Scenes from Sin City: Soldier happy to be back in the book after Middle East

During football season at the sportsbooks, it’s all fun and games, right?

Well, maybe not all fun and games – like if you watched Utah score a late, meaningless touchdown Saturday night and you were holding a Fresno State ticket. But still, generally speaking, even if you have to tear up a ticket or two, there are far more trying ways to spend a day than at the books.

Like being deployed overseas in some of the hottest war zones on the planet. Gerald Mantanona can speak to that, several times over.

“I’ve been to Iraq three times and Afghanistan twice,” Mantanona said Saturday morning, while comfortably seated in a booth at the South Point sportsbook.

It goes without saying that it’s no party in the Middle East these days, and Mantanona – now an Army reservist – couldn’t stress enough the importance of football.

“We look forward to football. It helps time go by from the end of August to February,” he said. “The best football stories we generate come from deployments, watching games. It’s America. It’s a touch of home.”

One of those stories came during Mantanona’s deployment to Afghanistan in 2013.

“The funniest one was the Iron Bowl,” he said of Auburn’s stunning victory over Alabama on a 109-yard return of a missed field goal. “An Alabama National Guard unit was at my base, all Alabama fans. If I had that video, you would have seen them all just screaming. And then it was just quiet.”

“It’s America. It’s a touch of home.”

Mantanona has called Las Vegas home since 2012, and he does enjoy a good bet or two. So when he was deployed, he left a few dollars behind with his buddies – “I called my friends to have them make my bets. If you’re watching football on TV, you might as well bet.” – but he’s certainly happier to make wagers in person.

“We come here every week, man,” he said, while pledging his betting allegiance. “I think the true bettors are on college football. I think that’s where you can beat the books.”

So what’s he like most on this college football Saturday?

“I’ll just combine LSU and the under on a 7-point teaser,” he said, noting that would basically make the Tigers a moneyline bet against visiting Auburn, while boosting the total to 56.5.

He got the first leg, as LSU drubbed Auburn 45-21, but the total blew the ticket.

But again, there are far worse fates than a losing ticket on another glorious college football Saturday in Vegas. And Mantanona knows that better than just about anybody.

Colin Kelly is a Las Vegas-based contributor for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @ColinPKelly29.


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