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Posted by on May 3, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Sports Betting | 6 comments

Ghosts of Gambling Past


Nolan Dalla 1967 - Edited


Yes, that’s really me.  Age 5.  1967.

I can’t say where and when exactly my infatuation with games of skill and chance first began, but it probably happened inside the crib.  That wasn’t a baby rattler I was shaking.  It was a pair of dice.

This baby needs a new pair of shoes.  Seven out.  Line away.

From my earliest childhood memories, I just sort of always knew the standard rules on how to play poker.  I can’t even recall who it was exactly that taught me this hand beats that hand.  Seven-Card Stud, High and Low Chicago, Mexican Sweat, and of course, Five-Card Draw weren’t just friendly card games played for nickels and dimes.  To me, they were genetic markers, part of my DNA.

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Posted by on Mar 16, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Sports Betting | 3 comments

Stardust Memories: The Thief Who Got Away




“We all have a little larceny on our souls.”

— Anonymous


Sometime during the morning of September 22, 1992, a casino employee named Bill Brennan walked out of the Stardust in Las Vegas with $507,361 in cash and gaming chips.

He hasn’t been seen or heard from since.

That brazen yet seemingly effortless crime caper remains the casino industry’s most lucrative unsolved heist ever.  Now, close to a quarter-century later, Brennan not only has vanished.  He remains the only successful mastermind of an inside job in Las Vegas history who (apparently) got away with it.  Amazingly, he very likely committed the theft entirely on his own.  He’s either passed away since then, or odds are in his favor that he’s still out there somewhere, perhaps even reading this article right now.

If we all truly have “a little larceny in our souls,” Brennan isn’t so much an object of derision any longer;  Rather he’s become the object of our odd infatuation and even affection with the classic anti-hero.  He didn’t merely “break the bank” as Charles Wells is alleged to have done at the Casino at Monte Carlo way back in 1891.  Brennen didn’t just break the bank.  He didn’t even rob the bank.  He stole the bank.

Brennan, who was age 34 at the time, was employed at the Stardust Casino for about four years when the theft took place.  His co-workers later described him as a quiet person, someone who usually kept to himself (it’s always the one you’d least suspect).  “Gaming Today” writer Richard Saber, who was the former Stardust race and sportsbook manager recalled, “he was basically a total complete loner.”  [FOOTNOTE 1]  “They never found a trace of Bill Brennan anywhere.  Never a trace.”  [FOOTNOTE 2]

Even more remarkable — Brennan’s exit wasn’t captured anywhere on surveillance cameras, even though virtually every square inch of the casino floor space was watched and recorded 24-hours a day.  Police and security analysts weren’t able to figure out exactly where he departed the building, or ascertain where he went afterward.  All that’s known was, Brennan dutifully arrived at work on what was to be his final day, and then disappeared with more than half a million dollars secretly seized from the race and sportsbook’s vault.  There’s been no sighting of him since that morning.

Several theories abound as to what actually happened.  Some insiders at the Stardust at the time noted that Brennan had become friendly with someone described as “a big bettor,” who also disappeared from the Las Vegas sports gambling scene a short while following the daring theft.  Yet no one has identified the big-betting mystery man by name (at least not in information that’s been released publicly).  The theory Brennan fell under the spell of “a big bettor” who was dishonest and perhaps even encouraged a trusted employee to commit the crime doesn’t make much sense.  After all, why would Brennan need the assistance of an outsider, since he was taking on all the risk?  Given the heist included not just cash but casino chips, how could the bettor cash them out later, without being detected?  This theory seems circumstantial, and even far-fetched.  Nonetheless, the conspiracy theories continue to swirl.

Another theory goes that Brennan paid off one (or more) security personnel, so he could make his exit undetected.  No one has been able to prove this.  Evidence is non-existent.  Race and Sportsbook employees then, just as now, would have been required to enter and exit the building via one of the employee’s entrances (the Stardust had one access point, but then also had a large number of un-alarmed fire exits).  Casino workers typically are not permitted come and go to and from public areas.  Such employee policy infractions were (and still can be) a terminable offense.  Given that Brennan had worked inside the race and sportsbook for four years, his face would have been well-known to most security personnel, who patrol the exits at all times.  Certainly, his exit hoisting some kind of bag holding an exceedingly large sum of cash would have been noticed by security.  This seems to be another accusation lacking in merit.

Yet another outlandish theory is Brennan was set up by someone else on the outside and had a partner.  Allegedly, he stole the money, and then was killed soon thereafter by figures connected to organized crime.  Once again, this appears to be a wild concoction lacking any evidence.  Truth is, this crime was an embarrassment for both Stardust management and security.  Indeed, in the face of the proverbial thief David felling the casino giant Goliath, some have become desperate enough to grasp at conspiratorial straws which somehow diminish the precept that sometimes a lone man armed with little more than gutsy fearlessness can commit a daring act and get away with it.  The establishment is reluctant to hate to admit being outfoxed.  So instead, we invent illogical theories to reinforce an illusion that good always triumphs over evil and the bad guys end up in prison.

During the aftermath and investigation, Brennan’s apartment was visited by authorities and searched in a last-dash desperate grasp for clues.  Investigators discovered that he lived alone and had a pet cat.  This was hardly the plot of an intriguing CSI episode.  When police searched the abandoned apartment, Brennan and his cat were both long gone.  However, they did reportedly find several books and other materials related to the subject of changing one’s identity and moving overseas.  It remains uncertain as to how Brennan might have traveled to another country with a cat, without being detected or listed in a record somewhere, but I digress.

The Stardust is now but a fading memory.  It’s become a vacant lot filled with blowing garbage and dormant construction equipment layered in desert dust.  Days have become months, which turned into years.  The casino was demolished in 2007.  Nobody’s searching for Bill Brennan anymore.  In all likelihood, he could probably dance over the pavement where he committed his crime years ago, scream out “Here I am!  I did it!” and no one would take much notice.

That soft underbelly of the old Stardust was perfectly plump for someone like Bill Brennan to come along and slice open that bulging belly bloated with treasure.  A decade removed from the saucy Argent scandal that resulted in several murders and took down the crime-syndicate ownership and management, this becoming the basis of the movie “Casino,” the Stardust was still the sportsbook of choice for many wiseguys and high-stakes gamblers.  Still operating under out-of-date policies and procedures that dated back to Las Vegas’ archaic era of mob infiltration, when no one would even dream that a lowly rank and file employee would dare to walk out the door with half a million dollars without risking being buried somewhere in the desert, Brennan wasn’t just a thief.  He was a wake-up call jacked to the hilt with a lead foot straight to the groin of the casino establishment.

Long after the facts of the crime were reported, I’m still puzzled as to how a lone employee could exit a casino with so much money, and leave unnoticed.  What follows is my take on this mysterious caper.

Note that September 22, 1992 fell on a Tuesday.  This is an important day of the week.  It was not randomly chosen.  That meant, the theft took place immediately after the third week of the NFL season, which would have been a very busy time for any Las Vegas sportsbook.  The volume of wagers in cash would have been highest on this week perhaps than any other time other than the Super Bowl.  The previous night, the New York Giants played the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football.  This also would have been a big game with a large betting handle.  In other words, the vault was stoked with cash.


A few years before the Internet and the popularity of offshore betting exploded, when the only serious rival was the Las Vegas Hilton, the Stardust would have taken in quite a bundle in wagers.  Since payouts would have been massive over the next 24-hours (again — recall the heist occurred on a Tuesday morning), the amount of funds stored within the race and sportsbook vault likely would have been at its high point.  Given his experience, Brennan was most certainly aware of this.  He would have been determined to maximize his gain given the immense personal risk.  After all, he wasn’t going to chance going to prison for years robbing a casino on a slow day with a small amount of cash in the cage.  So, Brennan chose one of the richest cash days of the year.

Additional evidence suggests that Brennan would have had to carry out a bag weighing 11 pounds, at the very least.  Given that $500,000 in one-hundred dollar bills weights about 22 pounds, the absolute minimum weight would have been about half that — which is 11 pounds.  However, typically race and sportbooks take in vast sums of currency in much smaller denominations — including banknotes of $5, $10, $20, and $50.  Brennan would have been forced to carry out a significantly heavier amount of total weight, probably between 30 to 50 pounds based on the breakdown of what’s in most casino cages (perhaps two thirds in $100s, the other third comprised of other denominations).  The red flag wouldn’t have been weight so much as volume.  Brennan would have had to hoist bundles of currency amounting to the size of a microwave oven, and then escape inconspicuously out one of the exits without being noticed.  This seems implausible without being recorded.

I’ve been in the back of the Stardust before, and remember the layout well (I interviewed the legendary sportsbook manager Joe Lupo a few times in his back office, before he left the business in 2002).  Behind the tellers, there was a huge tote board along with multiple television screens hanging overhead.  To the rear of the long counter were several cramped offices, consisting of desks, computers, and copy machines (race and sportsbooks print up a massive volume of odds sheets, and also distribute the Daily Racing Form for several racetracks, which is quite an undertaking).  Somewhere within all this noise and clutter, there was a vault tucked away somewhere (I never saw that part of the operation) and Brennan had full access to it.  He must have taken the loot from there, and then made his daring escape.

A final consideration is the casino chips which were included as part of the heist.  To date, Las Vegas Metro Police have not disclosed the amount of chips believed to be part of the spoils.  One presumes it would have been relatively easy for one of Brennan’s associates to launder the stolen casino chips through tables in the pit in exchange for cash (I know a little something about this — recall my $5,000 chip what was confiscated by the MGM Grand in 2006, which became a major news story).  At the time, RFID technology did not exist, so even the larger chips would have been untraceable.  It would have been much easier to launder chips through the cash later on, in multiple visits posing as a gambler.  Admittedly, this would have required Brennan to likely use an undetectable associate, who wouldn’t be noticed gambling at the tables, and then cashing out numerous times.  Then, there’s the possibility that he never tried to cash the chips, assessing the risk was too high.


Some robbers and thieves commit acts so remarkable they become mythological, even sympathetic to some degree.  One of the best illustrations of this was “D.B. Cooper,” who hijacked a 727 flying between Seattle and Portland in 1971, and then jumped out the jet’s back door loaded with a parachute and $200,000 in a ransom that was paid.  He has never been captured.  That great mystery remains unsolved.  This crime is every bit as intriguing, and frankly, far less known for reasons which are pretty obvious.  Casinos are eager to catch thieves and even make public examples out of them — that is, if and when they’re caught.  But when they’re not captured, casinos would prefer the successful escapades of criminals to receive as little publicity as possible.  Casinos don’t want their workers getting any wild ideas to pull another Bill Brennan.

As expected, casino race and sportsbooks learned some valuable lessons from the Stardust heist.  They implemented new controls and installed added layers of security which presumably would hinder any single employee from raiding a cashier cage and get out the door with so much money.  In fact, no race and sportsbook has been robbed since then, at least not as an inside job.

Nonetheless, Bill Brennan appears to have committed the perfect crime without ever using a weapon or threatening anyone.  A mild-mannered man whom no one would have suspected beat the system, beat Las Vegas, and then vanished.  He even, in all likelihood, managed to outlive the Stardust, which has since disappeared.


Writer’s Note:  The suspect’s full name is William John Brennan.  He has been identified in media reports as both “Bill Brennan” and “John Brennan.”

Footnote 1:   “TIME IS A THIEF”



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Posted by on Jan 6, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Sports Betting | 6 comments

The Ten Greatest NFL Dynasties of All Time




Which are the greatest dynasties in NFL history?

I define a dynasty as team of prominent players and coaches which achieves an exceptional level of success over multiple seasons.  Obviously, lots of subjectivity is involved when trying to chose teams and decide where they should be ranked.  A number of key factors were taken into consideration including — (1) league championships won, (2) conference championship game appearances, (3) playoff appearances, (4) regular season wins, (5) number of Hall of Fame inductees, and (6) the team’s lasting legacy.  Note that I’ve limited my selections to the modern era which began in 1960, when the American Football League was formed and the NFL began expanding into new cities.

First, here’s my list of teams from eras that didn’t quite make the top ten list:

1962-69 Kansas City Chiefs — Although the Chiefs played in the old American Football League and much of their success came before prior to 1970 NFL merger, Hank Stram’s-coached Kansas City teams of the 1960’s were as good as any team from that period.  Kansas City won three AFL titles, appeared in two Super Bowls, and perhaps most importantly, they destroyed the Minnesota Vikings (which were a 13-point favorite) in the final inter-league championship game before the AFL was officially dissolved.  The Chiefs ended the 1960’s as the winningest team in the AFL’s ten-year history.  They produced five Hall of Fame players, in addition to head coach Hank Stram and owner Lamar Hunt.

1984-1991 Chicago Bears — The 1985 Chicago Bears are usually a popular choice as the “greatest team of all time,” going 15-1 during the regular season and establishing a level of dominance over their opponents which hasn’t been seen since, especially defensively.  Mike Ditka’s teams, which included Buddy Ryan as the brassy defensive coordinator, would have made the rankings had they been able to win more titles, or at least make some deeper playoff runs in an eight-year stretch when they won 90 regular season games (averaging 11 wins per year).  These Bears teams sent four players to the Hall of Fame, plus Mike Ditka.

1986-1990 New York Giants — The Bill Parcells’-coached teams of the late 1980’s included 72 wins in seven seasons, plus two Super Bowl titles (in 1986 and 1990).  However, they sent only two players to the Hall of Fame, in addition to Parcells and team owner Wellington Mara.  This is a marginal choice at best, but still worthy of an honorable mention because the 49er’s teams from this period were so dominant as were the Redksins within the same division.  Perhaps had these Giants teams not had to compete with the great San Francisco and Washington teams within the same conference, they would have posted better results and might have cracked the top ten.


Now, for a countdown of the top ten list:

10. 1988-1996 Buffalo Bills — One probably doesn’t think of a team that lost four Super Bowls as a dynasty.  However, Marv Levy’s teams won 88 games within a span of just eight seasons (averaging 11 wins per season), appeared in five conference championship games (winning four), and then made four futile Super Bowl appearances.  If expanded though 1999, the Bills can add two more 10-plus win seasons plus two additional division titles.  The Bills merit inclusion on this elite list of teams by virtue of their dominance of the AFC over a decade, in addition to sending seven players in the Hall of Fame, plus Marv Levy, Bill Polian (General Manager), and Ralph Wilson (owner).

9. 1982-1992 Washington Redskins — Head Coach Joe Gibbs and General Manager Bobby Beathard clearly built one of the great dynasties over a decade when they made four Super Bowl appearances, winning three NFL championships.  Perhaps most impressive, Gibbs accomplished this feat with multiple quarterbacks (four different starters).  These Washington teams made the playoffs in 8 of 11 years, all 10-plus win seasons.  The Redskins played in what was unquestionably the league’s most competitive division (competing with the great Giants’ teams coached by Bill Parcells, Tom Landry’s Cowboys, and Buddy Ryan’s Eagles).  In addition, they competed with the great Bill Walsh 49ers’ teams within the same conference.  Posting three Super Bowl wins is quite impressive given the opposition, leading to arguments these Redskins teams could be ranked higher.

8. 1970-1974 Miami Dolphins — Lots is made of the perfect 17-0 season achieved by the 1972 Dolphins, and that remains the unmatched benchmark of achievement.  Miami won 57 regular season games within a five year span (keep in mind these years had a 14-game season), played in three straight Super Bowls, winning two titles (1972 and 1973).  Don Shula’s trademark during this era was defense and the Dolphins were certainly one of the greatest of all-time.  Six Miami Dolphins from this era were inducted into the Hall of Fame, plus Don Shula, who finished his career with the most all-time victories.

7.  1992-1996 Dallas Cowboys — Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys were always an enigma.  They began as undoubtedly the worst NFL franchise when Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989 fire sale and immediately brought in a college football coach from the University of Miami which brought widespread ridicule.  Within four seasons however, Dallas won their first Super Bowl and went on to achieve three NFL championships (the last in coming 1995, while coached by Barry Switzer).  The Cowboys posted regular season wins of 11, 13, 12, 12, 12, and 10 in six remarkable seasons.  Dallas sent five players into the Hall of Fame.  These Cowboys were an enigma because Jimmy Johnson’s departure from the team while at his peak raises even more questions about how great this team might have been among the very best and how long the dynasty might have lasted had he remained with the team for several more years.

6.  1970-1983 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders — Al Davis’ Oakland Raider teams of the 1970’s often get overlooked because they competed in the same era with some other great teams (most notably Pittsburgh and Dallas).  However, the John Madden-coached Raiders appeared in five straight AFC championship games (1973-77), won one Super Bowl, and sent a whopping eight players into the Hall of Fame.  Following Madden’s retirement, Tom Flores assumed control of the teams and proceeded to win two more Super Bowls — in 1980 (when in Oakland) and 1983 (when in Los Angeles) .  That made for three titles in nine seasons.

5.  1966-1982 Dallas Cowboys — Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboy’s were the winningest NFL franchise for a very long time, making the playoffs 16 out of 17 years, winning two Super Bowls (1972 and 1977), appearing in seven NFL championship games, as well as 12 conference championships.  Even the championships lost by the Cowboys (1966 to the Packers, 1967 to the Packers, 1970 to the Colts, 1976 to the Steelers, and 1978 to the Steelers) all went down to the final drive, meaning the Cowboys could conceivably have far more titles.  Most impressive — this dynasty was accomplished with four different quarterbacks (Meredith, Morton, Staubach, White).  Landry remains one of the most innovative coaches in NFL history, both offensively and defensively, and ended up ranked third in all-time wins among head coaches.  The Cowboys sent seven players to the Hall of Fame from this period (actually, 11 overall), plus Landry as a coach and Tex Schramm as General Manager.

4.  1972-1979 Pittsburgh Steelers — Some will be surprised not to see these powerful black and gold teams ranked closer to the top.  There’s compelling evidence that these great Chuck Noll-coached teams of the 1970’s could be the very best.  Pittsburgh won four Super Bowls within six seasons (no other team has accomplished that, except Green Bay during the 1960’s).  During seven of these eight seasons they won 10-plus games.  Moreover, the roster of Pittsburgh Steelers in the Hall of Fame may be the strongest argument for moving them up higher.  Nine Steelers are in the HOF, plus Chuck Noll (coach) and two of the Rooney’s (owners).  This team also had to compete in the same era with the great Dallas and Oakland teams, which were nearly as good and consistent.

3.  1960-1967 Green Bay Packers — Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers are legendary, and with good reason.  They set the bar of excellence during the era when pro football became the true national pastime and remain a benchmark of team accomplishment.  Now iconic in stature, the players on this team came together in a small Wisconsin town and became heroes to millions of fans across the country.  Green Bay won five NFL championships within seven years (and played in another).  Oddly enough, Green Bay’s regular season win totals weren’t quite as impressive, which is one reason they don’t quite match the top two choices.  Ten Packers are inducted into the Hall of Fame, plus Vince Lombardi.

2.  2001-present New England Patriots — No one could have possibly imagined that when QB Drew Bledsoe was knocked out of an early-season game in 20o1, that would ignite a dynasty which continues to this day (and could continue for a while longer).  There’s ample evidence to suggest the Patriots will go down as the greatest dynasty of all time.  However, it still remains to bee seen where they’ll finally stack up in terms of number of players in the Hall of Fame, overall wins, championships, and so forth.  Even with the incomplete grade, Bill Belichick’s record of achievement, entirely under the consistent on-the-field command of Tom Brady, is unlikely to be equaled — 182 regular season wins within 15 years (averaging 12 wins per season).  Six Super Bowl appearances and four wins (including three out of four 2001-2004).  Seven conference championship game appearances.  Even with all the sideline controversy, these numbers are irrefutable.  This team could go down as the greatest dynasty ever, since they aren’t quite finished yet.  (Update:  Patriots play in Super Bowl 51, which is not factored at the time this article was first written)

1.  1981-1998 San Francisco 49ers — The Bill Walsh-George Seifert teams of the 1980’s and 1990’s achieved an unrivaled level of excellence, perhaps matched only by the New England Patriots of the present era.  San Francisco won 10-plus games during a staggering 17 of 18 season run (192 regular season wins in 18 years).  They also won five Super Bowls during an 11-year stretch (not losing any appearances).  The 49ers also appeared in 10 NFC championship games within this period.  They inducted nine players into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, along with Bill Walsh (coach) and Eddie Debartolo (owner).  Let the debate begin as to which of these top two ranked teams are better, but I’ll give a slight nod to the 49ers who have achieved success just a bit longer and have fielded many of the greatest players of all time at their respective positions (Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, Charles Haley, Ronnie Lott).


Agree?  Disagree?  Which other teams should have made the list?

Feel free to leave your choices and comments.




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Posted by on Dec 16, 2015 in Blog, Essays, Sports Betting | 3 comments

Busting a Myth: How the 1919 “Black Sox” Gambling Scandal Actually Helped Baseball




A myth has been floating around for a very long time, and it’s time to put a stop to it.

For decades, major league baseball’s the so-called “Chicago Black Sox” scandal of 1919 has been cited by critics of legalized wagering as the ugly historical boogeyman.  Corruption is allegedly what happens when there’s gambling on sporting events, even though most evidence reveals this happens with far greater frequently when gambling is kept illegal and is forced underground.  Indeed, at a time when gambling was illegal just about everywhere in America, history does show several players on the 1919 Chicago White Sox conspired to lose a series of championship games because gamblers promised lucrative payoffs during an era when salaries were embarrassingly low and bribes were too tempting to pass up, at least for some.

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Posted by on Dec 15, 2015 in Blog, Essays, Sports Betting | 0 comments

Pete Rose Didn’t Just Hurt Baseball, He Disgraced Sports Gambling




Major League Baseball made the correct decision.  Keep Pete Rose out.  Too bad gambling can’t do the same.



Yesterday, Commissioner Rob Manfred denied Pete Rose’s application for reinstatement to Major League Baseball.

Good.  The correct judgment was made.

Whether we agree with the letter and intent or not, baseball has rules.  Those rules are as strict as they are clear.  Rose not only violated those rules.  He obliterated them — both as a player and club manager.  Then, he lied thousands of times over the course of the next two decades to anyone and everyone gullible enough to listen to fairy tales about his past and present activities.  Finally, when cornered in a cesspool of lies and shown unmistakable physical evidence to the contrary, he lied again, and again.

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