Betting the Line; A Liberal Conscience—History Books on Sport Betting . January 2002

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Betting the Line; A Liberal Conscience—History Books on Sport Betting; Nevada by Howard Schwartz

Two marvelous history books of great value have arrived at Gambler's Book Shop (Gambler's Book Club) in recent days. They are Betting the Line (Sports Wagering in American Life) by Richard Davies and Richard Abram (212 pages, paperbound, $24.95) and A Liberal Conscience by Ralph Denton (393 pages, paperbound, $19.95). Each of course has a separate audience, but each is a solid package of information for those interested in the two key areas covered—sports betting and Nevada history.

Betting the Line is a history of sports betting, from its earliest days to the present, packed with references to dozens of books already in print; interviews with experts; articles; and some studies. The book is indexed, has an extensive bibliography and is an easy-flowing, non-technical read that should answer many questions from how the line originated to who sets the line today.

The book contains a dozen major sections. They cover how gambling and betting on sports events began and evolved in the nation's earliest days (18th Century); what made it such a popular pastime; how attempts to fix games (some successful such as the 1919 Black Sox scandal) almost finished off baseball as the great national sport; the contribution and impact thoroughbred racing of Moses Annenberg and his "wire empire;" how bookmakers and bootlegging operated between wars (1919 to 1939); the interesting growth of college basketball's popularity; and the birth of the modern pointspread, the brainchild of Charles McNeil.

Davies and Abram (both teach at the University of Nevada in Reno) examine the college basketball fixes and scandals of the 1950s; review the role of the Kefauver investigations into the role of bookies and organized crime; discuss the role of "Shoebox" Sidney Brodson before the Kefauver Committee in the 50s as unveiling the "world of the modern bookie," and how the earliest days of the National Football League may have been linked to gamblers and sports betting.

The authors move to tracing the growth of legal sports betting into the State of Nevada and how it gained even more popularity after the 10 percent federal tax was reduced six years later to two percent (1974), and how "sports gamblers found a natural environment in which to pursue their craft."

Those fascinated with the contributions of Jimmy (The Greek) Snyder and Michael (Roxy) Roxborough will find a specific chapter on these innovators interesting and the authors do a nice job of reviewing the hectic happenings of the late 1980s to the present when it comes to looking at the beginnings and ever-expanding "digital age" of sports betting, including the impact of the Internet and offshore operations. The book also contains excellent "food for thought" on why sports betting is so popular and what the options are for those who want to further legalize and expand it and the law enforcement agencies who want to shut it down.

This is truly a reference source for everyone—bettors; bet-takers; the legal profession; potential "expert witnesses" and those with an intellectual curiosity about what all the fuss is about. The authors have tapped a tremendous number of resources to compile a timely guide for every library. I wish the book were illustrated though—so many big names, controversial figures are mentioned. It would have added a little extra to the work. But no matter, this book's arrival is quite timely and has great value.

Ralph Denton is one of Nevada's most respected lawyers. If the name is familiar, his daughter Sally is co-author with Roger Morris of a recent history of Las Vegas titled The Money and the Power (she previously wrote the Bluegrass Conspiracy).

Some might call Ralph Denton "a whiz at helping others" get elected to governor (Grant Sawyer) and president (John Kennedy). He has practiced law successfully since 1954.

His memoirs, titled A Liberal Conscience has a little something for everyone interested in Nevada law; government; gaming interests and what forces impacted the development of Las Vegas.

Illustrated and indexed, this fact-packed volume looks at Denton's earliest days growing up in rural Caliente in the 1920s, punching cattle; working in mining and eventually coming under the patronage of Pat McCarran, a powerful U.S. senator; later earning a law degree and with McCarran's assistance, earning a solid reputation for getting things done.

The book's strength is Denton's perceptions, observations and memories of what Las Vegas was like from the mid-1950s forward. (He moved to the city in 1955.) He writes about the city's growth and development, about those with dreams and those with new ideas and how things got done.

Denton's index of names includes Walter Baring; Alan Bible; Sam Boyd; Berkeley Bunker; Robbins Cahill; Howard Cannon; Moe Dalitz; George Franklin; Hank Greenspun; Richard Ham; Pat McCarran; Wildcat Bill Morris George Rudiak; Charles Russell; Grant Sawyer; Parry Thomas. His remarkable memory for the power brokers; the key votes; the manipulations of the rich and influential; the funny people, characters he met; the innovators; the way things worked to get things done—all make for a lively trip to the past while helping us understand how Nevada and Las Vegas reached the 21st Century.

(Books reviewed here are available from Gambler's Book Club (Gambler's Book Shop) by calling 1-800-522-1777 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific time, Monday through Saturday. Use MasterCard, VISA or Discover (no American Express accepted), or order via the store's web site at using your credit card. The store's 1,000 books, plus software and videos are listed on the web site or if you'd like a copy of the 80-page catalog mailed to you, ask via the web site or by toll-free number or mail. The store is located at 630 South 11th St., Las Vegas NV 89101, and is now in its 37th year of operation. It is located two miles from Downtown Las Vegas and about the same distance from where The Strip begins. It is a block west of Maryland Parkway, just off Charleston Boulevard.)