Gambling’s Unsung Heroes

Gambling’s Unsung Heroes
By Bill Ordine
Fact Checked by Thomas Leary

Arguably the fastest growing single industry in the United States over the last two decades has been legalized gambling. The numbers are astounding, and not just across NY sports betting

The American Gaming Association, the gambling industry’s trade group, reports 44 states have legalized casinos, more than 30 jurisdictions have legalized sports gambling, 1.8 million jobs are generated by gambling, annual taxes collected are $41 billion, and the estimated annual impact is $261 billion. 

And yet, this mega-industry owes so much to a handful of figures who helped instigate the popularity of the gaming industry, many of whom are little known to the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who enjoy gaming entertainment.

It’s time to recognize some of those unsung heroes, and don't forget to stay close to EmpireStakes.com for weekly revenue reports and the top New York sports betting promo codes.

Our Unsung Heroes Across the Gambling Industry

Below are our unsung heroes across the industry.

Phil Tobin: Lawmaker Pioneer

Tobin was a rancher from sparsely-populated Humboldt County in northern Nevada and in 1931, he was a freshman Assemblyman in the Nevada legislature. Illegal gambling was certainly thriving in the wild west by then, but Tobin figured that a legalized gambling industry could harness tax money for worthwhile purposes, such as education. 

The rancher introduced Assembly Bill 98 and it was passed in March 1931, making gambling legal in Nevada. Tobin’s common-sense approach to gambling became the template for scores of gambling laws that have been passed over the last 90 years.

Charles Fey: Slot Machine Inventor

Fey was born in Bavaria as the American Civil War was beginning; he eventually immigrated to New Jersey and then San Francisco. A mechanic, Fey was not the first person to device a “gambling machine,” but he refined previous versions to where the machine would pay out in coins, making it recognizable to even modern-day gamblers. 

The Liberty Bell Machine (the Bells were the jackpot symbols) became a hit.

But since gambling was illegal in California, Fey was unable to patent the invention.

Charles K. McNeil: Father of the Point Spread

Sports gambling in some form had been part of the American scene since colonial days. Horse racing, bare-knuckle fistfights, and cruel animal blood sports were all used for gambling. But the emergence of “team sports” gave rise to more acceptable and engaging ways to wager on competitions.

As American football became increasingly popular, a way was needed to somehow level the playing field from a betting perspective so that each side was equally attractive to bet on. Awkward odds, such as 2-1 or 7-5, had been the standard.

Enter, McNeil, a University of Chicago grad in math who taught at prestigious schools in New York and Connecticut and devised the modern point spread in the early 1940s. McNeil translated odds into actual point differentials. 

McNeil had been a sports gambler himself who turned to bookmaking, and his point-spreads were a hit with the public. However, McNeil gave up bookmaking in 1950 because of mob influences.

Jay Kornegay: Godfather of the Super Bowl Prop

Unlike many other gambling pioneers, Kornegay is still active in the gambling business as vice president of the Westgate SuperBook. Kornegay is quick to point out that he didn’t invent the notion of the prop bet or even Super Bowl props, but he made them an essential part of Super Bowl Sundays while working at a second-tier casino called the Imperial Palace in Vegas. 

Kornegay and his team came up with a menu of prop bets because the Super Bowls of the mid-1980s through the late-1990s were blowouts. Kornegay figured that by offering bets on a player’s rushing yards or pass receptions, he could keep bettors in the casino until the end of the game. Gamblers would flock to the IP from fancier casinos for Kornegay’s dozens of prop bets. 

His first expanded prop sheet upped the bets from 25 to 50.

Today, the SuperBook Super Bowl props number about 400 (which translates to about 14,000 possible bets) across NY Super Bowl betting. Kornegay also introduced cross-sports props in 1990: The San Francisco 49ers total points (playing Denver in Super Bowl XXIV) versus basketball star Michael Jordan (against the Nets). The ‘Niners outpointed Jordan, 55-39.

Ted Olson: The Man Who Ended PASPA

Sports betting is legal in over 30 U.S. jurisdictions and counting. Before 2018 a law called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, passed in 1992, prohibited the vast majority of states from offering sports betting.

Things stayed that way for about a quarter of a century, and only a few states were “grandfathered” for limited sports gambling. Just Nevada could have wide-open sports gambling. New Jersey challenged PASPA and the lawyer who took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court was rockstar litigator Ted Olson. 

Olson successfully argued that PASPA violated the 10th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, essentially saying that sports gambling came under the purview of the states. Olson had some other sports-related cases, representing the NFL Players Association in the 2011 lockout and quarterback Tom Brady in “Deflategate.”

Si Redd: Revolutionized the Slot Floor

Si Redd’s background was in pinball machines and jukeboxes, but he came up with two turns on the NY slot machine experience that propelled that part of the gaming floor into a powerhouse.

Redd popularized video poker, which married elements of a table game and a slots environment, and gave fans of slot machines some control over their fortunes through some decision-making. 

Redd also introduced the concept of progressive slot machines in which some micro portion of every slots bet went into what would become a massive jackpot prize which was networked to machines throughout the casino or many casinos. 

The winners of the progressive machines collected life-changing riches that approximated big lottery prizes. Redd also founded IGT, a company that went on to become a massive influence in gaming.

Art Manteris: Put the “Super” in Sportsbooks

Art Manteris, who retired last year from Station Casinos, left his mark on retail sportsbooks in creating the “theater-style sportsbook” called the SuperBook at the then-Las Vegas Hilton (now the Westgate) in 1986.

Two years later, Manteris introduced the SuperContest where handicappers are engaged all season long chasing a seven-figure payday in a weekly picking contest.

Other destination sportsbooks, such as the one at Circa in downtown Las Vegas, owe their inspiration to Manteris – who literally wrote the book on the subject, SuperBookie, Inside Las Vegas Sports Gambling.

The Four Horsemen of Aberdeen WhoChanged Blackjack for the Masses

Four math nerds doing their Army service during the Cold War at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland in the 1950s changed blackjack forever. 

Their names were Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel, and James McDermott. Once they understood how blackjack was played, the four soldiers – using old-time adding machines – calculated an optimal way to play a blackjack hand based on the dealer’s single up-card and the player’s own two cards. 

They published their findings in the Journal of American Statistical Association in an article named “The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack.” The 11-page study was expanded into a book in 1957 and to this day, the Four Horsemen’s Basic Strategy forms the foundation of intelligent blackjack play from card counters to casual players.

EmpireStakes is also your home to New York online blackjack options.

Al Francesco: The Vince Lombardi of Card Counting

If there has been a way to “beat the house," many sophisticated gamblers believe it is at the blackjack table through card counting. 

Using the Four Horsemen’s Basic Strategy and further refinements laid out by math professor Edward Thorpe, Francesco developed a style of team blackjack play that was eventually emulated by others, notably the MIT card counting team portrayed in the Hollywood film “21."

Francesco’s strategy was to assemble a team of players (one was the famous Kenny Uston) where the “little counters” would unobtrusively keep track of the cards being played and then signal a teammate holding a large team bankroll who would then wager into a deck that was rich with player-advantage cards (10-value cards and Aces). 

Over the years, casino counter-measures and card shuffling machines have made card-counting far more difficult.

Blaise Pascal: The Wheel of Fortune

The 17th century French mathematician is known to math historians as an original thinker in probability theory.

But many, many generations of casino operators and gamblers should think of Pascal in another way, as the (perhaps apocryphal) inventor of a primitive version of the roulette wheel. Roulette lore has Pascal inventing the wheel about 1655 in a failed attempt at inventing a perpetual motion machine. 

Over the years, gamblers have devised occasionally successful ways to take advantage of the construction and kinetics of the wheels but designers have consistently countered such tactics.

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Contributors

Bill Ordine was a reporter and editor in news and sports for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun for 25 years, and was a lead reporter on a team that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News. Bill started reporting on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for 10 years. He covered the World Series of Poker for a decade and his articles on gaming have appeared in many major U.S. newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald and others.

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