At 4:30 on a Saturday morning, the gambling emporiums along Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas are still neon bonfires devouring money. The rest of the city is sensibly in darkness. At least most of it is. To the south, past the blue taxiway lights of McCarran International Airport and not far from Wayne Newton's ranch, a pair of palm-lined roads wind through the hushed estates of other Las Vegas headliners—Sergio Franchi, Bobbie Gentry, Jerry Vale, Robert Goulet. Among these entertainers' pieds-à-terre is the rambling house that Gary Austin purchased in the summer of 1977 for $300,000. Lights are on in Austin's house. Austin is a gambler.
Austin made a cash down payment of $250,000 on his home. Gamblers usually deal in cash, and Austin, a former sales executive in Mission Viejo, Calif., has become a full-time bettor, a sports bettor. He has bet increasing amounts on sports since the beginning of the 1970s; now he wagers more than $30 million a year on football, baseball, basketball and hockey—which is more than the GNP of many nations. Austin's swings of fortune can be formidable. During the first month of the 1979 baseball season, for example, he won $600,000; during the second month he lost $400,000.
"It's funny that Gary should have ended up in Las Vegas," says his wife, Judy, standing at the island counter in the center of their extensive and well-ordered kitchen. Judy was a speech therapist when the Austins lived in California, but now she spends her time as a den mother, working with the PTA at the school her two children attend and taking courses in geology and music at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "Of all the guys I dated in high school and college," she says, "Gary was the quietest, the straightest, the most serious. I would never have believed one day we'd be living in this town."
Austin's mother, a strict Methodist, still doesn't believe it. When Gary shot marbles with his classmates at Ruth Hopkins Elementary School in Three Rivers, Mich., his mother wouldn't let him keep the marbles he won, because she is opposed to gambling. She still occasionally sends her son, now 38, uplifting tracts distributed by such organizations as Gamblers Anonymous.
"When I go back home, it really surprises me how they don't understand sports betting," Austin says. "It's not what people think. It's not rolling out of bed at noon, going to some sleazy gambling place, putting a bet on this team, that team and that team, and then taking it easy the rest of the day. It's a full-time job, and you have to work very, very hard at it."
So the lights are on at 4:30 a.m. on a day late in the baseball season, early in the football season. Austin sits in an oversize leather chair at the desk in the office in his home. In the room are two television sets, turned off at this non-sports hour, and bookshelves containing bestsellers, college textbooks and numerous trophies won in youthful golf and Ping-Pong competitions. Austin was the Michigan State Ping-Pong champion in his sophomore year. There are photographs of Judy and their children, Kim, 13, and Troy, 11, and one of the 1968 World Champion Detroit Tigers. The rat-a-tat-tat of a teletype machine hammering out the UPI sports wire resounds from Austin's office through the otherwise darkened house. A Trans-Lux ticker, the sort used at ball parks, is silent. It is, after all, nearly dawn and there are no games in progress. Austin had gone to bed at 11, and risen at four, as is his custom.
"The baseball All-Star break in July is about the only time we can take a vacation," Judy says. "For three days there's nothing to bet on."
The sandy-haired Austin bears a resemblance to the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy. His clear, blue eyes reflect the same combination of wariness and cool confidence. After studying a UPI story, Austin puts his baseball log before him to finish posting the previous night's games. He has won his two big plays—a $24,500 bet on the Phillies that earned him $17,000 and a $15,000 wager on San Diego on which he came out $17,000 ahead—but lost several smaller plays to finish the night only a couple of grand to the good. Baseball bettors lay a price on the favorite ($1.45 to win $1, for example) or take a price on the underdog ($1 to win $1.25). The difference between the amount a gambler can win betting the underdog and the amount he must lay betting the favorite is the bookmaker's vigorish, his juice, his profit. In the examples above, it would be 20¢, the difference between $1.45 and $1.25.
Using the box score of the Montreal-Atlanta game he'd clipped from the UPI wire, Austin goes to work, listing in his log everything from the final score to the number of walks the starting pitchers allowed. He moves on to the Cubs, to the Reds and so forth, until he finishes both major leagues. He works quickly, methodically. He has been doing the same thing every day since the start of the baseball season and for many seasons past. Through the year Austin also posts every pro football, basketball and hockey game, though his records on these sports are less detailed than those on baseball.
"Keeping these logs is such a grind," he says. "It's easy when you're winning. But, boy, if you lose a day and lose a second day and lose five out of six days, it's so hard to come back."