Churchill Downs Sports Book. In 1982, Martin was convicted of passing betting information across state lines and served 13 months in a federal prison. He later returned to Las Vegas and tried to get back into the sports betting industry. Authorities, however, opposed his licensing based on the felony conviction, ending his storied career.
• SUN ARCHIVES Martin called key to success of books: Leading gaming figures pay respects to late oddsmaker (March 13, 2001)
Zacharie “Jack” Franzi
Bookmakers in Vegas still idolize “Pittsburgh Jack” as one of the pioneers of their business. He was chief oddsmaker for the Barbary and Gold Coast casinos in the 1980s. He was investigated by the Nevada Gaming Control Board after winning $11,000 on the San Francisco 49ers in the 1995 Super Bowl. Franzi denied wrongdoing but retired in 1997 during the state investigation, saying he didn’t want to cause Gold Coast further embarrassment.
• SUN ARCHIVES Board grills oddsmaker (Jun 13, 1997)
Led the sports book at the Stardust, which helped set the standard in Vegas in the 1980s. He chronicled the business in his book “We Were Wiseguys and Didn’t Know It” (BookSurge 2010) and runs the website wiseguys.com.
• SUN ARCHIVES One man’s theories on Vegas’ economy, then and now (May 12, 2008)
Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal
When you walk through a casino and see television screens at the sports books, you’re looking at the evolution of a vision. Rosenthal bought the Stardust in 1976. In his 2008 obituary, The New York Times said of Rosenthal’s contribution to sports betting: “with plush seating and myriad television screens, (brought) a comfort and glamour to the kind of betting that had always been treated as a little bit sleazy.” Rosenthal’s career was a little shady. He is often cited as the basis for Robert De Niro’s character Sam “Ace” Rothstein in the movie “Casino.” In 1982, Rosenthal survived the bombing of his 1981 Cadillac Eldorado outside Tony Roma’s restaurant, 620 E. Sahara Ave. After Rosenthal’s death, legendary sports gambler Len Banker told the Sun: “He could get things done quickly and efficiently. Once a bookmaker in Minneapolis owed me $30,000 and refused to pay. I told Frank about it and he said, ‘Don’t worry, tomorrow the money will be in your account at the Rose Bowl (sports book).’ Sure enough, it was there the next day.”
• SUN ARCHIVES Mob-era gambling boss was ‘Old Vegas’ (Oct. 16, 2008)
With his button-down shirts and ties, Roxborough brought sophistication to what had been a Vegas bookmaking scene dominated by T-shirts. He started with Schettler and the Stardust, but in 1982 founded Las Vegas Sports Consultants and helped bring sports books into the computer age. He controlled 90 percent of Vegas’ sports books and was considered the world’s most influential oddsmaker here throughout the 1980s and ’90s.
CEO of American Wagering, which operates more than 70 Leroy’s Sports Books throughout Nevada, Salerno’s company has taken gambling into the age of the smartphone. Last year, American Wagering became the first U.S.-based gaming company to have a free gambling app for the iPhone.