05/17/2002 12:00AM

Kings and casino-owning family does it right


When the TV cameras search out the owners of the Sacramento Kings during their Western Conference series against the LA Lakers, you're sure to see Joe and Gavin Maloof cheering for the Kings. But that's not the whole picture.

Joe and Gavin run the day-to-day operations of the team, but there's also a third owner, their brother George, who is the front man for their other high-profile entity, the $265 million Palms Resort-Casino, just west of the Strip on Flamingo Road in Las Vegas.

The Maloofs are hands-on, with a reputation for being personable, generous owners. In fact, the were fined by the NBA in 1999 for giving excessive perks, after flying Kings players to Vegas to celebrate their first playoff appearance.

"Philosophically, it's the same whether you're operating a team or a hotel,"0/00 George Maloof said. "We put our employees and our guests, or fans, first. If you take care of them, they'll take care of you, and the bottom line will take care of itself. That's been the philosophy of our family for 80 years."0/00

The Maloof family made its fortune primarily from its ownership of the Coors beer distributorship in New Mexico. Their father, George Sr., owned the Houston Rockets, and the family empire has diversified in recent years.

This is the fourth year the Maloofs have owned the Kings and the fourth time they have made the playoffs. But George Maloof says the bar keeps rising. Maloof said he's not surprised the Lakers are favored to win the Western Conference championship series, even though the Kings had a better record this year and have home-court advantage.

"They're the two-time defending champs and have a lot of tradition,"0/00 he said. "They deserve to be favored, but we're very happy with the team we've put together. A few years ago, we were happy just to be in the playoffs, but not anymore. We're in it to win the championship."0/00

Two gambling pioneers die

The sports betting industry lost two of its pioneers on May 11. Mel Exber, father of the parlay card and former owner of the Las Vegas Club downtown, died at 78, and Ed Curd, who helped popularize point-spread betting, died at 94 at his home in Lexington, Ky.

After serving in World War II as an airplane mechanic, Exber came to Vegas in 1947, and promptly lost his $3,000 bankroll, so he had to get a job. He worked his way up in the sports book industry and supplemented his income by betting at other books. He bought the Las Vegas Club in 1960. But he wasn't a typical casino owner. He loved sports, and used his own collection of memorabilia to give his place a sports theme it has to this day. He was also different in that he was the only casino owner anyone can remember that set his own lines. He also was instrumental in the development of parlay cards and the 1 1/2- and 2-run baseball lines that also are still part of the Las Vegas Club.

My favorite Exber tale involves Jimmy the Greek Snyder. Snyder marketed himself effectively and became nationally famous, but Vegas insiders didn't give him any respect as an oddsmaker. When Snyder opened his own book downtown, he would send an employee over to get Exber's opening lines. Exber would give the runner off-the-wall numbers and then send an employee of his own over to bet the soft lines after Snyder posted them without question.

Curd didn't have the benefit of bookmaking where it's legal in Nevada, but he still thrived. Billy Hecht is generally credited with creating the point spread in football in the mid-1930's, and then Curd came up with the 11-10 juice0/00 in 1941. During the 1940's, Curd was considered the top bookmaker in America out of his Mayfair Bar on East Main Street in Lexington. He took bets from across the country in his phone room.

Curd was mentioned in the 1950-51 Kefauver organized crime hearings by gangster Frank Costello and was indicted for tax evasion in 1953. In 1956, he sold his mansion and horse farm on Paris Road to pay $275,000 in back taxes, a $10,000 fine. He served seven months in prison.

Exber and Curd were both known for philanthropy toward religious organizations. Exber gave to countless Las Vegas charities, including St. Jude's Ranch for Children and the Temple Beth Sholom. Curd helped build the Christ the King Catholic Church, and bought station wagons for nuns at St. Joseph Hospital.

Follow the money

There are plenty of television shows that present Las Vegas history or give behind-the-scenes looks at the city.

The Discovery Channel and the Travel Channel do a great job, but the best historical view of Vegas I've seen is called, "Las Vegas: The Money and the Power,"0/00 which airs again Sunday night on A&E.

Most shows gloss over Vegas's past, or regurgitate the false legend that Bugsy Siegel came up with the idea for an oasis in the middle of the desert. "Las Vegas: The Money and the Power," based on a book by the same name, written by Roger and Sally Denton, sets the record straight on that issue. But it goes way beyond that, by putting Vegas's history in context with American history throughout the 20th century.

The show takes viewers through the legalization of gambling in Nevada, the impact of prohibition and the growth of organized crime, the building of Hoover Dam that brought millions of workers to the desert, the mob's role in building Vegas bigger, the city's ties to John F. Kennedy, the role of the Teamsters, Howard Hughes and the influx of corporate ownership and acceptance on Wall Street, and how junk bonds helped finance the building boom in the late 1980's. It's a wonderful history lesson, and an analytical look at Vegas's role in society over the years.