Longtime Nevada bookie Chris Andrews is serving up an absorbing mixture of components in his new book, Then One Day…40 years of Bookmaking in Nevada (Huntington Press $19.95).
Part family history, part autobiography, part gambling tales and part cathartic confessional, Andrews really doesn’t break any new ground or provide any new Nevada bookmaking insights more wizened readers, such as myself, haven’t heard before. However, he does recount a collection of fascinating anecdotes about his journey from Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh to be exact, to the Stardust in Las Vegas to the Club Cal Neva in Reno and back and forth between those two Nevada cities several more times.
It’s certainly a captivating 200-plus pages, just lacking a little additional “meat on the bone” to make it a mesmerizing experience rather than just a very pleasant one. Andrews does manage to pull back the curtain on an era many regard as Nevada’s bookmaking heyday. He also succeeds in leaving the reader wanting a little bit more. Many would say that’s a good thing. Others might believe something that could have been immensely more satisfying just doesn’t quite cross over from very good to excellent.
Tracing Las Vegas’ evolution
When this reviewer arrived in Las Vegas in 1987, Southern Nevada was well on its way to traversing from small town gambling outpost to bustling metropolis. Like many bitten by the Vegas bug thanks to movies like Las Vegas Story, Ocean’s Eleven and Viva Las Vegas, the dream about arriving in Las Vegas and becoming a success was never far away. What young guy in his early teens didn’t want to emulate Victor Mature pursuing Jane Russell, Frank Sinatra keeping Angie Dickinson on a string or Elvis chasing Ann-Margret?
Andrews, with an assist from his uncle, Jack Franzi, was able to do just that – the success part anyway. Using the old aphorism because it fits: if the dictionary had a definition of “stand up guy” Uncle Jack’s picture would be right next to it. Franzi, now past 90, is well known for his sports betting exploits. Andrews, with a leg up from Uncle Jack, describes how he was able to forge a successful bookmaking career. Andrews also learned at the knee of legendary Las Vegas linemaker Bob Martin and bonded with Michael “Roxy” Roxborough, another seminal Las Vegas oddsmaker.
Andrews is effective in aptly describing the Las Vegas of the 1970s. Let’s call it “The Valley of the Dollars” to borrow a favorite clever expression from a former boss of mine. The 1970s were heady times in the bookmaking arena and Andrews captures an era that was wide open and had to be a great deal of fun.
It’s a career rife with the expected ups and downs, dotted with miracle wins and horrible bad beats. Throw in some family health issues and a cousin who should have absorbed significantly more from Uncle Jack about what it means to be a stand-up guy, and what you get is a fun read that is certainly time well spent.
Andrews devotes the time and space to explain commonly used betting terms such as “scalping,” “steam,” and others. That’s a good thing. Regrettably, he may leave the reader longing for a bookmaking era and a unique cast of characters that, most likely, we will never see again. There’s especially interesting stories about guys called “Psycho James” and “Artichoke Joe” for your enjoyment.
Meeting a hitman
Meeting a hitman for the “outfit” is something one never forgets and Andrews relives it for you.
“Max was a good horseplayer in the racebook at the Cal-Neva. I tried to get friendly with any and all of the good players at the time and he was one of my best. After a few weeks of nothing more than the same casual relationship I had with a few of the good players, Max started inviting me to have coffee or a drink with him after work. It soon evolved into dinner.
One night after a few drinks, Max told me what he did for a living — “taking care of” Meyer Lansky’s enemies. And when he said “take care of,” he didn’t mean attend to or caregive or nurse them. In fact, it was the exact opposite.” (used with permission from Huntington Press)
In an era of corporate bookmaking, the internet, cell phones, in-game wagering and largely homogeneous betting offerings that effectively remove the difference between one betting shop and another, it’s pleasurable to remember the days of the “middler and the “scalper” – long before the offshore books and the corporate bookmaking of today.
You might be hard pressed to call them the good old days, but making the effort to read Andrews’ book means, although that era may be gone, it will not be forgotten.