Sports book industry’s Culver was ‘comfortable on both sides of the window’ By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports July 23, 2018 at 8:00 pm The name Russ Culver has been spoken with respect around the sports book industry for so long that it seems I’ve heard it much of my life. Whether it was as a successful player at the top of the leader board in sports pick contests, as one half of the “Glantz-Culver Line” that provided betting information for 33 years to hundreds of newspapers, or as a book director in major casinos, Culver’s name was synonymous with the best of the industry. His death this past week in Arizona following a series of medical maladies is a reminder not only of his influence and contributions to that industry, but of just how much sports betting has evolved in recent years. He was 68. Culver and professionals like him have been an integral part of that change. Providing reliable information based on sound statistics in a legal and regulated setting is at the industry’s foundation. Sports information syndicator Ron Sataloff recalls his friend Culver combining generous qualities of intelligence, analysis, and a sense of humor. He was known throughout the sports world for the precision of the betting line and the credibility of his analysis, but he was also a keen observer of politics and was capable of handicapping campaigns great and small. It’s no secret he was successful betting at London sports books on American presidential races. “One thing I can tell you about this man. He was incredibly loyal,” Sataloff says. “Not just to me, but to anybody in his life. … He was a futurist. He wasn’t just interested in sports betting. He was very much interested in politicking and politics. He could talk to you about history, about economics.” Culver made headlines with Keith Glantz when they tied for first in the Castaways’ football picking contest at the end of the 1980 NFL regular season. Glantz eventually prevailed in the Oakland-Cleveland playoff game, and the competition made them household names on the sports betting scene. They combined to create Vegas Double Play line, which evolved into the Associated Press-syndicated Glantz-Culver Line. From 1983 to 2016, the line was a staple of the sports betting industry. Personal integrity meant a great deal to Culver. He won and lost and banked the profit, but the money was secondary to maintaining a respected name among his peers. When he left the plush end of the sports book industry in the late 1990s to head up analysis for Vegas Insider – now best known as part of the popular CBS Sportsline – he brought his hard-won reputation with him. As longtime sports writer Stephen Nover recalled it in a recent commentary, “Culver set a high bar for news and pick selling. Ethics, credibility and class meant everything to him. He resigned from Vegas Insider in 2002 when he found out the site was going to do business with Wayne Allyn Root.” Root’s marketing was enormously successful. But Culver knew the industry’s future depended on sound statistics and analysis, not ads featuring scantily-clad women, fast-talking figureheads, and hot-air promises. “He went to management and basically said, ‘Either that stuff goes, or I go,’” Sataloff recalls. “They did not yield. And he quit. He walked away from a very, very well-paying job. Not only that, he cashed out all his stock that he had accrued. He wanted to have no footprint with something like that, and I think that speaks to his integrity.” Culver’s sense of humor was part of his charm. At his marriage to Ge’Lena Vavra in 1989, a wedding toast by Sataloff lightheartedly placed the over-under on the union at “two years.” As Vavra recalls, Culver smiled and replied, “I’ll take the under!” Although they didn’t remain together, they made the “over.” In addition to a dry sense of humor, his ex-wife says, “Everyone is going to tell you how smart he was in the sports book/handicapping world, and he was. But he had a lot of good qualities that didn’t they didn’t see. “He also had a heart of gold and would do anything for you. A year into our marriage, I came home from work and there was a 9-month-old golden retriever wagging its tail waiting for me!” Culver knew the plight of underdogs in the sports book and on the street. After reducing his work schedule, he took time to create a shelter for dogs. Says Glantz, “Russ was a great guy. He was a great handicapper. He was as honest as anyone you’ve ever met. He was a pleasure to be around.” As a sports book director, Culver was known for trusting his own judgment and his numbers. Not all bookmakers are such risk-takers. “He wanted to book, he didn’t really want to be corporate,” Sataloff says. “He booked, and when he was going well they loved him and gave him bonuses.” The seasons didn’t always smile on him, but Culver remained true to himself. “He always wanted to be someone who gave proper action to people on the other side of the window,” Sataloff says. “He was capable as a bettor and as a sports book manager. He was someone who was comfortable on both sides of the window.” And in the sports book business, is there a better way to be remembered? Contact John L. Smith at email@example.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.