Vegas legend Dave Cokin says sports betting is a daily challenge

Sports betting evolved into a vocation for the 70-year-old Cokin, who made book in Rhode Island and bolted to Vegas in 1981.

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Dave Cokin has been a big addition to the WagerTalk Media handicapping roster.

Dave Cokin has been a big addition to the WagerTalk Media handicapping roster.

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LAS VEGAS — They lurked in nearly every aisle inside the Rhode Island Auditorium. They weren’t hawking popcorn, programs or piles of 50-50 raffle tickets.

They were bookmakers and their ticket writers. So Dave Cokin knew where to place a bet on this minor-league hockey game.

He took Providence on the puck line, giving a goal and a half at a healthier return than the moneyline. He knew his Reds would win by at least two goals.

Cokin forked over the cash for a hand-written piece of paper. He envisioned stuffing his pockets with dividends in a couple of hours.

Providence lost 5-3.

He was 6 years old.

He had risked 5 bucks.

He had trekked a block from his home to the arena, at 1111 North Main St., in 1959. So young and diminutive, he got free admission.

On a dollar-per-week allowance, Cokin felt the sting of being penniless by not being able to buy candy or baseball cards.

The early start, Vegas long-timer Matt Youmans laughs, of “one of the originals in the sports-tout business.”

A DAILY CHALLENGE

Five years ago, for a sports-betting book I was assembling, Cokin conveyed the theater of his first bet. It unfolded in a barn where Rocky Marciano won 28 of his 49 fights. Razed in 1989, it became a hospital parking lot.

Sports gambling was everywhere, among friends, in arena aisles and all over the community. An only child, Cokin’s mom was a homemaker and fundraiser extraordinaire for local charities, his dad worked in various capacities.

The most notable, Cokin said, was on The Manhattan Project, at the Clinton Engineer Works in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where uranium enrichment was conducted during World War II to produce the first nuclear weapons.

Sports betting evolved into a vocation for the 70-year-old Cokin, who made book in Rhode Island and bolted to Vegas in 1981.

“I don’t recall any particular feelings, other than a strong desire to win. I’ve never liked losing at anything. The entire process is a daily challenge, which means it never gets boring.”

He fared well that first year.

“Thought I was a genius.”

It flipped in ’82.

“Got crushed. I learned the no-short-cuts thing.”

“Smokin’ Dave Cokin,” whose distinctive voice seems equal parts gravel and nicotine, from a lifetime of smoking, is a Vegas institution.

Youmans, a senior editor/host at the Vegas Stats & Information Network (VSiN), said Cokin lives and breathes sports handicapping.

“You have to admire that. With his eye patch and gravelly voice, Dave looks and sounds like a pirate. One of a kind.”

His rare downtime typically involves a movie from the 1940s or ’50s, either Humphrey Bogart, a Western involving James Stewart or anything directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Charles Laughton is a favorite, too. Cokin says, “The greatest ham of all time. Overplayed everything and pulled it off, most of the time. In ‘Witness for the Prosecution,’ he’s the whole show.”

Youmans knows Cokin well, having co-hosted an afternoon sports-betting radio show with him. In his youth in Sheridan, Indiana, Youmans first saw Cokin on a “Proline” sports-betting TV show, beside Jim Feist, on the USA Network.

“I knew,” Youmans said, “that’s the kind of thing I wanted to do some day.”

Touts might be taboo, according to Youmans, because of the many “con men and sales shenanigans” involved, but it’s simple from his perspective.

“Adults are free to make that choice, and either benefit or suffer the consequences, like anything else,” he said. “Some lack the skill or time, to handicap, but want to be involved.

“Dave is an honest man who works hard on his handicapping on a daily basis, and he almost never takes a day off.”

THE MACHINE

Johnny Detroit, the COO of WagerTalk Media, would set his alarm five minutes before Proline began. He’d take notes, then dash to a phone booth to make bets.

“I’d watch them handicap the weekend football. To work with Dave and have him ask me questions still blows me away. I have the utmost respect for him. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”

Cokin says Proline ruled the roost.

“Because USA Network was on almost every cable box, and we had the perfect Saturday morning pregame slot.”

Detroit added Cokin to his handicapping roster a few years ago. Sunday, WagerTalk trumpeted Cokin’s 10.3-percent return on investment, on all sports and bet types in 2023, which tops that roster.

On Cokin’s Twitter page, after he had nailed a recent baseball game, San Diego punter Jim Schrope wrote, You’re a Machine! College football and hockey also are wheelhouse action.

“I doubt you can find a better baseball handicapper,” Youmans said.

Not betting what you don’t have and shedding fan allegiances are Cokin’s initial tips to neophytes. Don’t guess, either. Too many do, he said, and they mistakenly highlight most-recent events.

From Cokin, Youmans polished an ability to identify square sides and how to read betting markets. “Hidden tricks,” Youmans said. “I certainly learned from working with him. Dave is very sharp.”

Recreational betting is fine, Cokin said.

Attempting this for a living, though, is ill-advised.

“Unless one is willing to treat the endeavor as a business, they’re almost surely going to lose long-term. My background was as a bookie, and I learned most of the bad habits early on, courtesy of the bettors.

“I don’t think they’ve changed much over the decades.”

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