Every Christmas I like to call Bob Scucci and reminisce about the one we spent together at The Stardust sports book.
It was 1999 and I was, quite literally, in the middle of reporting "The Odds," the book in which I spent a season tracking guys who bet on college hoops for a living. In a week I would be bunkered down in the Hamptons on Long Island's East End at a too-nice-for-me house owned by a friend's parents, awaiting the end of the world as the calendar flipped from one millennium to another. This was it, Y2K was coming. And if we were going down, we were going down in style in palatial digs whose rooms had padded wallpaper, two fridges stocked with high-end food stuffs and a backyard that shared a hedgerow with Martha Stewart.
But at that moment, on Christmas morning, I was far from living the lux life. I rolled out of bed in my room at The Stardust, reeking of smoke because all the non-smoking rooms were taken, and took a five-minute walk from my room to the elevator. Before they tore the Dust down, she was a beaut, a relic of old-school Vegas -- full of the kind of attitude that romanticized how bloody the city's history had been.
I chose to profile the guys who ran the sports book there -- Joe Lupo, Bob Scucci and Jim Korona -- because they posted the first lines for any game, but also because their book had been the home to "Lefty" Rosenthal, one of the original Vegas bookmakers and one of the last of the town's outright gangsters. Lefty had been immortalized as "Ace" Rothstein by director Martin Scorsese in his 1995 film "Casino." He had survived a car bomb planted to kill him. He made numbers, gave orders and interviewed O.J. Simpson on a late-night Vegas talk show that he insisted on starring in. One night, toward the end of my time in Vegas, I stayed up 'til dawn in my stinking, smoking Stardust hotel room reading "Casino" for the third time.