Faces of Gaming: Chris Andrews — Don’t cry for the bookmaker

June 29, 2024 12:25 PM
  • Tom Osiecki — CDC Gaming Reports and Raving Partner
June 29, 2024 12:25 PM
  • Tom Osiecki — CDC Gaming Reports and Raving Partner

Chris Andrews was destined to be a bookmaker. When you read his story, that jumps out at you.

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His book is packed with stories like: almost getting poisoned over a bet; being sued for “mental cruelty” by an angry bettor; his cousin, who is the inventor of prop bets; two Texas brothers who bet their trust fund on a bad betting system; and winning the World Championship of Horse Race Handicapping.

But the thing that really pops out is Andrew’s friendships with the incredible number of people who invented sports betting as we know it today. Names like Bob Martin, Jackie Gaughan and his son Michael Gaughan, Warren Nelson, Roxie Roxborough, Jimmy Vaccaro, Bob Black, Joe Snyder, Bobby Berrent, E Walker, Jack Binion. Richard Klamian, Herb Lanbeck are all part of Andrews’ fascinating story.

Growing up under the watchful eye and influence of his Uncle Jack Franzi, the legendary Pittsburgh wiseguy and sport book pioneer, Chris Andrews started booking sports bets in the 5th and 6th grade. He followed Uncle Jack to Las Vegas in the mid-‘70s, where his uncle “juiced” him into a job at the Stardust soon after the Frank Rosenthal regime (which was chronicled in the film “Casino”).

Following a stint at the Barbary Coast, Andrews took charge of the sports book at the Club Cal Neva in Reno. Despite being the youngest sports book director in the state at just 25, he made his mark inventing the pleaser and 10-point teaser cards, along with introducing Super Bowl-style prop bets for Monday Night Football.

After 46 years of setting lines for the highest profile sporting events, learning from the most influential titans of sports betting, Andrews is now the sports book director at the South Point Casino in Las Vegas.

Andrews put it all down in his 2019 book “Then One Day … 40 Years of Bookmaking in Nevada”, published by Huntington Press, which you can find on Anthony Curtis’ Las Vegas Advisor web site.

As sports betting explodes to 38 states today, Andrews’ stories about the early days of sports betting and the characters, losers and winners that make up this highly specialized segment of the gaming industry is a hilarious account that reads like a novel. Except that it really happened to Chris Andrews.

The book on bookmaking
I talked to Chris and asked him to tell me how the idea for the book began.

“Gill Alexander invited me to join his podcast ‘Guessing the Lines’ and started asking me, ‘Do you have any great old Vegas stories?’  When he was putting together the podcast, he was doing it during football. He says, ‘Would you be interested in coming on and telling a little vignette at the end of every podcast?’

“Gill gave out a lot of information on football; but people were more interested in the stories than they were in the actual information. People told me you got to write these in a book. So eventually I just did,” Andrews said.

Elementary bookmaking
Andrews grew up Greek in a Greek culture where his Uncle Jack Franzi was the foremost inspiration in his life and a second father.

“East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania had a lot of Greek people. The mayor was Greek, the Chief of Police was Greek. I remember going down the street that the signs on the doors were in English and Greek.

While in 5th and 6th grades, Andrews said he and his cousin Zach “would sneak around and copy Uncle Jack’s sheets” to start their own bookmaking operation in school.

“It was more robbery than bookmaking. I’m not joking, we never cashed one ticket in two years of booking that stuff. That was my first foray into bookmaking. I got a taste for it at that age; and it’s never dwindled,” Andrews said.

Andrews became familiar with Las Vegas delivering Cadillacs from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas for his Uncle Jack. At age 12, Andrews was interacting with Sonny Vacarro, who was originally from Pittsburgh and a friend of Uncle Jack’s. In case you don’t know, Sonny Vacarro was the Nike marketing executive who famously recruited Micheal Jordan to his first sneaker sponsorship. Vacarro was recently played by Matt Damon in the film “Air”. It was a predictor of how Andrews would later meet the most famous people in sports and sports betting.

Wiseguy family
“Uncle Jack was working out of East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Westinghouse had the largest factory in the world at the time. Uncle Jack had a candy store right across the street from the main exit. Guys would come in on lunch breaks and after or before work and Jack would write tickets for bets just like you see in a sports book now.

“As Uncle Jack grew his business, he became more successful. And like a lot of things in this world, the FBI got wind of it and that’s when he got indicted. So, he beat that and moved to Las Vegas in 1970. I was only 14 at the time and then my father passed away in 1970 as well. So, we went from having two fathers in the house to essentially none.

“Uncle Jack was going back and forth from Vegas to Pittsburgh, doing his business and still being a father to us. I see now that it must have been really, really hard on him. It’s amazing that he was able to do all that and I certainly benefited from it,” Andrews recalled.

Vegas bound
After graduating cum laude from Robert Morris college in Pittsburgh with a degree in business administration, Andrews drove to Las Vegas arriving with all of his worldly positions in the trunk and 25 cents in his pocket.

In 1979, Andrews was “juiced” into a job at the race book and later the sports book at the Stardust made famous in “Casino”. Although Lefty Rosenthal was out of the Stardust before Andrews arrived, it was not yet sold to Boyd Gaming by the Gaming Commission and still had mob influences.

“It was quite a cast of characters at the Stardust sports book. Between the guys working behind the counter and the customers, I don’t know which were worse. I was in for some education. And not the kind you get at Harvard,” Andrews wrote.

Andrews became upset because he was working 12-hour shifts at the Stardust while others were working six hours and getting paid for the entire day. He approached his supervisor, who promised to fix the situation, and told him ‘Listen, if it really bugs you, take a hundred out of the drawer every now and then. No one gives a shit.’ “That was my boss. Yep, the Stardust was one hell of a joint,” Andrews wrote.

During that time Andrews met Bob Martin, one of Uncle Jack’s friends who he describes as the Babe Ruth of the bookmaking industry. “Nowadays you hear about the opening number, but who’s opening number? But back in the day the opening number meant one thing: Bob Martin’s opening number. No one else mattered,” Andrews recounted.

In the opening scene of “Casino”, the Lefty Rosenthal character played by Robert De Niro is blown up in a car bomb in front of Tony Roma’s restaurant. Andrews remembered a random conversation with a security guard at the Stardust who stated he liked Lefty Rosenthal. “I liked Mr. Rosenthal,” said the guard. He treated me just fine.’ “Oh Yea,” I asked. “Why do you say that?” “He used to give a hundred dollars just to start his car,” Andrews wrote.

Terrific learning experience
In 1980, Andrews was offered a job at Barbary Coast where he worked for Las Vegas legend Jackie Gaughan and his son Michael Gaughan.

“I only spent a year at the Barbary and the regulations for the state weren’t really solidified at that point in time. I was doing so much of the work that you would never let one person do today. I had way too much control. And I was only a supervisor. I was writing tickets. I was cashing tickets. I was doing the books at the end of the night, the win and loss.

“There’s no way one person should have all that responsibility and authority; but it wound up being a terrific learning experience. I learned so much about the business. I’ve been really fortunate to have people like Jackie Gaughan and Michael Gaughan in my life. I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut and learn,” Andrews stated.

Booth central
Andrews’ Uncle Jack did not have an office but worked from a booth in the rear of the coffee shop at the Barbary Coast. Andrews said that for a while in the ‘80s, that back booth was the center of the sports betting world.

“Everybody who was within Uncle Jack’s circle, which were some of the most important guys in the sports betting industry, came to the booth that was his headquarters and he usually had a couple phones. The sports betting market was being run out of that back booth. That was just the way it worked.

“Wiseguys and big players would go to the back booth to see what kind of prices and limits they could get. More action was written out of that booth than any of the sportsbooks were doing at their counters,” Andrews wrote.

The most bet
Uncle Jack and Jimmy Vaccaro recruited a bettor named James Toback to the sportsbook at the Barbary Coast. Toback was a Hollywood “writer/director/producer” who they called The Producer. Toback wrote “The Gambler” starring James Caan, “Bugsy” starring Warren Beatty and Anette Bening, and a remake of “The Gambler” starring Mark Wahlberg. “He was a smart bettor who knew baseball as well as anyone I’ve ever met,” said Andrews.

The thing was, that for a period of time, Toback was betting a million dollars a day on baseball.

“It was the most money I’ve seen bet on a consistent basis in over 45 years because he was betting pretty much a million a night on baseball. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody else like that.

“Then my Uncle Jack called all his friends out of the back booth and these guys were coming in and betting the other side; because they were getting these great prices. Any bookmaker in the world would kill for that,” Andrews declared.

Cal Neva
Andrews next move was to the Cal Neva in Reno, Nevada where he spent 30 years of his career and worked for one of the owners, Warren Nelson.

“When they formed the Gaming Hall of Fame, Warren was one of the five original inductees. Among other things, Warren is considered the father of Keno in Nevada. Warren learned Keno from the Chinese immigrants working on the railroad in his native Montana and he brought the game to Nevada,” Andrews wrote.

“Warren did have some balls when it came to taking a bet. He had a lot of gamble in him. It’s the way he lived his whole life. He was one of the original partners in IGT and the stock went through the roof. He never diversified and it worked out great for him.

“He was a great mentor to me. He was an advocate for me. I was just a 25-year-old kid at that time,” Andrews said.

Teasers, pleasers and prop bets
“When Cal Neva got more aggressive with parlay cards, I created the first 10-point teaser card. Years later I created the Pleaser card. I also started using Super Bowl-style propositions for every Monday Night football game. I was the first to do it every week,” Andrews wrote.

Another first that Andrews said he was responsible for was the addition of satellite television to a sports book.

“I came from Pittsburgh, and I had this funny kind of accent and these guys thought I was just a street guy. I impressed them when I wrote a pretty long dissertation on why we should get satellites. I impressed the other two partners who were well educated and definitely were not street guys. I didn’t think they thought I had it in me to do such a thing. And, to be honest with you, after that they were very much advocates for me,” Andrews remembered.

Enter Max
Max Kurschner was one of Andrews best horse players at Cal Neva. Over time, Andrews got to know him. “One night over a few drinks, Max told me about what he did for a living, taking care of Meyer Lansky’s enemies. And when said “taking care of” he did not mean attend to, or care give, or nurse them. In fact, it was the exact opposite,” Andrews wrote.

In his book “Then One Day”, Andrews refers to another book that claimed Kurschner murdered 53 people in his career.

Later Kurschner asked Andrews for an $800 loan, which Andrews reluctantly did. Kurschner disappeared for a time and Andrews had a chance meeting with him at a racetrack while Andrews was with his girlfriend.

“I ran into him at the racetrack. I’m with my girlfriend, who was going to become my wife later on, who by the way, he was in love with; and she went for me rather than him. Anyway, I see him at the track. I tell my girlfriend to take a walk. Because I was thinking he was going to kill me. I certainly did not want him killing her.

“We talked a little bit; he says, ‘I know you’re really good to me. I definitely want to stay square with you. I’ll be up in Reno. When I can get there, I’ll give you back your money.’ So okay, I mean, what am I going to say? Yeah, okay. Within a couple of weeks, I saw that he got murdered,” Andrews recalled.

Harrah’s and lines
Andrews does not like Harrah’s bookmaking. He claims to have a good reason.

“In those days, I was getting the line from Uncle Jack and Roxy Roxborough. As a rule, I used Uncle Jack’s number for the game and Roxy’s number for the total. I have to say my numbers were about as good as any out there. I know people from all over the country who were getting the line from Cal Neva those days.

“The media made it sound like the “official” football line came from Harrah’s. For an outfit that prided itself on being the opening line, Harrah’s managers unabashedly walked across the street in Reno, stood in front of my board, and copied every line every single day. That’s not a joke or exaggeration; they copied my line every day,” Andrews wrote.

Back to Las Vegas
In 2003, Andrews left Cal Neva and joined the Golden Nugget, which was sold 18 months later. After Golden Nugget, Andrews joined American Wagering until his wife became ill.

“I then went into a business called Sierra Nevada Wealth Management with a couple of Wall Street guys who recruited me. Unfortunately, it was right in the teeth of The Great Recession. So, I lost a lot of money.

“Me and a couple other guys formed a company called Against the Numbers, where we developed software. I finally had that company going pretty good. My last couple of years, the other two guys left the company and pretty much just gave it to me for one dollar. Then Mike Gaughan wanted to hire me at the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa in 2016.

Andrews is currently Sports Book Director for South Point, where he is reunited with Michael Gaughan.

Bookmakers and bet takers
Today, legal sports betting has exploded in 38 states. I asked Andrews, with his incredible experience, to comment on a theme that runs through his book – the difference between bookmakers and bet takers.

Andrews wrote, “Everybody thinks it’s easy to open a sports book and rake in a shitload of money.

“There are a lot of Europeans, mostly Brits, and they sold these casino operators a bill of goods. Especially nowadays, the guys running casinos really are not gamblers. They get impressed by certain things, numbers being one of them.

“These guys come in and they say we hold 8% over in Great Britain. One of the big parts of it is any guy that seems like he has any kind of sports or betting knowledge, they throw him out. I can hear the words ‘sack him’ and they love to sack them and get rid of them.

“I’ve always been in a sports book that’s part of a casino. The casino is the main event. I might sack a guy out of the sports book, and he might be a big player at the baccarat table or at the blackjack table. I mean, I see that kind of stuff all the time. That’s why I don’t do that.

“And I’ll tell them, don’t cry for the bookmaker. We’re going to be fine in the end. Now it might take us a little longer to get that dollar. But we’re going to get it and just because we don’t get it the first time that guy walks through the door doesn’t mean we’re not going to get it eventually.

“I think these guys run their business vastly differently than how we’ve done it in Nevada. They’ve sold this bill of goods to a lot of casino owners and legislators throughout the 38 states. I’m speaking for me right now from the South Point, I’m glad we’re doing business in the old-fashioned way. It works really well for us,” Andrews declared.

Then One Year”
Andrews wrote a second book, released in 2021, “Then One Year – Histories Craziest Year as Seen by a Las Vegas Bookmaker”, also by Huntington Press, about bookmaking during COVID.

In January 2020, Andrews started keeping a daily journal to record the roller coaster ride bookmakers undergo in a typical year from one Superbowl to the next. Little did he know that 2020 would be anything but typical.

“I think the first couple chapters are pretty good. Just talking about the Super Bowl and the action we were taking. And then all of a sudden, we’re getting into the March Madness and COVID hits. And I kept writing daily because obviously we didn’t know what was going to happen,” Andrews said.

Don’t cry
Andrews’ books take you on a journey into the particular world of sports betting through the eyes of a bookmaker who has seen it all – from the famous pioneers of sports gambling that he knew to the peculiar language of bookmaking. As Andrews said several times, “Don’t cry for the bookmaker”.

Entries in the Faces of Gaming series:

Tom Osiecki is a casino consultant who writes an occasional column for CDC Gaming Reports called Faces of Gaming, about interesting and engaging people in the gaming industry.

Tom Osiecki is a marketing and management consultant for Raving Consulting and can be reached for consulting engagements at 775-329-7864.

If you know of a fascinating personality in the gaming industry you would like to see profiled, please send Tom Osiecki an email at tosiecki@cdcgaming.com