Jeff Stoneback fell in love at a young age. He was 9 when he started going to Longacres racetrack in his native Seattle every Saturday with his father.
“That was a big deal to me,” he said. “I fell in love with horse racing and gambling, and it’s kind of how I ended up in Las Vegas.
“When I was 21, I said, ‘I want to go to Las Vegas to see if I can make a living betting on the horses.’ And, like everyone else, it didn’t work out and I had to get a job.”
After hand writing tickets at the Santa Anita Race Book before it closed, Stoneback was hired as a ticket writer when the Circus Circus sportsbook opened in 1986. That marked the beginning of a 36-year career with MGM Resorts that ended Tuesday, when Stoneback retired as director of trading in Nevada after climbing the ranks in stops at Circus Circus, Excalibur, The Mirage and Mandalay Bay.
“I’m going to miss the job, the excitement and the adrenaline,” said Stoneback, 58.
After spending parts of five decades behind the counter, Stoneback said the colorful revolving cast of characters at the book stand out the most, including bettors who pulled stacks of cash out of brown paper bags and duffel bags to place major wagers.
But one of his favorite stories is the time he inadvertently gave out a long-shot winner on a prop on the 2011 Super Bowl, when the Packers beat the Steelers 31-25.
“People always ask about the Super Bowl and how many Super Bowl props there are,” he said. “Some kid came up and asked me, ‘What can I bet on? I’m not going to bet a lot, but I’d like a long shot with a chance to make a lot of money.’
“We had our Super Bowl packet, and I just randomly opened it up and said, ‘Look here, you can bet the Steelers to score 25 points. That’s 125-1.’
“I never thought of it, but he was in a line 10 deep after the game yelling all excited, ‘I made $1,250 because of that guy right there.’ Sure enough, he made the bet, and the Steelers scored 25 points and he turned his $10 into $1,250.
“I joked to my friends that I finally hit a 125-1 shot and I didn’t even bet it. I gave it away.”
Brown bag it
Stoneback said he didn’t take any six-figure bets until he moved to The Mirage in 2005.
“The first time I went to The Mirage a gentleman walks up and bets $400,000 on the Tennessee Titans. At the time, it was the biggest bet I’d seen,” he said. “He had a paper bag just stuffed with $400,000 in it. It was 15 minutes before game time, and we had to close the window to count it.
“It was pretty amazing that someone would carry around $400,000 in a brown paper bag. They lost, and he was nonchalant about it. I thought, ‘That guy just lost enough to buy a house.’ But it was no big deal to him.”
Duffel Bag Boy
Another memorable character is the big bettor dubbed Duffel Bag Boy by the media.
“I remember him coming in and taking his duffel bag with hundreds of thousands of dollars in it and just leaving it on the chair and walking up to the counter to talk to our employees without a care in the world,” Stoneback said. “We’d have to tell him, ‘Get your bag. Don’t leave it unattended.’”
Stoneback said Duffel Bag Boy is actually a man from the East Coast in his 40s. In recent years, the unidentified gambler went on several hot streaks betting college football, beating books out of six figures mostly by playing favorites, fading Rutgers and hitting parlays.
“He liked to get down as much money as he could. He went to all the sportsbooks. He was on quite a roll there for a while,” Stoneback said. “I didn’t sweat out games a whole lot the last few years, but I do remember he bet a round robin and it was going to pay seven figures. He just needed one game to hit it all.
“I was sitting in the back office thinking how am I going to explain that we lost over $1 million to Duffel Bag Boy after he’s been beating us for a couple hundred thousand the previous weeks. He had bet Indiana against Ohio State or Michigan, and it turned out to be a bad beat for him. All the breaks went our way. It was one of the worst games I sweated.”
Badgering the books
Wisconsin bettors who pushed the line from -3 to -7 over UNLV on Aug. 31, 2002, barely broke a sweat as the Badgers built a 27-7 lead over the Rebels in the fourth quarter. Then the lights went out at Sam Boyd Stadium with 7:41 left because of a power outage, and Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez and UNLV coach John Robinson agreed to call it, giving Wisconsin a 27-7 victory.
But it wasn’t a win for Badgers bettors because of a Nevada sportsbook rule that 55 of the 60 minutes of regulation must be completed for a result to be official.
Stoneback was in charge of the Excalibur that night, when one of his supervisors had to call security to the book.
“That was a rough night for any sportsbook employee because all the Wisconsin people were expecting to get paid and thought it was a conspiracy that we were going to lose so much money that we knocked out the transformer,” he said.
Stoneback met his wife, Donna, when they worked together at Circus Circus. She also retired after a 36-year career with MGM Resorts on June 1 as a superwriter at the Park MGM sportsbook.
“We’ve got our health, and we’re financially able to do it,” Stoneback said.
They are kicking off their retirement in style. They bought one-way tickets to London and are leaving Saturday for an open-ended European vacation that will take them to Wimbledon and 10 rock concerts, including six Rolling Stones shows in four countries.
Their concert tour starts June 24 with three consecutive nights of shows at London’s Hyde Park by Elton John, the Rolling Stones and the Eagles. They’re also planning to see Guns N’ Roses and Pearl Jam in London before following the Stones to Belgium, France and Sweden.
“We were going to come home after Wimbledon, but got to thinking that we don’t have to come right home,” Stoneback said. “We’re retired.”
Lamarr Mitchell, longtime MGM Grand sportsbook director, will replace Stoneback as MGM Resorts director of trading.