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July 22, 2014

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Martin called key to success of books: Leading gaming figures pay respects to late oddsmaker

Pioneering Las Vegas oddsmaker Bob Martin was remembered Monday as a man who was a hero to his profession and to his family.

Two hundred mourners -- a virtual who's who of the sports betting industry -- paid their final respects to the Las Vegas resident of 37 years at Palm Mortuary-Eastern. Martin's on-the-money betting lines ushered in the city's golden age of sports betting in the 1970s and made him the top oddsmaker in America for 20 years.

Robert L. Martin died of lung cancer Wednesday at his New York City apartment. He was 82 and a resident of New York and Las Vegas. At noon Wednesday several Nevada sports books plan to momentarily stop taking wagers in silent remembrance of Martin.

"There was Bob Martin the oddsmaker and Bob Martin the man," former Barbary Coast sports book director Jack Franzi, a longtime friend, said during the eulogy. "He rose to the top of his profession to be No. 1, and there was no No. 2. ... He had a natural gift to communicate with people."

In addition to Franzi, other current and past sports book directors attending the funeral included Sonny Reizner, formerly of the old Castaways and Rio; Art Manteris of the Las Vegas Hilton; Keith Glantz, formerly of the Palace Station; Vic Salerno of Leroys; and oddsmaker/handicapper Richard Klamian, formerly of the Stardust.

Jackie Gaughan, owner of the El Cortez and Union Plaza, and his son, Michael Gaughan, chairman of Coast Resorts, attended the hourlong services, as did noted gamblers Lem Banker and Sam Angel. Rabbi Mel Hecht officiated.

Martin managed the old Churchill Downs Sports Book in the 1960s and early '70s and ran the Union Plaza sports book in the 1970s and early '80s. He invented the "half-point line," eliminating ties with bettors, and he was known by several nicknames, including "Mr. Oddsmaker" and "The Most Powerful Man in Football."

Bill Kilgore, Martin's son and a Las Vegas resident, said during the services, "As good an oddsmaker (as he was) ... he was equally as skilled as a father ... He was my father, my friend and my hero."

New York gambler Danny Kramer called Martin, "a dynamic personality. ... a (Damon) Runyan-esque character."

After the services, Banker recalled having lunch with late basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, who told Banker about a big contract he had just signed. Banker replied: "Wilt, you can thank a man named Bob Martin for that money because he was posting lines on pro basketball when others wouldn't touch the games, and those betting lines made basketball the popular sport it is today."

Born Nelson Blume on Dec. 14, 1918, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Martin was the son of Phil and Rebecca Blume, who ran a deli.

Martin earned a journalism degree from New York University, then joined the Army during World War II. In France, Martin booked bets on baseball games broadcast over the Armed Forces Radio Network, amassing a five-figure bankroll in the process.

After the war Martin returned to New York and hung around on 50th and Broadway with colorful gamblers who were memorialized by writers Runyan and Walter Winchell. In 1952 Martin took a bookmaking job in Washington, D.C.

Martin came to Las Vegas in the early 1960s to work for Harry Gordon at his Churchill Downs book. Martin's lines became the industry standard of excellence and were used by bookies everywhere.

In 1982 Martin was convicted of passing betting information across state lines and served 13 months in a federal prison. He later returned to Las Vegas and tried to get back into the sports betting industry. Law enforcement authorities, however, opposed his licensing based on the felony conviction, ending his storied career.

In addition to his son, Martin is survived by his wife of 42 years, Carlotta Martin of New York and Las Vegas; a daughter, Stacey St. Clair of Las Vegas; and two grandchildren.

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