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Ed Koch

Prominent Las Vegas Oddsmaker Dies

18 August 2005

LAS VEGAS -- Longtime Las Vegas oddsmaker Jackie Dell, who frequently made picks for the Las Vegas Sun on everything from football games to presidential races, died Tuesday night at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in his native Youngstown, Ohio. He was 76.

Dell, whose real name was Jack Delfry, apparently died of complications from a heart attack suffered earlier this month, a friend said. A hospital nursing supervisor on Wednesday confirmed his death.

Services are pending.

Dell, in a 1992 Sun story, made Bill Clinton a 1-to-3 favorite to beat incumbent President George Bush at a time when many experts were calling the race too close to call. Dell made Bush a 2-to-1 underdog.

Dell, an oddsmaker since age 20, got his first Las Vegas column in 1979, when he was hired by the old North Las Vegas Valley Times to offer his college and pro football picks and college basketball selections three times a week.

His oddsmaking column later appeared in the Sun and several weeklies, including the Las Vegas Tribune for the last seven years.

"Jackie Dell had a name and good reputation as an oddsmaker," said Rolando Larraz, editor of the Tribune and a friend for more than 25 years. "A lot of our readers looked forward to seeing his column before they made their bets."

Larraz called Dell "a colorful character," who looked like a stereotyped oddsmaker or bookie from 1950s black and white films -- and sounded like one too, with his gravely Italian-American accent.

Dell's odds and betting lines also were published in newspapers in Ohio, Arizona and Utah. His specialty was setting lines on college basketball.

For his newspaper columns, Dell would shade his lines toward the teams he felt would win. For example, if the Las Vegas books posted a team as a 3-point favorite, Dell would make that squad a 9-point favorite, telling gamblers he felt that team would cover the spread comfortably, thus they should bet big.

Dell shunned computers even late in his career, preferring to set his odds and make predictions on the outcome of games using pencil, paper and lots of reading materials and charts, which he would pore over for hours.

For the last quarter of a century, Dell lived in Las Vegas during the busy football and basketball betting seasons and resided in Youngstown during the hot summer months. Before that he was a longtime visitor to Las Vegas, known to local casino bosses of the 1960s and '70s primarily for his craps play.

In 1988 Dell was honored in the Congressional Record when a then-member of the House from Ohio proclaimed that "Jackie Dell ranks as one of the premier oddsmakers in the country."

Although it is illegal to bet on political races in Nevada, Dell offered his odds for entertainment purposes only. Despite money not being wagered on those lines, he nevertheless took them seriously and put a lot of thought into them.

For example, in the March 13, 2000, Sun editions Dell made then-Vice President Al Gore an 8-to-5 favorite and Republican George W. Bush a 5-to-7 underdog for the presidency -- foreshadowing the tight finish that would occur.

While he personally favored Gore, Dell told Sun readers that Bush probably was the better bet because Dell had given Bush a good underdog price -- wager $500 to win $700 -- and Bush also had a good chance to win, which of course he did.

Dell began posting sports betting lines in Ohio in 1950. Those lines primarily were used by illegal bookmakers who sought odds that would draw equal betting action on both sides -- a demand that holds true in today's legal books.

Bookies make their money not necessarily from taking large wagers on games but rather off the vigorish or juice -- the edge that is taken by the house -- on games that draw about equal action on both sides.

Dell, in the late 1990s, was a regular contributor to Sun News Editor Sal DeFilippo's weekly football betting column.

A list of survivors was not immediately available.