In a career spanning decades, Tony Miller has rubbed shoulders with stars and billionaires
Episodes from his colorful career are many, and youngsters are thirsty. Miller gets invited to seminars around the country, like Rice University in Houston. Question-and-answer sessions rarely vary. “They want to talk about the old days,” Miller said.
LAS VEGAS — Tony Miller fielded the request from a bellhop buddy and soared up the MGM Grand Hotel elevator to a penthouse suite.
“Come on in,” crooned Dean Martin.
Miller, working as a sportsbook runner while attending UNLV in the mid-1970s, found all the furniture pushed aside.
A tipped bucket of golf balls lay in the middle of the carpet. The huge patio doors, facing east, were slid back. Martin wielded a persimmon driver.
“Hitting balls full-swing,” Miller said. “I’m standing there, and if he misses a single ball … the sliding glass doors are wide open. And he’s like, Whooooooosh! Balls are flying out of the balcony into the desert!”
Martin had sent for a runner to make a baseball bet. Maybe $300, said the 65-year-old Miller. The tip is vivid.
“One hundred dollars,” said Miller, sportsbook director of the Golden Nugget. “I remember thinking, ‘I hope he continues this.’ There weren’t many instances when I got a hundred-dollar tip.”
Alas, Miller never ran another bet for Dino. Actor Chuck “Rifleman” Connors, though, became a regular client.
The Nugget keeps Frank Sinatra’s dressing room nearly hermetically sealed, as if he’s appearing tonight in Steve Wynn’s showroom. A desk features a comb containing the Chairman’s follicles.
In 16 years at the Nugget, Miller has seen the VIP-only display once.
Episodes from his colorful career are many, and youngsters are thirsty. Miller gets invited to seminars around the country, like Rice University in Houston. Question-and-answer sessions rarely vary.
“They want to talk about the old days,” Miller said. “Kids nowadays don’t care about what’s happening today. ‘Tell us about the ’70s and ’80s in Vegas.’ They love those stories.”
A Cabo San Lucas holiday started Tony’s and wife Kelly’s summer, which they’ll cap on Oahu. He’ll be invigorated for a likely final football season.
Miller oversees the Golden Nugget Ultimate Football Challenge, Vegas’ lone weekly pick’ em contest mixing NFL and college football.
“Every college game,” he said. “If there’s a 56-point college spread, it’s on there.”
Entry is $1,000, three per customer, seven games against the line per week, sides only. Top 20 get paid. He expects strong marketing to lure 1,000 participants for the first time.
It has been a wonderful career. Born in England to a British mother and U.S. Air Force father, they’d relocate to Vegas when Tony was 6. Mike, the patriarch, became the Desert Inn’s security chief.
Tony would eventually drop by pop’s security podium regularly, collect cash-filled envelopes with wagering instructions and dash to a stand-alone book, like Santa Anita or Little Caesars, with sawdust floors and chalkboard odds.
He’d “run” from shop to shop, seeking optimal numbers. Pay-phone leads required a constant pocketful of quarters. He’d collect the hand-written tickets, in other envelopes, and return to podiums or clientele.
He once had more than $10,000 stashed in a closet shoebox. Never tell your mother where you’re getting that money, instructed Mike.
Among his friends, he had the best hi-fi stereo system — turntable, dual cassettes, huge speakers — from the old Vegas department store Wonder World.
“Crazy, man. The good ol’ days.”
Vegas sportsbook pillar Art Manteris hired Miller out of college to write tickets at Caesars Palace. Against Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook policy, he once let Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones use employees’ facilities.
When no Hilton limos were available, Miller whisked Kirk Kerkorian to a Mike Tyson fight. In his battered gold Chevy Monza, Miller chauffeured the tuxedoed mogul and his girlfriend, in an elegant gown, to Caesars.
“She was so [mad] in the back with a baby seat, diapers, junk on the floor,” Miller laughed. “He sat next to me and thought it was great. Gave me a nice tip as he thanked me.”
SINCERE AND SPECIAL
Miller punctuates stories with heartfelt and soulful laughter, endearing to anyone fortunate to be in his presence.
But it hasn’t been all fun and games.
In 2005, when he worked for an Aussie operation in London, 27-year-old daughter Kristi was killed in a terrorist bombing in the Red Sea resort Sharm el-Sheikh.
“Someone pulled up in valet and hit the button,” Miller said. “She was in a taxi line. I brought her back home and stayed here.
“Still haunts me to this day.”
Vinny Magliulo, an executive with the -Vegas Stats & Information Network and Las Vegas Dissemination Company, worked with Miller at Caesars and says his longtime pal is unique.
“One of the sincerest guys you’ll ever meet,” Magliulo said. “He has a great wife and great friends because he’s such a good friend. He’s in a business, too, that he loves and he’s good at.
“When you have all that, it can certainly help you overcome challenges and tragedy. He gives what he receives. That’s what I think is special about Tony.”
Manteris hired Miller to open the Red Rock sportsbook, and the Nugget soon procured his deft touch.
With the NFL Draft in Vegas in April, Miller opted to post no propositions. Too risky. Competitors lost a bundle, so Miller had smartly guarded his property from that exposure.
He also keeps “Monday Night Football” off the Nugget’s NFL parlay cards, avoiding that being a lose-lose get-out hedging proposition, especially to a decided favorite.
“Because of parlays and teasers going to both sides, as soon as that game kicks off, you’re a loser. So I don’t put it on there. If they want to ‘get out’ on me, they’ve got the Sunday night game.”
A LITTLE SWEAT
Miller watched Derek Stevens’ magnificent downtown Circa property, whose grand three-tiered sportsbook boasts one of the city’s deepest menus and highest limits, slowly rise 480 feet, catty-corner across Fremont Street.
The two entities, however, display mutual respect. Circa Sports has highlighted the Nugget’s unique football contest on social media, and Stevens occasionally luxury-shops at the Nugget.
“He’s a very good friend of mine, and I love him dearly,” Miller said. “He’s a good customer of the Nugget, making some million-dollar bets here.”
Wagers to win seven figures, Miller clarifies, via Stevens’ hedging tactics. Big ones might not have hit, but they certainly made Miller sweat.
Manteris retired a year ago, from Station Casinos, as did veteran Vegas bookmaker Jeff Stoneback recently, from MGM Resorts. Senior Vegas oddsmen are becoming endangered.
Miller, though, has delayed reviewing -Social Security and Medicare plans.
“At home I wonder, Can I sit here and just do nothing? Watch games? Gamble casually? I’m not worried about [missing] meetings and payroll and budgets, or how we’re doing on ‘this’ game.
“[But] I’ve done it for so long. Will I be at peace with myself not doing it anymore? That’s the only question I have. Will I be OK?”
He’ll travel, savor time with Kelly, daughters Lauryn Collins (in Tacoma, Washington) and Stephany Paleczny (in Vegas) and two grandkids.
Mike Paleczny hails from Chicago, where Tony has never visited. Stephany and Mike rave about their annual trips. Just take note, Chicagoans. Tony Miller’s spirited laughter will announce his presence long before he’s seen.