Tuesday, June 18, 2002 | 9:27 a.m.
Robert E. "Bob" McCune, one of Las Vegas' top sports handicappers of the 1980s, who hosted seminars where his glib tongue and vast knowledge convinced gamblers they could beat the odds, has died. He was 80.
McCune stressed money management and an understanding of probability in his teachings.
McCune, who won the professional bodybuilding title of Mr. America 1949 and competed several times for the world pro wrestling title in the 1950s, died Friday at Havasu Nursing Center in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., where he has lived since March.
There will be no local services for the handicapper, who operated the Vegas Sports Information Center from 1981 through the 1990s. Lake Havasu Mortuary is handling the arrangements.
"Bob was very knowledgeable in all areas of sports betting," said Howard Schwartz, manager of the Gambler's Book Shop at 630 S. 11th St. "Because he was never at a loss for words, he put on seminars that were well attended by people who were entertained by what he had to say."
Schwartz said McCune's books on betting are still available, including "Insights into Sports Betting," "Revelations in Sports Betting" and "The Gambling Times Guide to Sports Betting and Handicapping."
McCune was born Dec. 11, 1921, in Amsterdam, New York, and early on became interested in athletics, specifically track and field and youth hockey.
As the sole member of the St. Mary's High School track team, McCune, at an eight-team meet at Johnstown, N.Y., in 1939, competed in eight events. He garnered five second-place finishes and two thirds, finishing third in the overall team standings. That day, he put the shot, threw the discus and javelin, did the long jump and ran four races, including the 100-yard dash in 10.1 seconds and the mile in 4:42.
In 1941, McCune competed in the New York State Hockey Championships. He was drafted by the New York Rangers but instead of pursuing a hockey career, he enlisted in the Navy during World War II.
After the war, McCune moved to San Francisco and, in 1946, opened the San Francisco Bodybuilding Club gym while attending Stanford. After winning the Mr. America title, McCune graced the covers of America's top bodybuilding magazines, including "Strength and Health" and "Iron Man."
McCune then turned to pro wrestling, where his rippled physique and good looks made him a popular star on the circuit. Nine times he wrestled world champion Lou Thesz, who also recently died, and earned three draws. McCune wrestled 1,200 matches in eight years and retired from the sport in 1958.
In the 1960s, McCune's charisma and gift of gab helped make him the nation's top salesman for Encyclopedia Britannica's "Great Books" series.
As a Las Vegas sports service operator selling betting lines to bookies and selections to gamblers nationwide, McCune wrote for gambling publications and penned his own sports betting newsletter, "The Profit Line."
He urged the sports service industry to clean up its act, telling less scrupulous operators they were killing the business by making blatantly false claims -- such as that their betting selections were winning at a rate of 80 percent and higher -- to entice new and unwitting customers.
In 1983, McCune's service won the United States Football League Handicapping Championship. That same year, his company boasted a record of 198 wins and 159 losses for pro basketball over-unders.
McCune is survived by his brother, William McCune of Lake Havasu; two sisters, Kathleen Robinson of Lake Pleasant, N.Y., and Maria Bell of St. Petersburg, Fla.; and a stepson, Bruce Gray of the Netherlands.
He was preceded in death by his wife Maisie and a sister, Elizabeth Slade, both in December 1994.