Bet on it: BetBash founder throws quite the party for Sports Gambling Hall of Famers

BetBash 3 would be capped by a grand crescendo, the last few sentences to the final chapter of a golden era.

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Mike Palm (from left), Scotty Schettler, Billy Walters, Jimmy Vaccaro, Roxy Roxborough, Steven McNeil, Stephanie Rosenthal, Derek Stevens, Chris Andrews, Ashley St. Clair, Michael Gaughan and Spanky Kyrollos.

Bryan Steffy/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS — Sitting beside Johnny Avello for the unveiling of the Sports Gambling Hall of Fame, inside the Circa sportsbook, served as a poetic springboard to an epic Friday evening.

BetBash 3 would be capped by a grand crescendo, the last few sentences to the final chapter of a golden era.

Avello, 70, left New York for Las Vegas in 1979. He first dealt dice for Jackie Gaughan at the Hotel Nevada and has been a -revered sportsbook director since 2018 for DraftKings.

From theater seats, we watched Circa owner Derek Stevens and BetBash founder Gadoon “Spanky” Kyrollos pose for photos with Scotty Schettler, Jimmy Vaccaro, Billy Walters and Roxy Roxborough, the living inaugural inductees.

Black ties and tuxedos.

Gaughan, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, Bob Martin, Jack Franzi and Charles McNeil were posthumous honorees, represented by family or friends.

Avello fairly ogled my Frank Sinatra MasterCard, issued in 1996 then canceled, to preserve the chairman’s visage and gold -signature.

Rosenthal hosted a TV show from the Stardust that Avello rarely missed, and Ol’ Blue Eyes even guested once. It aired Fridays at 10 p.m.

On another Friday, eight days ago, 3½ hours of class and elegance, respect and style unfolded during a four-course dinner before nearly 600 inside Circa’s third-floor ballroom.

Sinatra at the Sands.

The Rat Pack in the Copa Room.

A Dean Martin Celebrity Roast at MGM Grand.

LET’S MAKE MONEY

At the ballroom podium, Stevens tried to summarize the festivities.

“Unbelievable.”

The Michigander recalled visiting the Aladdin, Riviera, Gene Maday and his Little Caesars book and witnessing the payphone hustle outside the Stardust sportsbook.

He scanned his guests and luminaries, including Jack Binion and Michael Gaughan — sons of titans, moguls themselves — and inductee Billy Baxter, and appeared nervous.

“A bit overwhelmed,” Stevens said. “Never dreamed of being in a room with such an -esteemed group.”

A bettor whose company moves millions, Spanky added, “I’m star-struck to be in the same room with all of these trailblazers and pioneers.”

Video insights from industry experts accentuated each introduction. In promoting McNeil, author-historian Arne Lang explained how the Chicago native so efficiently popularized the point spread.

“Wherever Charles McNeil was,” Lang said, “he was the smartest person in the room.”

Baxter was caught off-guard listening to a list of his accomplishments:

“Wow, I didn’t know I did all that. It has me choked up. It’s been a rocky road, but a fun journey. Let’s all go home, do some work and see if we can make some money.”

LESSONS

Late oddsmaker Franzi hailed from Pittsburgh, the region known as the Cradle of Bookmakers. Before heading west, he taught his son, Zach, and nephew Chris -Andrews a lesson.

When the boys were 10 or 11, they relished watching nondescript midweek college football games on TV. The games, however, were on tape, played days earlier.

Jack gave Zach 20.5 points, finagling 21.5 from Andrews, now South Point sportsbook director. The game ended 31-10.

“He middled us!” Andrews beamed.

Both boys handed him a dollar but were sent upstairs to fetch him another dime — the vigorish.

“The juice!” Andrews said. “A hard lesson.”

At the Stardust, book director Schettler operated in a way that, according to former Circa oddsman Matt Metcalf, inspired Circa Sports.

“Pete Rose gambled and he’s OUT of the Hall of Fame,” Schettler said. “I gambled and am IN a Hall of Fame!”

Andrews lieutenant Vinny Magliulo hailed Jackie Gaughan for his business acumen and vision. Gaughan became the first hotel-casino owner, at the Union Plaza, to install a sportsbook. Michael Gaughan said his father would have easily befriended Derek Stevens.

Jackie employed Bob Martin to run that Plaza book, and veteran oddsman Nick Bogdanovich credited Martin for concocting half-point lines. Martin knew he had the accurate line, Bogdanovich said, when he didn’t care to bet either side.

Bogdanovich scanned the ballroom:

“Utterly amazing. The talent in this room, the characters, is off the chart. You’ll never see this again.”

THIS IS THE PLACE

The ever-stylish Michael “Roxy” Roxborough had fellow industry heavyweight Vic Salerno introduce him, and they clinked cocktail glasses on the stage.

Roxy told me, “Vic’s idea. ‘Like Frank and Dino,’ his exact words. Friends, partners and drinking buddies since 1978.”

He credited Vaccaro’s steadiness. “He had words of wisdom, like when you have a bad day, it’s, ‘We’ll get ’em tomorrow.’ Now, I’m a little choked up. I’m just so honored. Thank you.”

Four days earlier, Vaccaro had informed me he was eager for Friday. His son Nathan noted his pop’s appearance in “The Simpsons,” establishing odds on Who Shot Mr. Burns?

Vaccaro, likely the lone bookmaker to offer Buster Douglas-Mike Tyson odds, at the Mirage in February 1990, left Pittsburgh for Vegas in the 1960s.

Wearing jeans, no tie, he told the ballroom, “I landed at the Golden Nugget, just 50 yards from here, and I said, ‘This is the place!’ I knew this is where I wanted to be. Fifty-seven years later, right here, it’s come full circle. I am honored.”

The late Rosenthal might have been speechless as daughter Stephanie, deserving of a Vogue cover in a resplendent silk aqua, floor-length gown and train, introduced him.

He once risked the family’s every penny on a game, shooing everyone away, demanding solitude. His side won. He vowed to never repeat that scene.

They moved to California, then Florida, seeking the best swim instructors for Stephanie, who’d become top-10 in her age group.

“Asked how he wanted to be remembered, he once said he hoped he’d contributed a little to gaming,” Stephanie said, “and that he was a great father.”

In Walters’ video, Westgate SuperBook executive vice president Jay Kornegay said “a Billy play” would demand immediate back-room attention. “When we heard it was a ‘Billy Game,’ it was booked differently.”

Binion noted the bettor’s famous “computer group” that gained attention in the 1980s. Walters thanked Susan, his wife of 47 years, and his invaluable attorney Richard Wright.

“Spanky, you throw one helluva party!” Walters said. “It’s hard to put into words how much I appreciate this. We were once considered degenerates and criminals. What a difference a lifetime makes. I feel lucky to be alive.”

VISIONARIES

Thirty-seven-year-old pals Tom Larkin, who lives in Florida, and Hoboken, New Jersey, resident Dan Dinsmore felt fortunate, too. They attended the first BetBash, in Hoboken in 2021, and were here for the second iteration 18 months ago.

“Spanky keeps one-upping it,” Larkin said.

BetBash will be held here every August, an august 16-member board handling the hall nomination process.

Saturday and Sunday, Spanky still pinched himself as he strolled past the Circa sportsbook to ensure the hall was still there, that all this hadn’t been a dream:

“Too good to be true. My eyes have to keep proving to my mind that it’s real.”

Monday morning, I rang Avello.

“How are you going to duplicate that,” he said. “The people inducted were all really good at what they did. They were the story of why we are where we are today. Amazing, down to the music they played as they walked to the podium. A terrific night.”

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