LAS VEGAS — OK, so casino owner Gene Maday was turned down on his request to post a line and take bets on whether evangelist Oral Roberts would raise the millions he said were needed to keep him alive.
By now, Maday is used to it. After all, it was just a few weeks ago that the Nevada Gaming Control Board rejected a bid by the owner of Little Caesar's Casino and Sports Book to offer odds and take wagers on who President Reagan would name as the replacement for former chief of staff Donald Regan.
As far as some in this gambling capital are concerned, the good old days are gone. Old-timers fondly recall the real what's my line, when betting was allowed on:
- Where pieces from the 77-ton space station Skylab would fall.
- Which "Dallas" character shot J. R. Ewing in one of the series' early season-ending episodes.
- When the coffin of presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was exhumed, who, if anybody, would be found to be inside.
- Who the winners would be among Oscar nominees.
- Whether the baby of prospective parents would be a girl or a boy.
Jackie Gaughan, owner of the El Cortez Hotel and Casino, recalled as if it were yesterday the weeks in 1979 when his casino was taking action by the tens of thousands as to precisely where Skylab's remains would fall.
To refresh your memory, six years earlier a satellite the size of a five-room house had been launched by the United States for experiments by crews, and now it was about to crash through the atmosphere and back to Earth.
"We offered prices on each of the states, the oceans and foreign countries," Gaughan said. "The betting was heavy. And it wound up a successful proposition for us.
"We gave 12-to-1 on Russia, and I remember one guy who came in and bet $2,000.
"We packaged the five oceans as one, and made them the favorite at 5-to-1. As for the states, Rhode Island, being the smallest, was 2,000-to-1. California was 100-to-1.
"We even listed at 10,000-to-1 the possibility that the El Cortez would be where the thing would crash. I think one person took those odds."
And, lo, Skylab's pieces fell onto sparsely populated Western Australia. Those who had thusly played were paid off by the El Cortez at 30-to-1.
On a Friday night a year later the nation was glued to its TV sets, eagerly awaiting the disclosure of who had shot "Dallas' " despicable oil baron J. R. Ewing.
For some viewers, it was more than just the outcome of a plot. They had real money at stake.
"I wrote odds for every character in the story," said Sonny Reizner, sports book director at the Castaways Hotel and Casino. "We even gave odds on real people, such as coaches Tom Landry and Dick Motta.
"I don't exaggerate when I say that we got calls by the thousands. Two girls from California came in and said sheepishly that they lived on the same street as the TV show's producer, and felt that they were taking advantage, but they wanted to bet $300 on a certain character, and we took it. The next day they bet an additional $600."
Before much longer, however, the Gaming Control Board told the Castaways to take down the bet. All wagers were refunded.
"Then a guy called from Boston and said he wanted to fly in with a big wager," Reizner said. "When I told him the whole thing was being disallowed, he confided that he had inside information, and that now he might as well tell me in advance who shot J. R."
Then came the televised divulgence. "Not only were the two girls from California completely wrong, so was the supposed insider from Boston," Reizner said. "The person who pulled the trigger turned out to be the sister of J. R.'s wife, and she was my 7-to-2 fourth choice in the odds."
To Michael D. Rumbolz, one of the three members of the Gaming Control Board, "The J. R. event was probably the beginning of the end. It focused for regulators the possibility of having wagers where the outcome could be known to people in advance."
What it boils down to now, Rumbolz said, is that betting (aside from casino games), is pretty much limited to athletic contests and horse/dog races. An appeal for an exception can be made in writing to the board chairman, but you are odds-on to be rejected.
This became quickly apparent in 1981--the year after the J. R. betting escapade--when the Union Plaza Hotel and Casino saw gambling possibilities when the grave of the assassin of President John F. Kennedy was about to be re-opened. Over the years, controversy had developed over whether the remains of Oswald, somebody else, or even nobody at all were inside the coffin.
The Union Plaza made a line on whether the grave contained Oswald, a Soviet agent, Jack Ruby (Oswald's killer), or nobody, said John Quinn, who runs the sports and race book.
But after a few bets had been taken, the gaming board halted the action, and everything was refunded. Oswald's body, it turned out, was indeed in the grave.