Reel Lives: Las Vegas Advisor’s Anthony Curtis On Counting Cards, Loving His Job, And Finding The Quintessential Vegas Deal

Eric Raskin

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Every gambler has a story to tell. And so does every person who chooses to make a living in this unique industry.

In our “Reel Lives” seriesCasino Reports shines a spotlight on people working in the gaming business, from executives, to analysts, to media members and communications pros, and all points in between.

The subject in this interview: Anthony Curtis, the longtime publisher of Las Vegas Advisor, the founder of gambling-book-focused Huntington Press, and a man who typically can’t get within 20 feet of a Vegas blackjack table because of his past success as a card counter.

Casino Reports (CR): Was playing blackjack your first “job” in the gambling industry, and can you tell the story of how you got started in that?

Anthony Curtis (AC): I came to Las Vegas specifically to play blackjack. I was a game player growing up in Detroit and often played with the adults. When I was in high school, a friend of the family gave me a book on counting cards in blackjack. I read it and knew it was a legit strategy. From that point I read everything I could find on gambling of all sorts, but concentrated on blackjack.

I went to Duke on a wrestling scholarship, then transferred to UCLA. Because of the rules at that time, I had to sit out a year before enrolling. I was coaching wrestling in Orange County and turned 21 before attending a class at UCLA. I decided to move to Vegas instead of going back to college. I had several odd jobs, but nothing in the casinos except playing.

CR: Last year you celebrated the 40th anniversary of Las Vegas Advisor. In 1983, where would you have set the over/under on years the publication would last?

AC: Well, to validate what you’re getting at, no way would I have thought over 40 years. But I felt it could have a run, and my over/under on the Las Vegas Advisor was as long as I wanted to do it. That almost turned out to be only a year and a half, when I wrote a farewell issue because I didn’t like the deadlines and was traveling a lot with the gambling teams I’d hooked up with. Also, desktop technology was embryonic in the ’80s, so putting out any kind of periodical was difficult. Somehow, though, I felt stopping was a mistake, and I kept it going in various incarnations until I got serious in the early ’90s.

CR: How do you like to spend free time away from work and away from casinos? Any interesting hobbies or secret talents?

AC: What’s time away from casinos? I’m in casinos or gambling bars almost every day. It’s both work and pleasure. It’s a constant search for new good things to write about and partake of. I almost never travel unless it’s to another gambling destination. It’s actually kind of strange, but it’s the reality. I guess that’s why the LVA has lasted so long — it’s what I love to do every day.

CR: Of all the books Huntington Press has published, which one would you consider the biggest surprise hit — something you printed with modest expectations, and it caught fire?

AC: That’s easy, The Frugal Gambler by Jean Scott. She was unknown. The book was, and still is, incredible for the information imparted, but Huntington Press was also pretty much unknown, so who could expect big sales? Then the TV show 48 Hours got the book and put her on an episode about gambling. They followed her around and she won a car in a drawing at the Stardust. It was completely legit and it happened while they were filming. The world saw this 60-year-old former school teacher beating Vegas, and the book sold 100,000 copies. Jean went on to write four more books for us and become her own mini-industry under the “Frugal” brand. The Frugal Gambler Casino Guide is her latest and has the most current information, but the original The Frugal Gambler was the game-changer.

Curtis showing off his Blackjack Ball skills contest trophy

CR: As a Vegas guy who’s had sports betting at his fingertips forever, what’s your perspective on the rollout of legal sports betting across the country? Has anything about it surprised you or struck you as terribly mishandled?

AC: The success and popularity hasn’t surprised me. I knew it would be big when I saw how poker exploded. Poker went crazy, and it’s nowhere near as easy to get involved with as is betting sports.

There’s mishandling to different degrees depending on which state you’re looking at, but, really, the states have done a pretty good job. Ironically, the biggest mishandling is probably in Nevada, where what was the former gold standard of the industry is stuck in the mud and being surpassed by better ideas and procedures in other states.

Certainly the public needs to be educated more, but that’s the job of companies like ours, where people come to learn better ways to play. Uneducated players gravitate toward bad bets, e.g., in-game parlays that have high casino edges. Sports betting is a market, and markets are beatable. It’s not easy and you can’t do it by taking a magic pill. You have to work at it. But there’s lots of room for improvement of results. We’ve published several books on sports betting and have more in the works. Next is All About Sports Betting by Blair Rodman.

CR: What’s your absolute favorite Vegas restaurant for a nice meal if someone else is paying, and what’s your absolute favorite value restaurant in Vegas when it’s on your own dime and you want a great meal cheap?

AC: Really? What’s next, my favorite child? A big part of the Las Vegas Advisor is dining reviews, and we go everywhere. There are so many good places here, in and out of the casinos. Many of the big-time casino chefs wind up opening their own places and they’re fantastic.

Feet to the flames, I guess I’d go with Hugo’s Cellar at Four Queens for the big one, especially with a date. It’s super romantic and an amazing throwback joint. I mean, LVA profiled Hugo’s wine guy, Jon Simmons, who was one of the first three or four sommeliers in Vegas, 35 years ago, and he’s still there. Jon will do you right. Bonus challengers are Lotus of Siam, especially if and when it reopens at its original location in Commercial Center, and Nora’s for Italian with its cool locals scene.

For value, it’s the Ellis Island Cafe. Everything there is good, but the top play is the $15.99 complete steak dinner that you can get for $9.99 by playing $5 through a machine. Quintessential Vegas! Bonus challengers are the Grill at Emerald Island in Henderson and the $2 hot dog and beer at Downtown Grand.

Reel Fast

If I close my eyes and picture a casino, the first one that comes to mind is …

Caesars Palace, which is, I suppose, a testimony to how long it’s been a force in Las Vegas. It’s by no means my favorite, but that’s the one that comes to mind. 

The champ after winning one of his two back-to-back Caesars Palace Keno Championships

You have a 12 and the dealer is showing a 2. Stand or hit?

Depends on the count, but absent of that knowledge, basic strategy is to hit. Don’t second-guess it.

The first vehicle I drove was …

A tricycle? Is that a vehicle? My first car was a red kinda sporty something that my parents let me drive. Charger, maybe? I’m not a car guy, so, not sure of the make.

What’s the most money you ever won in a single gambling session?

Winning a craps tournament probably qualifies as a single session. That was $125,000 in Atlantic City. It was an acrimonious situation. Management distinctly did not want me to win, and I needed the dice to roll precisely 8, 7, in that order. They did. I lost my cool and kept yelling, “Pay me!” The guy next to me said, “Calm down, you won.”

The best Vegas movie is …

There hasn’t been a great one. Even though there’s not a lot of gambling in it, I’d pick Casino. Best gambling flick, The Cincinnati Kid.

What’s your personal least favorite form of gambling? In other words, what game/bet would you never be caught dead playing?

Mindless machine games. That’s almost all slots, and more so, keno. People love same-game parlays. People love keno. I love keno tournaments, but not keno.

You can find Anthony on LinkedIn, and though you can’t find him personally on Twitter/X, you can find LVA there. But, of course, your best bet if you’re looking for Anthony is to check every joint in Vegas that’s offering good food or drink at a discount.

Previous installments of Reel Lives:

Sporttrade COO David Huffman On An Operator’s Challenges, A CEO Who Leads By Example, And Betting On Birth Weights

Invariant Communications Pro Caroline Ponseti On Owning The Issue, Mental Health Awareness, And DC’s Food Scene

Square In The Air’s New Media Director Stewart Darkin On Gaming Entrepreneurs, Longevity, And Beavis & Butt-Head

The AGA’s Bill Miller On Helping The Industry Through COVID, The Sports Betting Explosion, And Coaching His Kids