Share story

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The wink and nod are no longer needed. Neither are the euphemisms Brent Musburger liked to use on network television for those who might have a dollar or two bet on whatever game he happened to be calling.

He used to call them “My Guys in the Desert,” and those in the know knew what Musburger was talking about. It was his way of telling viewers on CBS and later on ESPN that the final minutes of a game no longer in doubt might still mean something to people with money on the point spread.

The guys in the desert aren’t just his friends. They’re part of his business now, five days a week in a million-dollar glass booth inside the sports book at the South Point hotel at the end of the Las Vegas Strip.

Musburger is looking live these days in the middle of a bustling casino sports book, where bettors with big wads of cash line up at the windows to take their chances against bookies equally determined to leave them empty handed.

It’s there that Musburger and his guys fill listeners in on the latest odds and trends. It’s there that they also hope to knock another hole into the perception that sports betting is somehow immoral and sleazy.

“There’s a part of the population that thinks this is some kind of a dirty business,” Musburger says. “I tell people all the time it’s as clean as it gets with all the regulation they have.”

The 78-year-old broadcasting icon is the face of the Vegas Stats & Information Network (VSIN), a fledgling company started by his nephew, Brian Musburger. Unlike other sports betting information services VSIN doesn’t sell picks but delivers information 24 hours a day on Sirius XM radio.

Musburger does two hours a day, five days a week in this, his adopted city, talking about the point spreads and over/unders to what he believes to be a growing audience of listeners. On one side of him in the broadcast booth is longtime sports book operator Vinny Magliulo, and on the other professional bettor Amal Shah.

It’s a far cry from the days when he’d sign off of NFL Today on CBS following the NFC championship game by tipping viewers that there was a line making one team or another the favorite in the Super Bowl.

“I thought people were interested in that,” Musburger said, sitting at a table in the sports book bar. “Of course the NFL would complain and I’d say, ‘Damn, I forgot.’ Then, of course, I’d do it again the next year.”

Musburger isn’t far removed from the games he now talks about on his show. After decades in network broadcasting he abruptly left ESPN — on good terms, he says — in January for his new job in a city where betting on sports is not only legal but part of everyday life.

His nephew encouraged him to make the move, partly because the new network needed the credibility his name brings and partly because he had nothing left to prove as a play-by-play announcer.

“My pitch to him was I want to reinvent the pregame show he did at NFL Today,” Brian Musburger said. “I went with a challenge about how we can innovate the pregame show. We look to speak directly to people who truly needed a pregame show, whether fantasy players or sports bettors. They need credible information before the games start, not fluff pieces on what players are doing in the community.”

Getting the right people in Las Vegas aboard didn’t prove to be an issue. Brent Musburger has been friendly with South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro for 25 years, and out of their conversations came a plan to approach South Point owner Michael Gaughan with a proposal to build a studio in the sports book.

Gaughan removed 60 profitable slot machines and spent $1 million to build the glass studio. So far no one has looked back.

“It’s been a home run,” Vaccaro said. “I give Michael Gaughan a lot of credit. Not a lot of casino owners would build a state of the art studio in the middle of their sports book.”

Though there have been local Las Vegas radio programs and occasional TV shows centered on sports betting, this is the first on national radio. So far there seems to be demand, and the network went from 12 hours a day to 24 this month. There are also plans for marketing a simulcast and selling newsletters.

Just don’t expect appeals for 1-900 numbers or a “lock of the week” for sale.

Musburger laughs when it’s suggested he has become a tout. Though he has experience on betting sports since the days he used to come to this gambling town as a baseball writer for a Chicago newspaper on his way to cover the Dodgers late in the season, he’s no more than a recreational bettor himself.

“You’d go broke if you listen to everything I say,” Musburger said. “I’m not a handicapper. But as the process goes on hopefully I can give out a couple pieces of information that somebody can take and use when they bet.”

On a recent Friday, Musburger was in the booth talking about the possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the sports betting act of 1992 when it hears arguments next month on New Jersey’s challenge to the federal law. It’s a widely watched case many think could lead to legal sports betting expanding far beyond its traditional home in Nevada.

“It’s my belief without counting or knowing the individuals on the court that they would not hear New Jersey’s appeal on this if there wasn’t reasonable belief they would overturn it,” Musburger said.

The Breeder’s Cup was the next day, and Musburger imagined a day in the near future where horse racing fans could bet the ponies and make a wager on an afternoon football game at the same time.

“How good would that be at Churchill Downs?” he asked.

Then again, things are already pretty good for Musburger right now in Las Vegas.

“I love the city, love the people here,” he said. “I have great fun. The World Series ends and I’m looking to college football on Saturday and the next day the NFL. Then I’ll start to pour into the NBA.

“As long as you’re an old timer and you’re fading away this is a pretty good thing to do. A studio in the middle of a casino? Who gets that?”