2021 Sports Betting Hall of Fame Class Reflects On Their Careers, Lessons

Written By Brant James on December 4, 2021 - Last Updated on February 20, 2022

The Sports Betting Hall of Fame inducted four new members on Thursday in New York City. That morning, the four prominent inductees shared anecdotes and advice with a packed house at the SBC Summit North America.

Here’s a selection of some of their best quotes:

Yolanda Acuna, former Resorts International Director of Race & Sports Administration

“My first job was a ticket writer at the Club Cal Neva in Reno, Nevada. How I got that job, my husband then and I had moved to Reno from Las Vegas with our two oldest kids, Andrew and Monica, and his uncle was part owner of the Club Cal Neva.

“And he said, ‘Hey, listen, kids, come up here. There are better opportunities for you.’ So my intention was not to work, to stay home until we got our first power bill: $300. It was as much as the rent.

“So I go to Uncle Ed and I say, ‘Uncle, I’ve never worked in a casino. I need a job. So maybe I can work in the cage?’ I thought that would be a cool job. And he says, ‘Oh no, you’ll be bored to death.’ So, he says, ‘We just opened up a new horse room – a race book – upstairs, and I think you’ll like that better.’ And when I went upstairs, yes, it was love at first sight. And it has been for the last almost 40 years. I have loved what I do.”

Joe Asher, IGT Sports Betting President

“I applied for a job at every law firm in the state of Delaware that had at least five lawyers. That was sort of the arbitrary cutoff. And this was back in the day where you’d send them a letter and a resume and they sent me something back. Anyway, I had a stack of rejection letters, like this thick with all these law firms saying, ‘no.’ But there was one that said to come in for an interview. And I wound up getting a job. And I always kept those rejection letters for years and years and years. And I think people sometimes just think success should be easy.

“I’ve seen it where people, when I was at William Hill, people come to work and six months later the guy thinks he should be running-the-department-kind-of-thing, this sort of mentality. ‘I should get everything right away.’ It don’t work like that.”

Johnny Avello, Sportsbook Director, DraftKings

“At 15 years old, I was making bets with the bookie. I’d started going to the track when I was five years old with my mom and dad. They were big horseplayers. So, this New York School of Gambling was intriguing to me. And so I went and learned how to do all the games, casino games, and a management course.
“My original idea was to go to Resorts, which was the only casino at the time in New Jersey. And once I finished school, they would not accept anybody from the New York School of Gambling. They wanted you to go through their own school. So I had only one choice – Las Vegas.

“So I got in my Skylark, I think it was a ‘63 Skylark with a tied door, no air conditioning and drove to Las Vegas with whatever I had. I was just recently married. And I told my wife, ‘I’m heading out that way. And I’ll call for you when I get a job.’

“My first job was at the Hotel Nevada. No longer exists. I was making about 15 bucks a day and another $6, $8 in tips or something, but I was just so excited to be in a business.”

Joe Brennan, Founder & CEO of Sport AD, New Jersey sports betting pioneer

“You just have an innate passion for the game and going all the way back to that kid [him] at St. Cyril School, when he was six years old, losing his first week’s milk money, had to drink water all that week because I dropped my quarter for milk money on that 16-team parlay ticket. It’s a good thing, though, because if I won that one, I’d be on the wrong side of the counter.”

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Brant James

Brant James is a veteran journalist who has twice been recognized in the Associated Press Sports Editors Awards, most recently in 2020. He's covered motorsports, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball among a myriad of others beats and written enterprise and sports business for publications including USA TODAY, ESPN.com, SI.com.

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