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Retiring bookmaker Art Manteris: ‘I fell in love with this business’

Before Art Manteris took charge of multiple Las Vegas sportsbooks in a career that spanned six decades, he took charges from former NBA players Spencer Haywood and Mychal Thompson.

Manteris, who retired this month from his longtime position as Station Casinos sportsbooks vice president, was a stunt double for actor Jack Kehoe in the 1979 film “The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh,” which starred basketball legend Julius “Dr. J” Erving.

A Pittsburgh native who landed the stuntman job through legendary sports marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro — older brother of South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro — Manteris originally planned to pursue a film career.

“When I came out here to UNLV, it was with the intent of quickly finishing school and then going on to Hollywood,” said Manteris, 64. “I did quickly finish school. But I got sidetracked because I fell in love with this business.”

As a student at UNLV in the late 1970s, Manteris worked at the Stardust sportsbook, where his first job was changing the odds on the old manual odds boards.

“It was similar to Fenway Park or Wrigley Field,” he said.

The Stardust was in its heyday, not long after Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal ran it for the mob.

“I came in right after he left,” Manteris said. “But his people were still there.”

Rosenthal was portrayed by Robert De Niro in the Martin Scorcese movie “Casino,” and Joe Pesci played the role of mob enforcer Tony Spilotro.

“From being around at that time, I thought Joe Pesci’s portrayal of the Tony Spilotro character was remarkably accurate,” Manteris said. “Imagine trying to deal with him as a sportsbook manager or casino executive.”

Or as a young ticket writer, which Manteris was at the Barbary Coast when a member of Spilotro’s crew shorted him $1,100.

“It was my fault. I gave him a series of bets and miscounted while tabulating the total off the top of my head,” he said. “I was 11-hundred dollars short at the end of the night, and I was panicking. I was a kid in my early 20s.”

Vaccaro to rescue

Manteris called Jimmy Vaccaro, who ran the Barbary Coast book, to explain his dilemma.

“He understood what happened and who I was dealing with,” Manteris said. “He told me to close my bank and turn it in and don’t worry about it. I came to find that Jimmy covered that shortage out of his own pocket.

“Not only did he save me from getting in a lot of trouble or losing my job, but he proved to me who the good guys were. That had an enormous impact on an impressionable young kid and helped shape the rest of my career.

“Those were valuable lessons in helping your team and defending your team.”

Money Manteris

Manteris went on to become one of the city’s youngest sportsbook directors at Caesars Palace and vice president of the Las Vegas Hilton sportsbook, now the Westgate, before moving to Station Casinos in 2001. He was inducted into the SBC Sports Betting Hall of Fame in 2019.

“Art won more money for the state of Nevada and for his employers than any other bookmaker in state history,” longtime Las Vegas oddsmaker Michael “Roxy” Roxborough said.

Super prop

At Caesars in 1986, Manteris helped fuel the Super Bowl prop bet craze by posting odds on William “The Refrigerator” Perry to score a touchdown in Super Bowl XX.

Bettors pounded the prop and buried the books when the Chicago Bears defensive lineman scored in Chicago’s 46-10 blowout of the New England Patriots.

Sunset Station sportsbook director Chuck Esposito was a 21-year-old ticket writer at Caesars at the time and pitched the wildly popular prop to Manteris.

“As money poured in on (Perry) to score a touchdown, I kept assuring him it wasn’t going to happen,” Esposito said. “Needless to say, we did lose quite a bit on that prop, and thankfully, I still had a career the next day.

“I’ve been extremely fortunate to have Art help guide my career. He’s been a tremendous mentor and friend.”

Following Jimmy Vaccaro’s lead, Manteris looked beyond the short-term loss.

“That prop backfired financially, but it achieved so much publicity,” he said. “It really changed the industry.”

SuperBookie

Later that year, Manteris helped design and launch the first modern, theater-style sportsbook at the Hilton SuperBook.

“We wanted to make it a part of the Las Vegas Hilton destination, which was an enormous convention center at that time,” he said. “What we found was a premium race and sportsbook not only became a profit and excitement center for the property, but it also led to increased revenue for beverage and casino and slots and just became a benefit to the entire property.”

In 1988, Manteris introduced the SuperContest, a prestigious high-end NFL handicapping contest that produced a record 3,328 entries and $1.47 million first prize in 2019.

It was inspired by a similar contest run by late Las Vegas bookmaker Sonny Reizner at the old Castaways Hole-in-The-Wall Sportsbook.

“I did like the format and publicity that little sportsbook got from the contest,” Manteris said. “When they closed, there was an opportunity.”

Manteris also was credited with the development of the state’s first computer networking of race and sportsbooks in the late 1980s that enabled him to oversee the action at all 14 Station books from his office at Red Rock Resort.

He helped the Nevada Gaming Control Board and NCAA uncover the 1994 Arizona State college basketball point-shaving scandal and is proud to have helped lay the foundation for the nationwide spread of legal, regulated sports betting.

“Myself and other Nevada bookmakers have worked long and hard over the years to ensure the integrity of the games,” he said.

Finish line

As much as he loved being a bookmaker, Manteris said being on the hook for millions of dollars every day has its pros and cons, especially for a family man. He’s been married to former KTNV-3 news anchor Sue Manteris for 26 years, and they have three children.

“The highs and lows are so intense, it does distract from what most people consider normal human relations,” he said. “It’s hard to come home for dinner and have a nice, civil conversation with your family while in the back of your mind you’re sweating a giant decision.”

Manteris will turn 65 in June, and he said that was always his target finish line. He spent 43 years in the industry.

He will remain a consultant to Station, where he will be replaced as vice president by Red Rock sportsbook director Jason McCormick.

“I was so blessed to have such a great team around me,” Manteris said. “It’s time for the guys to run the ball and for one person to take care of his family and his health.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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