Las Vegas Sports Wagering and Viewing

Betting on your favorite team wasn’t legal in Nevada until the 1940s, but you could always find a local bookie who would lay a line for you.

At the Country Club in Lake Tahoe, you could talk to Doc at the bar, any night after 9 pm and get a bet down. Nickle lines were popular, but a dime line (lay $1.10 to win $1.00) was standard. If you were betting a big favorite like the New York Yankees or the San Francisco Seals, you might have to bet more than $2.00 to win $1.00, but that was just to even out the wagers. Video Wall Rental Vegas

These days, sportsbooks don’t exactly make a casino profitable, unless they have great LED-LCD graphics to keep players in action. They only compliment the bottom line with a small and shaky profit compared to slot machines or table games.

Sports wagering profits are made by splitting the majority of wagers along a point spread or movable money line so regardless of who actually wins a sporting event, the bookie holds a small profit (often as low as 2%).

However, things were a little different in Las Vegas during the 1940s, and most casinos offered some type of a book, although it was often one run by Bugsy Siegel and offered just horse racing. His joint inside the Golden Nugget was the busiest in town, but he also ran the books in the El Cortez and the Las Vegas Club.

Siegel made his name bootlegging with Meyer Lansky in New York and then moved to California to make a compact with Los Angeles crime boss Jack Dragna. They met, but Bugsy went his own way, and that included taking-over the Trans-Union race wire through the Chicago Outfit. His cut of the profits ran as high as $25,000 each week.

Some of that cash was supplemented nearly busting local bookies by past-posting races where he set up spotters with binoculars outside of racetracks and transferred the results to associates outside those local sports shops to get bets down on already finished races.

After Bugsy bought and stole his way into the Flamingo casino, he offered a small sports betting shop. It lost money, just like everything at the property until the middle of 1947. The Mob lost faith in Siegel, and he was gunned down at his girlfriend Virginia Hill’s home in Los Angeles.

The Two Tony’s and the Flamingo Casino Sportsbook

Gus Greenbaum, a Mob-backed Phoenix bookie, took control of the Flamingo with Dave Berman and an expanded sportsbook was built in the casino. It made a profit. In fact, it made so much money that two Kansas City criminals (often called the Two Tony’s) Tony Brancato and Tony Trombino decided it was ripe for a rip-off, and on May 28, 1951, the Two Tonys hit the club. They managed to escape with close to $4,000 in cash, which in and of itself was quite a feat.

However, the guys weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed since they neglected to wear masks, and sportsbook manager Hy Goldbaum recognized Brancato, who had robbed him in Beverly Hills two years earlier. Goldbaum and the Mob were happy to take care of the Two Tony’s on their own, but Brancato somehow wound up on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.

Brancato surrendered to federal agents and posted $10,000 bail, and was released. Then, before he could leave the building he was arrested as a fugitive from justice on the Nevada warrant. He did eventually get released without bond, and just like the bonehead he’d been in stealing from the Mob, Brancato met with Trombino in Los Angeles instead of getting out of the country.

Local Mob boss Jack Dragna ordered Jimmy “The Weasel” Fratianno to make his bones, and The Weasel convinced the Two Tony’s to work with him to take-down a high stakes poker game. They agreed and met with him in their Oldsmobile near Hollywood Boulevard on August 6, 1951. The game they discussed in the car was for even higher stakes than Brancato and Trombino were expecting. Their bullet-ridden bodies were found later that evening.

Fratianno, Charley Bats, Lips Moceri, and even The Weasel’s brother, Warren, were arrested the following day and charged with murder. The charges didn’t stick. Nick Licata had already arranged for the perfect phony alibis for the guys: a friendly fish fry at the Five O’clock Club where a host of people had seen them partying all night long.

The case of the Two Tony’s remained an unsolved crime for more than 25 years until The Weasel earned his nickname and ratted-out his Mob associates and entered the Federal witness Protection Program. When he did, he admitted that it was really he and Charley Battaglia who had done the deed.

The End of Legalized Sports Betting

In 1951, the Federal Government implemented a 10% fee on all wagers, and Nevada sportsbooks had to be creative to take wagers and make a profit. It was so crazy that in the 1960s there were no sportsbooks in any Las Vegas casinos. At the same time, bookies all over the country (even those like Amarillo Slim) had to risk severe penalties from the federal government because of the Interstate Wire Act of 1961, United States federal law prohibiting interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest.”

While the Wire Act has been fought in court and is currently still in effect, the 10% fee on all sports wagers was struck down in 1975 and Jackie Gaughan was the first Las Vegas operator to open a new book –  inside his Union Plaza.

After that, Lefty Rosenthal opened a fancy sportsbook in the Stardust, where he was running the skim at the casino (as outlined in Vegas and the Mob). The sportsbook was popular but didn’t make enough money to even skim a little, although Lefty allowed friends to make an occasional wager well-after the official start of a game. That, of course, was against the law and against the owner’s wishes, but Lefty didn’t care.

The resurgence of Las Vegas Sports Betting

The resurgence of the Las Vegas sports betting scene coincided with larger and more profitable sportsbooks. In the 1990s, the MGM opened a state-of-the-art facility that offered huge screen TV’s, and sports wagering from around the world. They routinely took million-dollar wagers and paid thousands of happy winners at Super Bowl time.

The new book forced other casinos to invest in new rooms with great sound systems and TV’s in every corner. Of course, the video coverage pales in comparison to something you’d get from Video Wall Rental Vegas which are huge, breathtaking displays consisting of multiple 50” LCD TV screens assembled from 1×1 to 4×4 screen video walls (a great option for trade shows or marketing activations).  The new walls are more versatile than ever and produce stunning graphics for indoor and outdoor events.

As with marketing and conventions, in sportsbooks, the wagering increases based on the quality of the video display that customers can enjoy while sweating-out their bets. The more action they see, the more action they give. Sports wagering in the US and Las Vegas alike is going to be huge as the market settles into action for the end of the 2020 sports year.


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