As each sports book opened, the last thing it wanted to do was post numbers that were out of step with everyone else on the street. Accordingly, LVSC became a multimillion-dollar business. Roxy was a decent handicapper but a terrific salesman, and by the end of the 1980s he was too valuable to stay inside, trying to predict the point total for a Nets-Clippers game. As LVSC grew, so did Roxy's need for other oddsmakers to carry the load.
Back then LVSC had just a handful of employees, at least one of whom routinely slept in the office. The hours were long, the pay unconscionably low. (Even today LVSC's 13 staff members make between $30,000 and $80,000, which isn't much for someone at the top of a profession.) Roxy found Robaina answering phones for a tout service off the Strip. Born in Havana in 1964, Cesar had immigrated with his family to Las Vegas, where a grandfather lived, in '71. His father went to work sweeping casino floors, and seven-year-old Cesar set out to become American. He fell in love with dependable Midwestern sports franchises like the Cincinnati Reds and the Minnesota Vikings, which seemed to represent an entire star-spangled way of life. Later he went to trade school to become a draftsman, bet sports for pocket money and came to understand the fundamental advantage of working for the house.
In 1990, the year after Robaina was hired at LVSC, one of his colleagues phoned Tony Sinisi, a boyhood friend, back in Altoona, Pa., and urged him to come west. Sinisi had grown up idolizing his own father, a bookie who for decades ran a pool hall and betting parlor "in the most honorable fashion," as Sinisi puts it. The son thrilled to his father's stories, such as the one about a fixed boxing match at Madison Square Garden and another about the long shot at Hialeah that faltered in the homestretch.
Sinisi went off to Penn State and returned to Altoona in 1977 with a business degree. He managed a bar, sold cable television, wondered what the future would bring. Then came the call describing this room full of oddsmakers in LVSC's previous location, a suite atop the Bank of America building with a view of the Stardust and the Riviera. Sinisi's wife, Penny, had no interest in moving to Nevada, didn't even like sports. Sinisi had never been much of a salesman, but he made the pitch of his life. "It'll be an adventure," he told her. When they arrived in Vegas, he went straight to Roxy's office, took one look and knew he was home.
He remembers a college football game his first year in the business. Everyone had the line at seven, but he had it at five. He made an impassioned speech, and Roxy was impressed. "We'll use six, but it's on your shoulders," the boss told his new oddsmaker. Sinisi walked into the sports book at the Riviera later that day, looked up and saw a six on the big board and thought, I'm Tony Sinisi, from Altoona, Pa., and that's my number up there.
Thanks to today's technology, Sinisi ranges farther afield for his information than Roxy ever did. For the Notre Dame-Purdue game he drew on reports in the South Bend Tribune, which implied that the Irish were even less talented than their early results might indicate.
The more Robaina thought about the game, the more he realized that absolute truth must lie somewhere between him and Tony. And as the week unfolded, the line held steady at 10�. It seemed as though Robaina's compromise between all those sevens and Sinisi's 14 had been an act of genius. Sinisi's philosophical statement had pushed the number upward; Robaina had moved it just the right amount.
With numbers, though, you can't always tell. When a line holds steady, it usually means that the money being bet on the two sides is equal. When that happens, a casino is guaranteed a commission of 4�% no matter what the outcome. But a steady line can also indicate a lack of action on both sides of the bet. Sometimes the number posted is so accurate—so "sharp," as they say in the business—that it discourages betting by all but the squarest of squares, those determined to put money on their favorite team at any price. Occasionally sports books will start a line half a point or even a point off the sharp number in order to jump-start interest, then move it a click or two after money starts coming in.
What the sports books hate most is a line that continues to draw action on only one side, even as the number is adjusted. Situations like that lead troubled sports-book managers to call LVSC and unload their anxiety on whoever answers the phone. "How could you give a number like that?" they wail. It doesn't matter that the game might end up with exactiy the spread that the opening line predicted. That line led to undue exposure for the sports books, and sports books hate exposure.
It is a slippery animal, the number, and a moving target. Every point spread has to provide some accurate measure of how the teams stand relative to each other, yet it must also reflect public opinion at the moment it is hung. Most important, it has to limit the casinos' exposure to losses, or be easily moved to a number that will. "The whole idea in booking," Roxy liked to say, "is to stay out of disasters."