Sonny Reizner had no regrets that he booked bets on "Who shot
Even though the line on the "Dallas" television series' cliffhanger resulted
in licensed Nevada books being restricted from taking wagers on anything but sporting
events, it also brought international attention to Reizner's employer, the old Castaways
He also did not regret that as a professional gambler he once lost $100,000 on a single
World Series game. He was confident he had done his homework, something he spent a
lifetime urging both bettors and bookmakers to do.
Perhaps his only regret was that en route to becoming a gaming legend, Reizner
neglected his family, something he worked diligently to correct in the twilight of his
career and life.
Julius Charles "Sonny" Reizner, the dean of Las Vegas bookmakers and one of
the world's foremost experts on sports betting, died Saturday of Parkinson's disease in
Las Vegas. He was 81.
Services for Reizner, a Las Vegas resident of 32 years, will be 4 p.m. Wednesday at
Palm Mortuary's King David Memorial Chapel, 7600 S. Eastern Ave. Burial will be in the
Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City.
As director of the old Castaways Hole-in-The-Wall Sportsbook from 1976 to 1987, Reizner
was the father of football handicapping contests, starting the industry's first NFL
contest in 1978.
In 1983 Reizner's combination biography and betting guide "Sports Betting with
Sonny Reizner," written with late gambling expert Martin Mendelsohn, was published.
Reizner wrote not only about how he became successful in his field, but also what it cost
In a Christmas letter to his four children published in the book, Reizner wrote:
"For more years than I care to remember, I worked seven days a week, 365 days a year.
... Was I a degenerate gambler? Maybe. ... Even though I was oft times neglectful,
seemingly distant, and sometimes even unaware, my thoughts were always with you and for
"Every holiday, dad would read that letter to us and he would cry half way through
it," said Jann Reizner, a retired Las Vegas schoolteacher. "It was a poignant
letter of apology and the epitome of what it was like to live with a professional gambler.
But he realized it in time and in the end, he was there to talk to, to give advice -- just
to be there for us."
Reizner came to international prominence in 1980, when he posted betting lines on
"Who Shot J.R.?" People from all over the world came to Las Vegas to place
State gaming regulators ordered the line be taken down and that all bets be refunded.
The reason: The outcome was already determined. The CBS show's producers, writers and
others had to know who shot the evil oil man portrayed by Larry Hagman, regulators said.
After that, Las Vegas' licensed sports books could take wagers only on sporting events.
Reizner started the first football handicapping contests -- The Challenge and The
Ultimate Challenge -- which offered huge purses to the oddsmakers with the best season
records. He also promoted parlay cards as well as proposition bets, especially for the
Super Bowl. In 1979 he posted the first betting lines on the Boston Marathon.
"Sonny's contributions to the sports betting industry were numerous and tremendous
-- but most of all he put a big smiling face on what always had been thought of as a
hard-edged business," said Las Vegas gaming analyst and radio gaming talk show host
Larry Grossman, a longtime friend. "He just had a keen mind for the marketing of
sports betting. And he did it with a little flair and a lot of class."
Reizner also was known for his "Sonnyisms," gems that included: "Conceit
is God's gift to the sports book," "The happiness of a gambler is never entirely
free from fear" and "You'll never get ahead trying to get even."
Born Oct. 19, 1921, in Taunton, Mass., Reizner early on became an avid sports fan. At
age 16 he placed his first wager with a bookie on the Boston Braves. At age 17, during the
Great Depression, Reizner got his first job in the Sears & Roebuck mail order
warehouse in Brookline, Mass. He earned $15 a week and supplemented his income by betting
sports and financially backing top area pool players.
Reizner joined the Army Air Corps during World War II and saw action in Italy. He often
mused about his military career: "When I went into the service, the Germans became an
In 1970 Reizner moved his wife, Rolene, and family from the Boston suburb of Taunton to
Las Vegas with the intent of opening an antique business, but instead got a job at the old
Churchill Downs Sports Book, working under the late, legendary oddsmaker Bob Martin.
In December 1976 Castaways President Bill Friedman decided to open a sports book in his
small Strip casino and hired Reisner to run the book that literally was a hole in the
wall. Despite its lack of size, the Hole-in-The-Wall Sportsbook became the benchmark for
Las Vegas sports books.
Reizner also was oddsmaker on the nationally syndicated "Sports View" TV show
hosted by Tom Kelly and pro football hall-of-famer Jim Brown from the Stardust Race and
In 1987 the Castaways was bulldozed to make room for The Mirage, and Reizner became
director of the Frontier hotel's race and sports book. In February 1988 Reizner began
teaching a course on the history of sports betting at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
He taught it for three years.
In 1989 Reizner helped open The Rio's race and sports book and served as its director.
A few years later he took the same post at the Desert Inn, where he stayed until his
retirement in 1996.
In addition to his wife and daughter, both residents of Las Vegas, Reizner is survived
by another daughter, Gale Levine of Hopkinton, Mass.; two sons, Alan Reizner of Austin,
Texas, and Adam Reizner of Las Vegas; and five grandchildren.