By Alan Snel of LVSportsBiz.com
Most people take bicycle rides with a set route. But sometimes I let bike rides take me because you never know where you will end up.
Like Lem Banker’s 3,584-square-foot, four-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom house in a gated historic community off Alta Drive not too far from downtown Las Vegas.
The “estate sale” sign along Alta was much too tempting to ignore early Sunday afternoon. I was pedaling down Alta from Summerlin for my 34-mile loop to downtown Las Vegas, the back streets of the Strip to Raiders stadium and back to Summerlin via westbound Hacienda Avenue and the 215 beltway trail.
But I made a detour to the gated community guard shack, showed the lady my driver’s license and the metal gates opened to pleasant houses with green lawns and elegant pools.
I found the “estate sign” house at 216 Campbell Drive. I leaned my bike against the front of the 1967-built house, made sure my mask was on and eased through the front door frame.
I asked the lady sitting in the foyer, “Who died?”
The man who was the sports bettor, I was told.
“You mean, Lem Banker?”
It didn’t take long to find clues that this spacious house was owned by Banker, a Las Vegas celebrity sports bettor from the Bronx who died at age 93 last month.
Banker became known way before sports gambling became a mainstream hobby for some and serious career pursuit for others as betting now is becoming legal in more and more states and betting apps are advertised by the likes of entertainer Jamie Foxx.
Channel 8 sports director Chris Maathuis remembered Banker giving his football and boxing picks of the week. “He really was a colorful guy, honest, full of integrity and serious about his business and lived his numbers. He’d make up jokes. He was a fun guy. One of his best friends was Sonny Liston,” Maathuis said. “He was like Jimmy the Greek, he had runners all over the country. Back in the day, he’d have his own numbers. He was way before his time.”
Maathuis said even though Banker died in November, his funeral was only four days ago in hopes that more friends would be able to gather. But at the funeral, there were only about 25 people because of COVID-19 restrictions, said Maathuis, who was one of the speakers. “He had so many stories. My regret was not taking a tape recorder and setting it on a table. He knew everybody,” Maathuis recalled of Banker regaling his buddies during dinners.
Banker was buried Thursday before the Raiders played the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium. Maathuis said, “The last thing his grandson Jonathan said at the burial site to those who stayed for the quick graveside tradition of sprinkling dirt on top of the casket was, ‘Go Raiders.’ Lem and Al Davis were good friends.”
Maathuis shared this photo of funeral attendees reading about Banker and looking at photos.
In a recent story, Las Vegas writer John L. Smith put it this way about Banker: “He had a gift for numbers, you might say, but he wasn’t interested in an accounting degree.
“He was interested in betting on sports at a time when the activity was more likely to give you a rap sheet than a diploma,” Smith wrote in CDC Gaming Reports after Banker died. “Banker, who died recently at 93, gained legendary status for his savvy wagers and handicapping skill. And his ability to work the press and promote sports gambling helped drag the notorious pursuit out of the shadows. For that alone, he deserves a place in the sports betting hall of fame.”
Coldwell Banker’s promo for his property, however, didn’t exactly refer to Banker as a “bettor” or “gambler” in its two-sided, color ad. Instead, he was referred to as a “sports icon.”
There were books, clothes, chairs and some sports memorabilia. There were even few framed pool photos, too.
What did I buy?
I found a cool ABC TV tie pin for $5 and this baseball book for a buck. I was on a bicycle so it wasn’t like I could buy any furniture or big framed memorabilia. The estate sale lasted until 5 p.m.
Interested in buying Banker’s house? Contact Diane Varney, the “global luxury property specialist.”
“With only one owner since the former model home was built in 1967,” the ad said, “this half-acre estate is a rare find with a story to tell.”
And indeed, if Banker was still around, you know he’d be telling you that story.
“If only the walls could speak,” Maathuis wrote on Twitter.