LAS VEGAS — Van Smith often bet on sports, and he lost often. He’d chase losses, lose more. He’d sometimes have to borrow money from his brother or mother to square accounts with unsavory Chicago figures.
He estimates to have dropped about $250,000 over several decades wagering on games. Always gainfully employed, with a sterling reputation as a maitre d’, he diligently paid his creditors.
“But I overdid it,” he says, “because of the foolish way I went about betting.”
Today, 62-year-old Dennis Van Rhinevault reveals his real name because he no longer feels ashamed about partaking in an industry that has become so mainstream.
His fortunes turned around, too, upon retiring to Vegas in 2016, thanks to a transformed discipline and rigid parameters that are critical to prospering in the ruthless business.
Friends call him Van, his middle name. I met him in the summer of 2017. Unlike so many professional sports bettors in this gambling haven, he only casually mentioned his profession. He was unassuming, soft-spoken.
A year later, I contacted him after securing a publishing contract for a sports-betting book. I inquired about his methods and tactics, his past. He opened more than 100 hand-written notebooks and detailed his involvement for six hours.
For personal reasons, he requested an alias. In my “Sports Betting for Winners,” published in 2019, and a Sun-Times profile that ran on May 2, 2020, we used a combination of his middle name and a nondescript surname.
(“Is that you?” a few people texted him after seeing his silhouette photo in the Sun-Times.)
RIP, Van Smith. Forevermore, it’s Dennis Van Rhinevault, the real person who strives to impart the very real sports-betting lessons he has learned to interested parties.
“I believe I can help people maybe make some money based on the mistakes that I have made,” he says. “I began employing a bankroll and can’t emphasize how important that is. Changed everything. I either sink or swim with it.
“Slow and steady is the way to be. Otherwise, you’re going to flame out.”
A POLISHED APPROACH
Rhinevault was born and raised in Indian Head Park. Out of Lyons Township High, stints at Oklahoma State and Wisconsin-Stout didn’t quench his high-end-restaurant business interests.
Through his father, he met restaurateur Arnold J. “Arnie” Morton and Klaus Fritsch, now vice chairman of the Morton’s steakhouse chain. Van apprenticed in several Morton’s kitchens, graduating to front-of-the-house duties.
At 24, he was maitre d’ of the elegant Toledo Room at The Lodge of the Four Seasons in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, and he flourished in the same role at Jack Binion’s steakhouses in Indiana and Mississippi.
He kept betting sports, kept losing.
At a nadir, a friend related his betting success using power ratings. That led Rhinevault to tinkering with ESPN ratings for professional sports, Associated Press rankings for colleges.
He overhauled his operations, objectives and thought processes. He built models, conducted extensive research, discarded rubbish. He aimed to construct a revenue stream that would provide living expenses in retirement.
Actions within each sport end when they hit certain units of profit, diminishing-return thresholds that he calibrates regularly.
For instance, one NBA angle halts when it hits four units of profit, often ending two or three weeks into a season. He quits betting baseball on Labor Day, due to September roster-call-up uncertainties.
He constantly massages and refines his formulas, the foundation being hardcore discipline based on the aforementioned bankroll and a typical wager-unit of one percent.
Sometimes, he will risk up to two units to gain a unit of profit. That basic unit would only increase with bankroll expansion, which he’d adjust annually.
A $100,000 bankroll has become $400,000. That’s his cap, because it can be difficult placing bets of $2,000, the maximum allowance at many sportsbooks, at two different shops.
Irresponsible blowhard touts who bellow about “five-unit” plays can irritate him, but he tries to tend to his own affairs.
“I learned years ago not to worry about what others do. Find out what makes you happy and try to achieve your goals. Comparing yourself to others is a recipe for failure and disappointment.”
Rhinevault’s plays and records can be followed, gratis, at VSLasVegas.com, which he started last year. The VS stands for Van Sports, a simpler marque than involving his last name.
In five complete seasons of NBA, NHL, NFL, MLB and college football, 25 individual seasons of data and documentation, only his 2020-21 NHL campaign wasn’t profitable.
Twelve of those returned at least 20 units of profit, topped by 2017-18 NHL (32.6 units), 2018 MLB (30.1), 2016-17 NBA (29.7) and 2019-20 NBA (26.8). The 2018-19 NHL season began horribly before turning around magnificently, going 18-0 at one stretch; it hit its threshold by New Year’s Eve.
Rhinevault might be low-key, but he is proud of his creation. After some coaxing during an hourlong chat Monday, he admits, “I’m confident I’m going to win.”
He plans to produce YouTube video tutorials. Newcomers will benefit, but punters of every degree might learn something. He’s content helping others avoid the many pitfalls he encountered.
“If somebody has been following me and what I’ve been doing, they’ve certainly been well-rewarded. I never want anybody to lose money because of something I said, but I do hope they’re up money.”