What really happened w/Gary Austin's LV Sportsbook


Staff member
Gary Austin was a self-proclaimed wiseguy who started making sports bets in his mid-20s while working as a sales rep, then manager, for Continental Can in southern California. He was reportedly, so adept at statistics and sports that within two years, he was making his living as a sports bettor. After he was arrested in California for the crime of “placing a bet” with an illegal bookie, he moved to Las Vegas in 1977.

A year later, he won the first Castaways Pro Football Handicappers Championship, beating 55 other players who put up $1,000, by winning 62% of his picks. According to an online biography, the next season, “Dozens of gamblers walked into the Castaways each hour for two reasons: to get their NFL props and to see who Gary Austin had picked.”

With a salesman’s instinct for self-promotion, Austin took out full-page ads publicizing his win, then launched a tout service, the Austin Edge. He became so well-known that in 1980, Sports Illustrated wrote a long feature on him and he appeared on “The Today Show with Tom Brokaw.” He also had his own weekly show on ESPN in its first year of existence on which he handicapped NFL games.

So in 1981, with assistance from another tout, Jim Feist, Austin opened his own sportsbook in Las Vegas, called, appropriately enough, Gary Austin's Race & Sports Book. Located on Las Vegas Boulevard--the famed Vegas Strip--directly across from Caesars Palace, Austin's book quickly became one of the most popular books in town.

The popularity mainly came from the fact that a celebrity--Austin--was usually there, and Joe Average bettors from Iowa could rub elbows with him, discuss sports betting and take the tale home. But it was also popular because it was so bettor-friendly. There were no betting limits--you could wager as much on a game as you wanted, as long as you had the cash. If you were a professional gambler--the kind who made his living at sports betting and won consistently--no worries, Gary wasn't going to ban you.

The stories associated with Austin’s Sportsbook are many. Over the years, its been referred to as a real cowboy joint where the owner (Gary) often set off-market prices due to his leans on certain games. Gary, portrayed as a larger-than-life tout, perhaps was too proud to decline a bet. It was said that sharps such as Billy Walters and his crew would wager mid-five figures a game with Austin’s Sportsbook.

No doubt the book had its ups and downs over the next few years, but the main action happened during the 1985 World Series. Apparently, Austin took a big position that the St. Louis Cardinals would win Game 6. They lost 2-1 in the ninth inning to the Kansas City Royals due to a bad call at first base and an error. Gary Austin took a major beating.

A couple mornings later, on November 9, 1985, sports bettors showed up at Austin’s book as usual. They found a handwritten note on the door, stating that due to an armed robbery the day before, the place was now permanently closed. All the winning tickets, plus more than $1 million in telephone-wagering accounts, were gone. So it appears he closed the book after the robbery, apparently unable to pay off winning tickets. The closure of Gary Austin’s Sports Book on the Las Vegas Strip not only left bettors with winning tickets they could not cash, but also put into jeopardy the phone accounts, some of which were jammed with tens of thousands of dollars in cash.

One insider thinks he knows what really happened. Scottie Schettler wrote in the March 10, 2015 edition of Gaming Today. "The bulk of the phone accounts let their money sit there to bet with," Normally not an issue. "The problem came when Gary used that same money to bet with. It all came crashing down during the 1985 Kansas City/St. Louis World Series won by the Royals. He overextended himself. He loaded up on St. Louis in Game 6."

Scottie said "His Cardinals were up 1-0 in the ninth, but a blown call by the first base umpire Don Denkinger, a foul ball that fell between two Cardinals and a subsequent single gave the Royals a 2-1 victory. Gary was close to tapioca-- tapped out. In a few days a sign appeared on the closed front door of Gary Austin’s Race & Sportsbook announcing they had to close due to a robbery. "Not the robbery at first base in the ninth but (Gary claimed) the sportsbook itself was allegedly robbed at gunpoint. It was impossible to find one living human who believed that. Everyone got stiffed except a few bettors with muscle behind them."

According to Vic Salerno, “No police report was ever filed about the [so-called robbery], no suspects were ever questioned, no one was ever arrested, and none of the 'stolen' money was ever recovered."

In a crazy coincidence, on December 17, 1985, Santa Anita Race and Sportsbook, a neighbor of Austin's closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy. Ironically Gary Austin had $15,260 on deposit at Santa Anita when it closed. Deposits in the 110 accounts at Santa Anita totaled $544,593, almost all the liabilities of the business so they went Chapter 7.

While most assumed that Gary Austin would disappear, never to be heard from again, this isn’t how it played out. Not surprisingly, most casual gamblers that followed the Sports Illustrated and media coverage of his portrayed greatness never knew the man had gone broke, or had ever heard of such a thing as Gary Austin’s Sportsbook. Naturally, Austin would stay a bookie and a tout, and the next time his name resurfaced was in 1988 when he was named in a federal investigation into a $1-million-a-day bookmaking operation based in Los Angeles. While he was only one of many named, rumor has it that this bookmaking business was then moved to Costa Rica and in 1996 was started with the name TradeWinds. Of course, due to the nature of the business as an illegal sports betting operation targeting the United States, how much (if any) ownership he actually had/has in Tradewinds is unknown.

Gary Austin’s name stopped being brought up on forums over time. For those wondering what happened to him, in 2002 he married Costa Rican supermodel Lynda Diaz. The couple had twins and lived in a $8 Million dreamhome behind the 8th hole of Costa Rica’s Cariari Country Club. They appeared to be living happily ever after until that all blew up in their nasty 2009 divorce, Gary's second divorce. He still lives in the home with a full security team.

While he’s lived quite a good life, most people don't think he is all that great as a person. Anytime an old-timer approaches him over the 1985 Las Vegas debts, his response is “the statute of limitations has expired” or “I’m not legally obligated to pay.” So it is apparent that neither moral or ethical obligations, or even the gambler code, matter to Gary Austin. Some around town still refer to him as nothing more than a larger-than-life gambling fraud.

Forum statistics

Latest member