By Stephen Nover

If there were a Hall of Fame for Nevada bookmakers, Russ Culver would be in it. Not only was Culver the sports book manager at high-end hotels such as Bally’s, MIrage and Golden Nugget, but he was a Hall of Fame-caliber bettor, too, before and after he left bookmaking.

Culver not only tied for first with Keith Glantz in the old Castaways Challenge football contest in 1981, which at the time was considered the preeminent football contest in the world, but he also won the Westgate (then called the Hilton) SuperContest in 1999. And football wasn’t even his top sport. Baseball was.

Culver, who was living in retirement in Arizona, passed away earlier this month from natural causes having been in ill health. He was 68.

It was Culver and his boss at the time, Jimmy Vaccaro, who created regular season Over/Under win totals when both were running the sports book at the Golden Nugget in 1988.

This popular prop happened by accident. It was right after Jimmy Johnson was hired by Jerry Jones to be the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. An excited gambler from Texas was visiting the Golden Nugget. He came up to the betting counter and asked Culver how many games he thought the Cowboys would win that year.

When Culver told him he didn’t think Dallas would win too many games. The gambler told Culver to make a number and he might bet it. So Culver excused himself and met with Vacarro. Culver said the Cowboys would be fortunate to win one game. Vaccaro agreed. But being sharp bookmakers, Culver came back and gave the bettor an over/under win total of 4 1/2.

The bettor said he liked Over – for $35,000. So Culver took the bet. Then, to try to even the action, Culver came up with an over/under win total on every NFL team.

“A monster was created,” Culver said when I once asked him about that. “By the time we (he and Vaccaro) went to The MIrage the next year, people from March on every day came in asking if we’re going to do that prop again. It was the best single thing we did whether we won money or not. it allowed people to bet on or against teams and they didn’t have to win the Irish sweepstakes to cash a ticket, since about one percent of the people who bet future books cash tickets.”

The Cowboys, by the way, went 1-15 in Johnson’s first season.

A native of Indiana, Culver first made his bones as a sports bettor. After tying with Glantz – who also later became a top bookmaker in Las Vegas at Palace Station – for the Castaways Challenge title in 1981, Culver and Glantz became close friends and business partners. Their Glantz-Culver betting line with daily odds they made was syndicated by World Features Syndicate appearing in hundreds of newspapers.This was all before the Internet of course.

Culver was one of the most influential sports book managers in Las Vegas during the 1980’s up until 1997 when he left to become director of sports analysis for Vegas Insider, which was a new division of CBS Sportsline. Culver set a high bar for news and pick selling. Ethics, credibility and class meant everything to him. He resigned from Vegas Insider in 2002 when he found out the site was going to do business with Wayne Allyn Root.

A political science major, Culver helped supplement his income after leaving Las Vegas by traveling to England during U.S. presidential election years where he made big money betting various American primaries and elections. He was as astute on political elections as he was on sports and he was able to take advantage of weak lines set by British bookmakers.

I had the privilege of knowing and working under Russ at Vegas Insider. He was highly principled, super sharp, witty, kind and generous. There are few people who could match his ethics and sense of honor regardless of field.


4 Responses to Remembering a Las Vegas Sports Gaming Icon

  1. Michael Roxborough says:

    Wonderful..thanks for doing that Steve

  2. Well done Stephen…
    Trust you are still rocking & rolling…

  3. John L. Smith says:

    Great stuff, Stephen. A whole generation passing more rapidly each day. Fortunately, we do not age.

  4. david sanchilli says:

    great story on a great guy and a great friend

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