- Famous sports bettor, Lem Banker, has died at the age of 93 in Las Vegas.
- Banker has been a mainstay in the sports betting world since the 1950s, making a real name for himself beginning in the 1970s.
LAS VEGAS – Lester “Lem” Banker, a legend in the sports betting community, died on November 20 of natural causes at the age of 93 last week. Banker never earned a real paycheck in his life as he had a knack for gambling on sporting events and made his living that way.
For years, he was one of the very best handicappers in the game, picking 13 Super Bowl Champions in a row from 1973-1985.
The Life Of Lem Banker
Banker was born in the Bronx, New York on May 4, 1927. His father Benjamin Banker ran a candy store in New Jersey where he was also a bookie for his customers.
It was here that Lem would learn the tricks of the trade.
He took the lessons he was taught by his father to aid him throughout the rest of his life when it came to his career as a sports bettor. Benjamin told his son that a gambler only has “luck” as a side effect from hard work of learning as much as he can about the games and to only bet money he could afford to lose, rather than bigger amounts for a larger payout should he win.
“Nobody could’ve asked for a better father and a better friend. My dad would give a stranger the shirt off his back. He was a very, very kind person. He would do something for everybody,” said Banker. “He would always say, ‘Bet what you could afford to lose, not what you’d want to win.'”
At 6 ft 3, he did well as a boxer and member of the U.S. Army after his high school graduation. From there, he took classes at Long Island University and the University of Miami where he played basketball for the schools with scholarships provided by them as a student-athlete.
In 1959, he finally made the move to Las Vegas where he would remain until the end of his life and where he made a name for himself betting on sports matchups.
Prior to the legalization of sports betting in the United State, Banker made headlines in “People” magazine and “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” television show for his successes gambling on the games, become the most famous sports bettor in the U.S. at the time.
He would scour newspapers and have runners and bookmakers nationwide that would give him information on various sports matchups so that he could make his informed picks.
“Years ago, before the computer came out, I had a man back in New York at the New York Times building who had all the out-of-town newspapers,” said Banker. “He knew exactly what to read. I gave him 300 bucks a week to read all the newspapers and beat everybody to the punch.”
“I had runners all over, in Florida, New Jersey, New York, Indiana, California. They all had different numbers. They had some morons making the numbers. The lines were real weak, but now the line is very sharp. It’s not as easy to win.”
Later In Life
After the internet made its way on the scene, Banker would start using mobile and internet sportsbooks to do his betting and never have to leave his house. He didn’t need the money, he did it for the fun of it.
“It keeps me going,” said Banker. “I’m just playing small now because everybody has got the same numbers and same information.”
Aside from having a terrific career as a sports bettor, his other accolades include being in “The National Football Lottery” book by Larry Merchant in 1973 and writing a newspaper column in the 1970s about handicapping and his top picks.
From there, he would go on to publish his own book about gambling on sports in 1986 entitled, “Lem Banker’s Book of Sports Betting,”
“I give Lem a lot of credit. He was the first one doing what you’d consider national interviews,” said Jimmy Vaccaro, an oddsmaker in Las Vegas. “Lem was always in the news, and any time he was in the news, it was a positive thing for Las Vegas sportsbooks. He’s someone that understood the racket as well as anybody.”
Banker paved the way for sports betting picks and handicapping columnists of today. And to think, it all began in a candy shop in New Jersey and the advice of his father that would give him the wonderful life he led.
Banker’s funeral service will be held on December 17 beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET.
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News tags: Benjamin Banker | Bronx | Las Vegas | Lem Banker | Lester Banker | Nevada | Super Bowl
Christina has been writing for as long as she can remember and does dedicated research on the newly regulated sports betting market. She comes from a family of sports lovers that engage in friendly bets from time to time. During the winter months, you can find Christina baking cookies and beating the entire staff at Mario Kart…the N64 version of course.