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As I See It, by Jimmy Vaccaro

18 September 2002

by Jimmy Vaccaro

Let's call this piece the S&S Show, a direct reference to the late Stuey Ungar and The Sopranos. I have been fortunate enough to cross paths with a lot of people, some of it my own doing and some due to relations that were fostered a long time ago. I will explain in a minute.

First I can not tell you how nice it was to see that one of my old friends has come back into the circle and is doing what he does as well as anyone I have ever known. What he does is simply run a joint with a lot of the old time flavor. Who he is, is simply "Fernando". After a little vacation he now has a top job at Hollywood Sports where they are known for taking on the world. Great knowledge with a great temperament is a tough parlay to beat. Stay well buddy.

All right let us get to work. Waited for over a year to see The Sopranos and personally graded it out to a B+. I thought it started out a little slow but can see that there are plenty of scenarios that can and will be drawn in the next few months. I will tell you one spot that I can do without is staring at the "kisser" of Janice. Cannot speak for the rest of you guys but I would definitely pass if this "tomato" cornered me.

Actually the people over at WWTS put numbers up on the first person to get "whacked" on the series and I bet on Janice. I probably took a bad number but I have got to have some rooting interest to get her removed.

The piece with Paulie "Walnuts" calling from the county jail in Youngstown, Ohio was enjoyable. This is on the square. In 1966, I spent three days in the county jail there as we just left a place called Cal's (an all night gambling joint) where I made what seemed in those days was a major score like $2500, and now the party was on me.

In those days you would have small time bust out joints and whore houses lined up one after another. So into the whore house we went where we were not strangers. Me and my friends were like "Fredo" banging cocktail waitresses two at a time and the joint got raided. Being college kids the judge was going to make an example out of us and gave us 30 days in jail but reduced it to three days, which felt like three years.

All right get back to the rest of the story. On The Sopranos, you saw Bobby Bacala and Christopher and that will take us to Stu Ungar.

About 8 weeks ago I was eating out when I saw Steve Schirippa who plays Bobby Bacala. He and I have been friends for over 20 years. He was the former entertainment director for the Riviera Hotel and his success is well deserved. He told me that they were planning a movie on the life of Stu Ungar and it was going to be played by Michael Imperioli who as you know is Christopher on The Sopranos. He asked would I have lunch with both him and Michael in a few weeks as they were talking to a lot of people in Vegas who had contact with "the kid" as he was known, and I said it would be my pleasure.

Roughly two weeks pass and Steve gives me a call and asks if I could come down to the "Riv" and have some lunch. Met them that day and spent a few hours discussing Stu. Michael was very attentive and could not have been nicer. I explained that I knew Stu for a long time but only dealt with him from the race and sport side of the business.

For those of you who do not know about Stu, he was for all intent and purposes, when his head was on right, probably the best poker player ever to play … and you could probably throw gin into the mix too and not get any arguments from anyone. He played as high and as fast as anyone I have ever seen and I have definitely seen my share.

Michael asked me about mannerisms or quirks that might be useful to him. I simply relayed things that I saw him do and some of the wagers that he thought might be interesting from a story line.

Stu had a lot of people around and I am sure that some of the poker stories which I did not see or hear about will also describe just how fast he was. But when I was at the Mirage running the book I saw a few myself. I like many could give you 20 or 30 spots that simply would leave you shaking your head, but I will give you one that simply sums up a guy like Stu, who just kept moving on after one decision. Whether the outcome was good or bad he went to the next game or position.

It was 1990 and it was Breeders' Cup Saturday and I believe it was held in Saratoga and the money was flying everywhere. Being in the middle of football it only added to the hysteria that takes over a book when two big events overlap.

Now bear with me and let me sort this out. Those who know the landscape will understand, and for those who don't I will try and make some sense. When you bet horses in Nevada, your bet into the window goes to a hub and then goes directly into the pool at the track. Simply called pari-mutuel. The house books none of the bets but simply gets a % for really being no more than an agent. The joints like it because it takes the gamble out of it and you are guaranteed a win and they simply wanted people to just bet as much as they can as fast as they can. All bets went to the track except one.

That bet was called a house quinella or simply a "Q". Over the past 15 years even the joints who would let you bet the house Q's slowly started to fall by the wayside and eventually were down to none. This bet was booked by the place you ran and the smarts started to find out that betting the Q with the house was much better than the exacta at the track because the math figured much better in the long run. Now remember an exacta is picking two horses in exact order to finish the race 1-2. A quinella means the horses could come 1-2 or 2-1 and would be a winner. you are right that the exact finish would pay much higher but the Q made more sense to smart guys who were just like on the "soprano's" were looking to earn.

At that time it really was not a good bet for the house but I continued to give it out to my players as something of a bonus. They knew I knew they had the best of it but in return gave me a lot of play on other things. Now you did not let them run crazy and basically gave them what would be their normal bet on other events or races of the same value. That was all logical to most people but not to a guy like Stu. Stu did nothing in a normal fashion.

Now get this. With an event like this you had advanced wagering. When the pole positions were announced, usually on the Wednesday before the race, you could set the race and take bets. for all the people who were in town you basically gave them a chance to bet the race before they went home.

I believe this was the distaff race, if I am correct, which had two monster horses entered. One was Byakoa and the other was Go for Wand. Don't hold me to the spelling of the first horse. Anyway all during the year when these two met it came down simply to them and the rest of the field was out of the picture. So naturally every Q player on the planet showed up to get their bet and I would give them a small piece. The Q's did not pay much but held up about 75% of the time.

So like I was saying everyone was at least getting a ticket. Well it was the Friday before the race and as I was standing out in the race book here comes Stu flying in the from the poker room which was next to race and sports book to get his Q. Talking a mile a minute telling me to put this in because he was playing in this poker game and wanted his "Q" in case he went broke. Well his Q he wanted was $40,000. Like I said he never thought small. I gave him the bet and said Stu now don't come back because that was enough for him and I had to put other people on. Stu's answer like any big time player was yes and thanks. Back to the poker game. By the way I believe the poker game started at one and two thousand and was being kicked up about every four hours. I think they stopped at three and six thousand and the word was Stu was front real good.

So naturally around 7 that evening Stu ball tracked me down again and wanted another $20,000 on the Q as he was doing good in the poker I gave it to him.

I finally went home that night and got to the book early Saturday morning and you could not get a seat at 8 a.m. business was good and as I walked past the poker room, I saw that the poker game was still going on.

The races started and the football started. I do remember Stu was at the counter early and bet a few college games that were just starting for $10,000 each. We talked for a while then I went back to the football and he went back to the poker.

About 3 hours later as I was sitting in my office the race book called and Stu was out front and wanted to bet more on the Q. Now, counting his bets we were about $90,000 high on this prop. I told them I would be right out. Well when I got out there Stu was in a panic as he had just lost his first 2 bets he gave me in the sports one being on a pretty good bad beat. So I knew there was no reasoning with him after the two football games so I gave him 20 more on the Q and thought I would be done. Little did I know what the rest of the afternoon would bring to the kid.

Football early results were extra good and people were just playing faster than normal and naturally when booking and things are going good you simply set back and stay out of the way.

Well we are getting near post in this race which took on extra meaning with all the Q money in the book. Meanwhile about five minutes to post, Stu is trying to get through this massive crowd to get to the window. Now you got to remember that Stu was about 5'6" and weighed about as much as two $10,000 packages. Fighting his way to the counter, and hollering out the bet on a dead trot, he wanted $30,000 more. Not even saying anything I said give it to him as I knew it would be futile even to discuss anything so close to the start of the race.

Now he has $110,000 on this bet and the horses are let out of the gate just as his ticket goes through the machine. Now I am looking towards all the people in the book who are all looking at the big screens above me.

Race players have strange idiosyncrasies. As the race progresses they lean with their body and a lot snap their fingers. Why I do not know.

Now the race was as advertised as these two were a zip code ahead of the field and Stu was leaning and then suddenly a huge gasp from the crowd and Stu stared motionless. go for wand's right fore leg broke 30 yards from the finish and actually was destroyed right on the track almost immediately. it was not pleasant.

But the most remarkable point I brought to Michael Imperioli was that Stu almost immediately just turned and with both hands in his pocket walked back to the poker room. No outburst no emotion no nothing.

I walked back into my office and thought I would not hear from Stu at least until Sunday but just before post on the next race I was asked to come out front because Stu wanted a Q in the next race. He only looked at me and said can you believe that. Now Stu was not always that calm and this time when he probably had a beef to become a skyrocket he simply said almost nothing. He was a lot of things rolled into one. We all have personal issues that have to be dealt with. Unfortunately some of his led to an early death. But it was very hard not to like the kid.

Michael and Steve were glad that I spoke to them and thanked me for my time.

I told them both it was my pleasure and could not wait to see the movie.

By the way I heard that WWTS was getting a lot of calls on their betting prop on getting whacked. It seems like a lot of calls were coming from St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. They said they wanted to add three more names to the list: Martz, Cowher, and Billick.

Take care and keep in touch, Jimmy V.

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