Bet on it: Go west, young Sam, then head east

A betting prodigy who attended Mount Carmel, Panayotovich took his impressive skills to Vegas and now plies his trade in Boston.

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Sam Panayotovich ogles the dough at VSiN.

Sam Panayotovich ogles the dough at VSiN.

Courtesy of Sam Panayotovich

LAS VEGAS — Phone calls to the Panayotovich residence, near 113th and Ewing, were fielded by Cindy. They’d ask for “Sam,” so the matriarch would hand the receiver to her husband.

Invariably, they were friends of Sam the Elder ringing to chat with Sam the Younger, curious about the lad’s point-spread thoughts on a certain game.

“No,” the caller told the Elder. “Sam, your son.”

That was about 20 years ago, when Sam the Younger was a freshman at Mount Carmel. For a couple of years, he’d been perusing the line in the Sun-Times, circling selections.

Sam the Elder’s pals noted the kid’s acumen.

“I just had a knack for figuring out who would win games,” Sam the Younger says. “I’m not going to say I was 80%, but my dad’s buddies put two and two together, seeing that I’d pick maybe three outta five, four outta six.

“You have bad weeks. Hell, you’re 14 years old!”

Big Ten hoops represented wheelhouse action.

“Players always changed, but [programs’ styles] stayed the same,’’ he says. ‘‘Michigan State was always the same team, matching up well against X, Y and Z. Minnesota [at Williams Arena] was always good when they were a dog.

“Yeah, they’d call the house, and Dad would go, ‘Uh, it’s for you.’ ”

Panayotovich, 33, laughs during a recent break as he drives south on I-75 in Florida, having just lunched with a friend in Port Charlotte, to where his parents have retired in Naples.

He has turned his odds ardor and talent for discussing them into a premium post as sports-betting analyst for the New England Sports Network (NESN), and he produces wagering stories and videos for FoxSports.com.

Nice timing. Legal sports betting begins in Massachusetts next month. All that experience thickened his skin, a vital asset in New England.

“I think, without Chicago, I don’t survive in Boston,’’ he says.

WINDY CITY SAMMY

At Mount Carmel, Panayotovich’s sports-betting perspective became polished as so many new friends from the Beverly area had bookies. He had a few bucks, from odd jobs, so wagering carried new risk-reward liability. The Younger recalls the Elder, a state representative from the East Side, dispensing occasional warnings.

“He let me know the pitfalls,’’ he says, ‘‘that you can’t win all the time. Guys have losing months and losing years. It’s a tough life. But there’s a difference between trying to bet for a living and talking about betting for a living.”

At Columbia College Chicago, he and pal “Sugar Shane” Reynolds hosted a radio show called ‘‘Deep Dish.’’ They soon replaced Justin Bieber tunes with chatter about the Bears’ spread and NFL totals.

“The powers that be weren’t happy; you [couldn’t] talk about gambling,” Panayotovich says.

He interned at WGN Radio, becoming a producer and go-to betting source.

The business slipped from the shadows into the sunshine when the Supreme Court quashed the Brady Bill, allowing states to pursue their own sports-betting destinies, in May 2018.

“From a degenerate to an expert,” Panayotovich says. “Fascinating. All that changed when the business became legalized.”

He matriculated here to the Vegas Stats & Information Network (VSiN), co-hosting a noon show, that aired on SiriusXM, beside Matt Youmans.

Brent Musburger became an instant fan, dubbing Panayotovich “Windy City Sammy.” He attracted female attention, too, according to Youmans, with his Sinatra-like charisma and charm.

Youmans says his former sidekick has sharpened his handicapping skills: “He understands the value of information, and he’s got the contacts to get good info before it becomes public, in many cases.”

VSiN executive producer Rick Jaffe, a former Sun-Times sports editor, moved on to NESN and lured Panayotovich, in December 2020, to be a daily NESN presence.

“I believed in his vision and trusted him,” Panayotovich says, “and I knew sports betting was eventually coming to Massachusetts.”

Jaffe left for Bally Sports. Howard Dalkowitz, a former ‘‘Inside the NBA’’ producer, took over at NESN, launching a daily 5:30 show and digital edition. Panayotovich recently signed a multiyear contract

“Howard has taken the baton and run with it, and he’s helped change my life,” Panayotovich says.

A SOCIAL BIRD

Few like losing betting tips. Take that to the Boston airwaves and quickly learn that the thicker the skin, the better. You like apples?

“There’s definitely attitude,” Panayotovich says. “And I say attitude in a very loving way. It’s a tough city. If you can’t handle the heat, you won’t last. It’s a part of the game.

“When you tell people who to bet, and it doesn’t come through, you’re going to hear about it. Bostonians definitely have an edge, and it’s a good thing. I don’t like pushovers, and they don’t like pushovers.”

Panayotovich mixes into the crowd, at The Greatest Bar or Causeway or Dillon’s. Inevitably, someone will approach him. Are you on NESN?

Yup, he says. He shakes their hand, buys a round. They’ll talk about the games, the odds, a great triumph or a horrendous beat. He sparks with many people, and then comes the surprise.

He offers his business card. Ever want to talk shop or drop me a text, he says, here’s my number. He takes pride in networking, talking about sports betting and learning one more nugget to make people money.

“What if this guy is plugged in at Boston College?’’ Panayotovich says. ‘‘What if that guy knows somebody at UConn? You never know who knows somebody around a college football or college basketball team.

“I’m a social bird. I love to throw ’em back. I love talking about this space. When people come to my joints in Boston, I keep the conversation going. It’s a very social thing for me and brings us together.”

BOSTON VIA VEGAS

Panayotovich relishes a good sweat, but it can be comical. In the COVID football season, he and others got wind that 20 Buckeyes, including wide receiver Chris Olave, wouldn’t play in the Big Ten title game against Northwestern.

“We’re like, ‘[Expletive], we gotta bet NU at plus-18, plus-17!’ Went down to around 14. An hour before kickoff, the news broke. Yet Ohio State had the ball inside the 10 with a chance to cover at the end.”

The Buckeyes won 22-10.

“Even with the information, this stuff is tough!” he says.

The kid who once dreamed of calling Bulls games on radio gambled, taking a fork in the road to Vegas, where he met a raft of experts and veterans whom he features on the air in Boston.

He once settled in with Chris Andrews, in the back room of the South Point sportsbook that Andrews directs, and encapsulated his views on the industry.

‘‘I’ll go to a movie,’’ Panayotovich told Andrews, ‘‘spend 20 bucks, get a popcorn and drink, and I know the movie halfway through it.

“I can bet 25 bucks on a football game, have no idea what’s going to happen going into the fourth quarter, see some unbelievable [stuff], and then I might get my money back! It’s better than a movie!”

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