Vaccaro has been one of Las Vegas’ most prominent bookmakers for more than 40 years. He started in the casino industry in 1975 as a blackjack dealer at the Royal Inn, where he opened the sports book under the direction of owner Michael Gaughan. Vaccaro and Gaughan opened the Barbary Coast sports book in 1979. Vaccaro also ran the MGM and Golden Nugget books in the 1980s before helping Steve Wynn open The Mirage sports book in 1989. Vaccaro made a stop at the Atlantis sports book in the Bahamas and worked for the Leroy’s and Lucky’s sports book operations in Nevada before rejoining Gaughan at the South Point in August 2013. He has been featured on several national TV programs, including appearances on CNN and ESPN in recent years.
Vaccaro, who briefly attended Youngstown State, is a graduate of Michael Gaughan’s dealer school. A native of Trafford, Pennsylvania, he has one son and one daughter.
Jimmy V’s memories . . .
“My older brother, Sonny, drove me to the Pittsburgh airport in my Ford Falcon and it broke down. Sonny left it there at the airport. When I got here, I called him and he said, ‘Your car is at the airport and I took the license plates off.’
“I landed in Las Vegas on January 4 or 5 in 1975. I wasn’t really afraid of flying then. I had been coming out here two or three times a year. I would go broke and go home, but I loved this place. When I finally decided to move here, I stayed in Jack Franzi’s condo, and I did the dealer school three times a day because I didn’t want to waste time.
I’ll never forget it. Jackie Gaughan’s son, Michael, owned this little casino called the Royal Inn. I went down and boldly walked in and asked for Mr. Michael Gaughan’s office. Michael had never seen me in his life. I told him, ‘I moved from Pittsburgh, and I want to get in the casino business.’ He owned a dealer school downtown at the time. Now it’s a parking lot.”I said, ‘How much is dealer school?’ It was $250.
I said, ‘Can I owe you the money?’ I didn’t have anything.
Michael picked up the phone called the dealer school and said, ‘This Vaccaro kid wants to learn 21 and he doesn’t have any money. Just start him dealing and he’ll pay you when he gets the money.’
“There were three sessions – morning, afternoon and night – and I went to all three sessions every day. Frank Toti hired me at the Royal Inn as a dealer 15 days after I landed. I understood the games and all that kind of stuff. I was making $16.50 a shift plus half tokes. You had to prove you were a real good dealer.”
“I just turned 29 when I flew out to Vegas. When I flew back that first summer, it was the TWA redeye from here to Pittsburgh, and it stopped in Chicago. The closer we got to Chicago, there was a huge thunderstorm. It was so bad they flew in a circle for about an hour trying to land. I couldn’t see the ground and there were lights everywhere. It got worse and worse. I was petrified. Since then, I drive back or take the train.”
“The first time I opened a bank account was when I moved here. I knew what a bank account was and it was my left front pocket. I made scores and went broke, made scores and went broke. The 100 times I went broke, I still loved it.”
“Michael looked at me and said, ‘Do you know how to run a sports book?’
I said, ‘No.’
Michael said, ‘Neither do I. We’ll start it together.’
I knew about betting sports. I didn’t know how to run a book. We built a little hole in the wall at the Royal Inn. It was a turning point in my life. I’ve been fortunate because I was in the right place at the right time. I knew when I was at the Barbary Coast, this sports stuff is going to go crazy. I love this. I raised two kids and supported two ex-wives, so it’s not that bad.”
“Super Bowl XIII was the most memorable one I booked. I was at the Royal Inn in January 1979. The line opened as low as Pittsburgh minus-2½, and we were as high as 5. The Steelers beat the Cowboys 35-31. It was an absolute bonanza for the wiseguys. We lost $185,000. The Stardust blew about $1.4 million, and they lost the most. Every book in the country lost. But after two days, everything went back to normal.
“I waited for the big fights. It was the best of times for the fights for about a 15-year period.
The Muhammad Ali-Larry Holmes fight at Caesars Palace in October 1980 was unbelievable.
I was running the Barbary Coast book. There wasn’t a break in the line from 8 o’clock in the morning until the last hour before the fight. We opened Holmes as a 3-1 favorite, and closed it minus-140. Every 10 tickets, eight were on Ali and two were on Holmes. We won like $300,000 at a little joint with hand-written tickets. I enjoyed that fight the most.”