Beating the odds to Bangkok [Daily Racing Form 12/09/2002]
Roxy Roxborough retired three years ago as America's best-known oddsmaker.
By JAY PRIVMAN
BANGKOK, Thailand - It was Monday morning in Bangkok, and just as the rest of this bustling city was getting set to fight the choking rush-hour traffic, Roxy Roxborough was awakening to the live
telecast of the Sunday night football game between Minnesota and Green Bay.
Once upon a time, Roxborough would have been fretting over every play, then huddling with his coterie of advisers at Las Vegas Sports Consultants to put out the following week's National Football League lines at game's end. But these days, while retaining a passing interest in the NFL and other sports halfway around the world, Roxborough finds more joy in betting on cricket, the Stanley Cup, and the America's Cup.
Roxborough, 51, retired three years ago as America's best-known oddsmaker and moved to Thailand. He still consults with several Internet gambling companies. But, being set for life by selling several businesses at opportune times and living in a land where the dollar goes a long way when converted to the Thai baht, Roxborough is living, as they say in Bangkok, "high-so," for high society.
"I thought the business I was in was one of the most stressful businesses there is," Roxborough said in an interview here, where he lives in a 17th-floor condominium with a 270-degree view of downtown Bangkok. "Every business has stress, but [as an oddsmaker], you weren't evaluated every week, but every game. I wanted to escape the technology. Now, it's on my own terms. I'm doing some consulting, doing some betting, but I do it at my own pace. And here, it's pretty relaxed anyway."
Roxborough, who is single but has a Thai girlfriend, could live anywhere. Why did he chose Thailand?
"I like the chaos of Bangkok. Every day's an adventure," he said. "The people here are the best. I like Thai people."
They like him, too. At several restaurants, Roxborough is greeted like a dignitary, getting the best tables and reduced prices on drinks. At one Italian restaurant, the chef came out of the kitchen and personally took his order.
There remains in Roxborough, though, the same lack of pretension that endeared him to a cross-section of people in the gambling industry. He was probably best known for putting out the daily "America's Line" that was syndicated in newspapers across the country. But he was a regular at horse racing events like the Kentucky Derby, and he still comes to the United States every spring to attend at least one of the Triple Crown races.
He has a group of close friends, the Known Gamblers, who make a pilgrimage to an exotic racing locale every year. Last month, the K.G.'s, as Roxborough refers to them, attended the Melbourne Cup. Next summer - no kidding - they are going to Ferndale, Calif., for the Humboldt County Marathon.
Roxborough retains a passion for racing, and especially loves to immerse himself in the march to the Derby.
"I follow the Triple Crown," Roxborough said. "I'll get all the charts off the Daily Racing Form website, start following the 2-year-olds before the end of each year. I watch the races on 'Wire-to-Wire' on ESPN, which I get here. So, even though I'm half a world away, I might know more than people in America, because my opinion isn't clouded by all the noise, the touting on stuff that's just not there."
Roxborough sold all of his businesses between three and six years ago, with the exception of America's Line, which was sold this year. His major score was founding and growing Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which is the world's largest independent oddsmaking company, providing prices to about 90 percent of the casinos in Las Vegas. He also made a nice score with Instant Odds Network, a computerized odds update service.
Roxborough became an oddsmaker when he was wooed by casino officials who noticed he was killing them as a professional gambler. Beginning in 1975, before Las Vegas Sports Consultants, before the Internet, there were wildly fluctuating prices on sports events, no coordination among the major casinos, and little expertise in setting prices. Roxborough's bread-and-butter was betting the over-under line on baseball.
"They used to set lines by adding up the respective ERA's of the starting pitchers," Roxborough said. "And they'd adjust their lines based on what happened in previous games of a series. If you had back-to-back high scoring games in Wrigley Field, they would set a high line for the third game of the series. But what if the wind was blowing out for the first two games, and blowing in for the third game? That's the kind of edge we would look for."
He also played poker against tourists in Las Vegas. "Anything where I thought I had an advantage," he said.
Roxborough's knowledge of odds and statistics brought more business his way. Insurance companies, for instance, would contract with his company to do risk assessment on the odds of policies they were going to underwrite, such as bonuses for athletes.
A guy into that much action cannot just walk away from it. So even though Roxborough is retired, he still plays, with a head-spinning variety of wagers enabled by the proliferation of Internet bookmakers. Because he was immersed in the business, Roxborough plays only with well-financed, legitimate companies.
"I've got the Bruins to win the Stanley Cup with a bookmaker in Australia, South Africa to win the cricket World Cup with a bookmaker in England, and the Swiss boat to win the America's Cup with a bookmaker in the Czech Republic," he said.
In addition to the consulting he does with Internet wagering companies, Roxborough still has clients who want the lines he puts out on the Triple Crown races, including an early Kentucky Derby line that usually makes its first appearance in late-February each year. By following the Derby preps, Roxborough gears up every spring to bet the Derby. But not in the usual way.
"I like to bet the head-to-head propositions offered in Las Vegas," he said.
And just about all of it is done from the comfort of home, even if that home is literally halfway around the world from Louisville, Ky.
"I'm 51 years old, I've been here 3 1/2 years, and life couldn't be better," he said.
Vegas tide has turned, Roxy says
Daily Racing Form 5-27-04
By DAVE TULEY
Michael "Roxy" Roxborough is often credited with bringing sports betting out of the dark ages and into the technology age. He founded the world's top oddsmaking firm, Las Vegas Sports Consultants, in 1982, running it out of his kitchen and logging all the point spreads and results by hand.
"When I started, a loose-leaf notebook, a pencil, and two colored pens were all the equipment we had," he said Wednesday in the back of the Las Vegas Hilton's SuperBook. "I remember buying my first fax machine in 1983. The problem was, very few sports books had fax machines, so I had to send to the corporate offices, and the sports books would get it the next day in the interoffice mail."
That quickly changed. Sports books were able to share information more easily, and LVSC grew to provide odds for more than 90 percent of the books in Nevada. In 1995, LVSC combined with DBC Sports, a data broadcasting company, to link all the sports books by computer so they could see real-time line moves at other properties.
Around that time, the offshore sports-book industry was starting to evolve. Unfortunately, state regulators were leery about the legality of Internet wagering and prohibited land-based casino companies from getting involved, even though the feeling has always been that customers would much rather send their money to a well-known, brand-name casino instead of an offshore outfit whose ultimate owners were often unknown.
"We used to be on the cutting edge in race and sports betting," Roxborough said. "This was the place to be. You could bet the most tracks here and get the best deals [with rebates], but the regulators have taken a lot of that away. Now there's a lot of paperwork and reporting regulations.
"The irony is that sports betting is exploding all over the world, and the only place it has plateaued is in Nevada. There seems to be this myth that the only place that can regulate sports betting is Nevada, and that's just not true.
"If we had gotten involved [offshore], sports betting in Las Vegas would be as big as ever," Roxborough said. "Sadly, sports books here now are mostly used as event centers for the big events. They're more a marketing tool, and because the major hotels know they can make more money by just putting in slots, they don't put the pressure on the state to loosen regulations."
Many people credit Roxborough, who sold LVSC in 1999, with getting out when the getting was good, but Roxy said it was just a case of good timing.
"It wasn't any great vision that led me to sell the company," he said. "Just like when I started, and I just had a few clients. I didn't know every casino was going to add a sports book and allow my business to grow the way it did."
But grow it did, and from 1982 to 1999 he was virtually the face of sports betting in America. His reputation grew to the point where in 1999 he was No. 2 on the Las Vegas Review Journal's list of the most influential sports figures of the 20th century, as well as one of GQ magazine's "50 Most Important People in Sports" and one of Daily Racing Form's "10 Most Influential People in Gaming."
He appeared on "Nightline," CNN's "Crossfire," "The McLaughlin Group," "48 Hours" with Dan Rather, and many more TV and radio programs, including the nightly news on all three major networks.
"All of the fluff pieces were about the Super Bowl," Roxborough said. "The other times were almost all scandal-related: Pete Rose, Arizona State basketball, Art Schlichter.
"The biggest pain in the butt was dealing with the press. They would come in with their cameras and disrupt our whole day, and sometimes it would end up on the cutting-room floor or just be a short sound bite.
"They would always say, 'Well, it's good publicity,' and I would say we didn't have a product to sell. But obviously I did it because it was good for the industry."
So, does he miss being a celebrity and having his opinion sought out?
"Not really," he said. "But it is ironic that now I have the time and no one wants to talk to me."
These days, Roxborough, 53, lives nine months of the year in Thailand and travels a lot of the time, spending each spring in Las Vegas for the Triple Crown races and to meet up with old friends. He doesn't follow every sport like he used to, instead concentrating on cricket, soccer, and Formula 1 racing as a consultant for some bookmaking operations in England.
But his passion - as it has always been since he studied the ponies more than his, well, studies, at American University in Washington, D.C. - remains horse racing. As he describes it, "The only other steady work I do these days" is formulating the Kentucky Derby odds for kentuckyderby.com and following the Triple Crown races, dabbling in head-to-head matchup bets.
"I start making Derby odds the day after the Breeders' Cup and feel I have a good feel for the horses from watching all the prep races," he said.
Roxborough said he agrees with the odds being offered on Smarty Jones in the Belmont, which is 2-5, or roughly a 70 percent chance that he wins.
"Usually for the Belmont you have a horse waiting in the wings, like an Empire Maker and Dynever last year or Touch Gold a few years ago, to thwart a Triple Crown," he said. "But these horses he's already clobbered. The only wild card is The Cliff's Edge if he's 100 percent fit. The only other way he loses is if he wakes up that day and just doesn't want to run. Horses sometimes throw in clinkers that we never understand."