In a new era for sports betting, this slice of nostalgia is on me By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports September 15, 2021 at 5:46 pm Those searching for a symbol of the new era of acceptance of legalized sports betting need have looked no further than the season premiere of Monday Night Football live from Las Vegas featuring the Baltimore Ravens against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. For those who appreciate how far the legal bookmaking industry has come, it’s nothing short of mind-bending. Not only is there an NFL team playing practically on Las Vegas Boulevard, a development in itself that would have been considered absurd just a few years ago, but you can bet on it legitimately in 24 states. Because I see the ghosts of Vegas Past whenever I drive down the Strip, I’m always drawn to compare those apparitions to this incredible place in gambling history. And so, I return to the Boulevard and pass the space wedged between the Aria and the Cosmopolitan. It’s little more than an access road, really. Pedestrians cross at their peril as distracted visitors enter and exit in a steady stream on weekends. (Las Vegas is still in a slow recovery mode during the week due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) I squint a little, and there it is: the ghost of Jasper Speciale’s legendary and more than a little notorious Tower of Pizza restaurant. Why remember a long-bulldozed spaghetti-and-pizza joint from a previous generation? Because there was a time when Tower of Pizza was a portal that connected the legitimate and illegitimate sides of bookmaking and sports betting (not to mention loansharking). With his sports shirt buttoned to the top, Speciale came to symbolize an era in Las Vegas back when the legal sports books were so shadowy that they had to be off the casino property in standalone locations. The illegal books, of course, could be located just about anywhere — a local bar, a pool room, a bustling deli, even a casual Italian eatery on Las Vegas Boulevard operated by a native New Yorker born Gaspare Anedetto Speciale and his partner Bobby Berent. In a life cut short by lung disease in 1992, Speciale was a diehard Yankees fan and close friend of Joe DiMaggio. He operated a sports service that sold picks and took bets. He loved to read the sports page, but too often found his name on the news pages for illegal bookmaking, loansharking, and links to New York mobsters. Did I mention he also ran a popular pizza place? Born in 1923, Speciale was a precocious lad. By age 8, he operated a thriving schoolyard book that took bets on New York Giants football games. He had a way with numbers that within a few years attracted the attention of both the police and more established illegal bookmakers. He was arrested multiple times for illegal bookmaking in New York before moving west to Las Vegas, where he opened the Tower and continued to do what he did best. Jasper’s circle of friends made it a certainty that he would eventually become the subject of law enforcement. It didn’t help that by the time he arrived in Las Vegas, he’d already been arrested at least 19 times. He was what you might call a “known quantity.” That didn’t prevent him from also becoming a favorite with Strip showroom headliners and sports celebrities that would fill a hall of fame. That includes DiMaggio, whom he knew so well he was allowed on the field to play catch with him at Yankees Stadium. Speciale was such a grand fan of the pinstripes that he kept actual seats from the old stadium in his backyard. It would be nice to think that Jasper Speciale lived happily ever after in Las Vegas, but it didn’t turn out that way. His name was eventually placed on Nevada’s “List of Excluded Persons” and he was banned from entering a casino. Conversely, of course, there was a time when casino executives couldn’t wait to enter his restaurant. That notorious status didn’t prevent him from attending Sunday services at Our Lady of Las Vegas Catholic Church, where he was known as a more-than-generous collection-plate tipper. Call it speculation. Still, I have to believe that, were he alive today, Jasper Speciale would have money on the new home team in Las Vegas. And bookmaking being what it is, enough on the other side to keep life in balance.