Sports bettor Tom Barton is a dual threat

Amanda Bullock / September 22,2022

LAS VEGAS — Tom Barton stands at the southwest corner of Tropicana and the Strip. It’s high noon, two weeks ago, but he peers back a couple of decades, to the wee hours of a particular day.

Pedestrians surrounded this intersection, one of the busiest on the planet, and gawked. Outside their rigs, shifted into park, drivers and passengers stood and cheered the unfolding spectacle.

In the northbound lane, a muscle car and three low-slung ‘‘Fast & Furious’’ types, all neon lights and loud mufflers, spun their wheels, smoke billowing high. At the green light, they blistered away in a highly illegal but thrilling drag race.

Barton, 45, recalls no sirens or collateral incidents.

“Not to condone it, but it was pretty cool to see,” he said. “Everyone knew, ‘OK, this is what these guys are doing.’ Every car stopped, to let them do it. And to watch.”

The Four Corners, with a world-intersection record 12,343 hotel rooms, served as the sports-betting fulcrum that would blossom into Barton’s profession.

He’d stay at MGM Grand, on the northeast corner. He’d dispatch visiting friends to the sportsbooks at New York-New York (northwest corner), Excalibur (southwest) and the Trop (southeast).

They’d collect football spreads, totals and prices. They’d reconvene at Coyote Ugly Saloon, inside New York-New York, where Barton, holding MGM’s numbers, bought the first few rounds.

He’d discern optimal positions. He’d dispatch his runners back out, with money and instructions, to get the best of it. It led to his calling, as a professional bettor and handicapping-service purveyor.

“I didn’t know that I knew. I was searching, but I wasn’t searching because I was a professional. I was searching because it just didn’t make sense to me why I would pay for a bad bet?

“People ask, ‘How long have you been in this profession?’ I say, ‘12 years.’ But I’ve kinda been doing it forever.”

CHOOSING THE CHOW

Thomas Barton Sr. never bet a buck on an individual game. He’d sip a rare beer. He served his country. He was quiet and content, revered by many. He cherished his son and daughter.

The machinist diligently brought the weekly NFL office pool sheets home in Levittown, New York.

Five bucks, games against the spread. Junior, maybe 7, helped him pick. They’d have “pig-out nights,” feasting on pasta and ice cream as they selected. Senior won the first-place loot four or five times a season.

Tom Jr. says “the house,” or mom, always got the winnings. That, along with spare change the entire family would slip into a large Coke bottle, helped his parents take Tom and sister Kim to Disney World.

“The Clark Griswold way,” Barton said, “always driving.”

Junior studied broadcasting (one of his degrees is from Harvard), and he’d work at ABC and ESPN radio studios in New York. When he unwittingly aligned with a nefarious prognostication operation in Cary, North Carolina, he quit.

At his nadir, down to miniscule change at a market, he had to choose between milk for him and his girlfriend, or Puppy Chow for the cute little guy they’d rescued from the road.

Barton chose the Chow.

With bottomless support from then-girlfriend Abby Sanvi — with roots in Champaign and Springfield, and who would become his wife — he’d make his living betting sports, eventually selling choice selections.

(At their $60,000 wedding, whose entire bill he paid, Barton, into a mobile phone, gave clients picks while ascending the church stairs.)

He is nationally syndicated on the Sports Garten radio network, he produces podcasts and YouTube videos, and he and partner Tim Unglesbee have hosted a 10-to-midnight weekend radio show on Vegas’s Fox Sports outlet for 12 years.

Heatwave Sports is a bonanza of angles, information and tips. They’re just chatting, being themselves. They’re accountable. It amazes Unglesbee that his partner requires no computer or notepads.

During Barton’s visit, they do a show before a Cabo Wabo Cantina audience, overlooking the Strip.

“A true professional in all aspects of his life,” Unglesbee said of Barton. “A proven winning handicapper, his deep sports IQ is unparalleled and he’s a wonderful family man. It’s a pleasure to share airtime with him every weekend.”

PERCENTAGES

Barton has $10,000 in his right pocket, three bound packs of bills, but he seeks to break no casino banks.

He stays in his shoes. His list of contacts is deep, thirst for information insatiable. He possesses a near-photographic recall of players, injuries, depth charts, tendencies and figures.

His selection routine is polished. Clients have begged for more, so he devised a tiered system. He always bets the picks he doles out to patrons.

Certain meetings, web-site maintenance and social-media corrosiveness are stressful, as are his Yankees and decisions by manager Aaron Boone. He said, “They drive me crazy.”

However, pinpointing value sports plays, risking $2,000 a game and promoting them to clients, via a reasonable monthly rate, has never been nerve-racking.

“Because,” Barton says, “I know it’ll always work out to percentages.”

We venture into a casino in Barton’s first Vegas trip in three years. For someone who, for many years, visited for a week every month — some locals considered him one —that’s a long hiatus.

Before the pandemic shuttered the world, Barton had noted standards here slipping. When running the Four Corners, he always greeted a Friday and Saturday night bedecked in a suit and tie.

Shorts and general shabbiness, however, have become de rigueur in this town.

He had just finished a sentence about poor Vegas service when a waitress plops a plastic tray next to him. Barton hands a $25 burger to me, places his $25 burger in front of him. He should tip himself, but he’s good-natured and barely shrugs.

Three shirtless clowns and a (clothed) gal order yard-tall tourist drinks at the bar and sip for 20 minutes. This is no poolside lounge, but two managers say nothing.

In two days, Barton’s play is Toledo, which romps. In the NFL, he wins with Houston, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Baltimore. He dallies with player props.

(He doesn’t espouse to be perfect. The following week, he misses on a prop involving receptions by Denver tailback Javonte Williams, which is Heatwave fodder.)

Including food, beverage and roulette expenses, he will return to New York that Monday afternoon with more than twice as much cash as he brought here.

REACHING FOR STARS

When he started picking those NFL games with his pop, Barton became infatuated with a certain renegade quarterback, a sweet tailback, a stifling defense and a gap-toothed Fridge.

The lifelong Bears fan detests Green Bay, especially its current diva quarterback. However, Barton always bets on Aaron Rodgers against Chicago. He did so last Sunday night.

Odds and ridiculous statistics are too stacked in Rodgers’ favor. Barton always wagers on Rodgers at home in December, too.

Making money is what matters, divorcing the head from the heart. It’s about padding his bankroll and those of his clients.

About providing for his wife, children Tom III and Gracie, in Sandy Beach, near the tip of Long Island. About driving them to Disney World, à la Clark Griswold, maybe four times a year, and Key West.

About a dad whose life ended prematurely and unfairly.

“He was simply everything to me, and he was ripped away at a very young age,” Junior says of Senior. “He was a much better man than I’ll ever be. I always reached for the stars. He was very grounded, but he always told me to go for it.”

“We didn’t have much, but he instilled in me that vacations create memories. I don’t have fancy cars, a nice wardrobe or flashy watches. But, damn, do we vacation a lot. His impact is still so important.”

 

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