Columnist Jeff Haney: Living la vida ‘pura’
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Columnist Jeff Haney: Living la vida ‘pura’

Alan Boston hopes to win one for the ‘old school’

Jeff Haney’s sports betting column appears Wednesday. Reach him at (702) 259-4041 or [email protected].

High-stakes sports betting is alive and well in Las Vegas, professional gambler Alan Boston says.

It’s just that the rest of the city makes him sick.

“Unfortunately, when the evil vermin scum casino corporations have so much power, nothing good can happen as a result,” Boston said. “You get roads that take forever to be built, air quality that is way below standard, and nothing’s being done about it. …

“There’s absolutely nothing good here — except you can bet. So here I am.”

Boston lives in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, seven months each year and spends the remaining five months in Las Vegas. He has been visiting the city since 1982, he moved here as a part-time resident in 1987, and he has been operating as a high-level pro sports bettor since 1994 or 1995, focusing on college basketball.

On Friday night, Boston will meet Nick Bogdanovich, the sports book manager at the Golden Nugget, in the championship round of the Leroy’s Handicapping Challenge, a college basketball betting contest in its initial year.

Each contestant makes five selections against the point spread from Saturday’s card, with the winner earning $5,000 cash and $5,000 for charity.

The action begins at 10 p.m. Friday in the Riviera sports book. The program also airs live on 920-AM.

In Boston, bettors and fans can get a look at the man reputed to be the best college basketball handicapper in the game, as well as perhaps the most acerbic critic of modern-day Las Vegas.

“With the government that’s in power … you see BLM land greedily traded for, houses built out into the mountains, the wilderness, even though (desert wildlife) was there first,” said Boston, who pulls his punches about as often as Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward. “You get ridiculous traffic jams … and all kinds of problems, but none of the culture that other big cities have, such as jazz, or museums.

“As far as any kind of a sense of good energy, there is none. When it was an old-fashioned hick town, it was much more pleasant.”

Boston’s feelings about corporate situs poker pkv games Las Vegas can be summed up in his reaction to the Super Bowl commercial that showed Steve Wynn standing atop his new building on the Strip.

“I was rooting for him to fall off,” Boston said.

Boston said he admired old-time gambling figures such as former Dunes owner Sid Wyman, who was known to give down-and-out bettors $100 to take a shot against the house.

That would never happen today, Boston said.

“They’d say, ‘get out of here, you (expletive) broke,’ ” Boston said.

“I’m very old school. … Everything I say is from the heart. I believe what’s old is pure, what’s pure is right, and I think most change is bad.”

Besides his beloved Hugo’s Cellar and Andre’s downtown, a couple of things keep Boston coming back to Las Vegas despite his stated distaste for the place. Sports betting is legal, for one. No worries about the “gray area” that hovers over the major bookmaking operations in the Caribbean and Central America.

And some Las Vegas casino properties still accept big action, said Boston, who routinely bets $10,000 or more per game.

“Plus it’s so hateful here that I do nothing but work for five months,” Boston said. “It keeps me focused.”

Boston, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, had his road-to-Damascus moment as a young man attending games at the Palestra on the Penn campus in Philadelphia. A devoted fan of the game first, Boston soon became immersed in the gambling culture surrounding the sport.

“I knew all the point spreads, and (the gambling) just got into me,” Boston said. “The things that happen in ballgames just became second nature to me.”

Boston achieved a level of fame with his portrayal in Chad Millman’s 2001 book, “The Odds,” and a feature that aired last year on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”

Boston entered each project with reservations. He decided to work with Millman only after reading his highly regarded “Pickup Artists,” about playground basketball in America, and was satisfied with the result.

He regrets the ESPN venture, though. Boston said he thought the program unfairly showed him at his worst, such as when he threw a pen across the room after a tough loss.


“ESPN (ticked) me off,” he said. “I talked to them from the heart. I gave them a lot of great stuff, and they showed me acting like a puerile idiot.”


Boston was hoping the ESPN exposure would lead to a position as an analyst, dissecting college basketball games with a gambler’s eye, a la Hank Goldberg or Pete Axthelm.


It could have been a good fit, as the sports networks realize college basketball telecasts draw gamblers, even if they don’t promote the link explicitly.


“People aren’t watching Long Beach State-Cal State Fullerton at midnight because they’re alumni,” Boston said.


When an invitation to the Leroy’s contest came along, Boston was hesitant again. Ultimately he was swayed by the chance to work with Jimmy Vaccaro of Leroy’s, another magna cum laude graduate of the “old school.” He also hopes to generate donations to the organization Great Dane Rescue.


“This is an old-school, old-Vegas-style show,” Boston said. “It’s very pure. That’s probably why I’m proud to be a part of it.”


After this year’s Final Four, Boston plans to assess his future. He’ll put in one or two more seasons of heavy-duty betting, perhaps, then consider pursuing a new career as — believe it or not — a high school English teacher.


Although he’s at the top of his game as a gambler, Boston has complicated feelings about his chosen profession.


“I’m not really proud of what I do,” Boston said. “I regret that I kind of gave up my whole youth and young adulthood because I got into the gambling scene. I mean, I’m 46 years old, I’m not gay, and I’ve never been married. I see a shrink on a regular basis.


“I always craved independence, but now maybe I’m craving some normalcy in my life. Maybe settling down might not be a bad thing right now. …


“That’s why when I talk about teaching high school English, it would be to give something back, to do something much more important than what I’m doing. And that’s where I’m at.”