The Pony Players

When Animal Kingdom made a late charge against Shackleford in the Preakness Stakes, a cheer went up in the Green Valley Ranch Race & Sports Book. But the familiar wafts of cigar smoke from the VIP section of the book were nowhere to be seen.

“I don’t deal with crowds,” says a smiling Greg Peters, who had placed his bet on Animal Kingdom and headed home well before the “once-a-year” horse bettors showed up for an afternoon of dollar beers and hot dogs.

The 84-year-old New Yorker, known for his cigar-chomping speech and colorful shirts, is a staple of the casino, conducting his “business hours” there Wednesday through Friday mornings, when the book is quiet and a small fraternity—Peters and his fellow horse bettors Bob Lynn and Fred Siyufy—gets together to appreciate the sport of kings.

Peters made his money in exports and electronics and traveled the world—living for 20 years in Spain, before he and his wife of 63 years, Mary, moved back to Las Vegas for good in 1979. But horses are his passion. They have been since his first taste of the sport as a teenager, when he took trips to East Coast tracks such as Aqueduct, Belmont and Jamaica.

He’s owned more than 100 horses, and even his own sports book. In fact, Peters’ place, The Sport of Kings, was Las Vegas’ first sports bookmaking business to go on the NASDAQ stock exchange, but when Peters’ fellow investors failed to secure gaming licenses, the property near the Las Vegas Convention Center was forced to close in 1992, after less than a year of operation. Now he’s content to make small “entertainment” plays at GVR.

“When I knew nothing about horses, I made money. Then as soon as I learned too much about horses, I started losing money,” he says with a laugh. That can’t be all true: His favorite horse, Geechee Lou, which he bought for $3,500 in 1955, made him more than $250,000 and held the American Turf record for the mile-and-an-eighth distance for more than a decade.

Owning horses is more expensive than ever. And times have changed in other ways. Despite the record-setting attendance at this year’s Kentucky Derby, fewer and fewer fans show up to tracks on a daily basis. Rebate shops, Internet gambling sites and offshore casinos cut into what used to be much more favorable betting odds.

And, Siyufy says, “Young people just don’t play horses.”

“There’s just too much competition, and young people don’t want to put in the time it takes to handicap races. They want the instant action,” says the retired carpet salesman, who, much like the “kids,” splits his bets between racing and sports.

But while the sport they’ve spent their lives watching seems to be dying out, this trio is as content as ever in sharing the camaraderie of the gamble, as they’ve done almost daily since Green Valley Ranch opened in 2001.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Lynn says, glancing up from his Daily Racing Form. “Well, that and hopefully making a few extra bucks.”