Meadowlands “Money Man” Stu Berman retiring
After over 47 years on the job, Saturday is the last day at work for The Big M’s director of mutuels.
by Debbie Little
No insult meant to driver Scott Zeron, but director of mutuels Stu Berman is the true “Money Man” of The Meadowlands.
Berman, 70, is calling it a career on Saturday (Feb. 25) after over 47 years at The Big M, which started on opening day, Sept. 1, 1976.
“I was a $5 cashier [on opening day] and the place was wild,” Berman said. “The second night, they put me in the money room because it was just crazy there.”
Berman, who grew up in Vineland in southern New Jersey, had previously worked at Atlantic City Racecourse and Garden State Park before venturing north on the New Jersey Turnpike for the opening of The Meadowlands.
Within a week, Berman was in the calculator room, handling 500 tellers and verifying the money room every night to the dollar.
Although his job is much easier to do now with computers, Berman has a soft spot for those early days.
“This was before simulcasting and the casinos,” Berman said. “We were the only game in town. Everybody wanted to bet The Meadowlands.
“Back in the day people just wanted to bet. There was always 20 people in line for every race.”
The first casino in New Jersey, Resorts International, opened on May 26, 1978.
“I had a $20 window that was busy every night,” Berman said. “Where my window was situated, it was where the horsemen would come in and make their bets. The owners used to take me out to the winner’s circle when their horses won. I’ve got a lot of [winner’s circle] pictures.
In those early days, Berman also worked the $50 or $100 windows and met his fair share of celebrities. Steffi Graf, Lou Piniella, Mickey Rivers, Pete Rose, George Steinbrenner, Donald Trump and Roy White, to name just a few.
“I was always nice to everybody,” Berman said. “Lou Piniella didn’t really want to talk, he just wanted to bet.
“Don Zimmer was the best. He would always have two World Series rings on, Yankees’ 1998 and 2000. He’d always say which one do you like better? And I’m a Phillies fan. He was the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet.”
Berman also met and became friends with Phillies’ pitcher Dan Plesac. The two still go to games together.
Likening himself to a Meadowlands’ version of a Swiss army knife, Berman said he can perform many different jobs when needed.
“When we came over here [to the new building in November 2013], I was in the office with Bob Halpin [former director of mutuels] and when Bob was going to retire in 2014, he recommended me for the job.
“I have to thank Jason [Settlemoir] and Mr. Gural and Marianne [Rotella] for putting me in this position. I appreciate it.”
Berman has a lot on his plate on a nightly basis and is in constant contact with the judges, tote, race secretary Scott Warren and post-time coordinator, Michael Antoniades.
“The life of a mutuel manager is very hectic after a race is over because you don’t want to make any mistakes,” Antoniades said. “Stu has never made a mistake, but I’ve been there when [other tracks] have put up the wrong order. That’s happened many times in my life. It’s never happened [at The Meadowlands], because he’s thorough.”
One of the things that Berman likes most about his job is interacting with the fans, which he gets to do during afternoon simulcasting.
And it’s those bettors that he was thinking of when the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown The Meadowlands for about three months.
“When we closed March 16 of 2020, any ticket from September of 2019 that wasn’t cashed, the people would have lost their money,” Berman said. “I didn’t want to see people lose their money because of COVID-19.”
Knowing that the current rules stated that you only have six months to cash in your ticket, Berman spoke with New Jersey assemblyman Ron Dancer to get the six months extended to a year.
“I wrote the thing and sent it to him and they took care of it and put it through and Gov. Murphy signed it,” Berman said. “I always thought about the bettors. What would they do in this case? They had no recourse. They had to get paid.
“In my opinion, that’s the best thing I ever did. I was helping the bettors. That’s who I care about.”
In his retirement, Berman plans to spend more time with his wife of 43 years, Carole, his two sons and daughters-in-law and three precious grandchildren.
“I’ve already been told when I come back from my vacation, I’ll be taking my grandsons and granddaughter to school,” Berman said.
According to Antoniades, there has been and is greatness at The Meadowlands — Dave Brower, Ed Gorman, Dave Little, Sam McKee, Ken Warkentin — and Berman should be included.
“This guy probably belongs in that little circle of people, but he is never seen,” Antoniades said. “But he’s as important as anybody.
“Without a good mutuel manager, none of this succeeds the way it’s supposed to. He doesn’t perform in the public eye but he’s essential and he’s legendary. And I’m not just saying it because he’s going. That guy is a pivotal part of The Meadowlands.”
Antoniades knows that since Berman is a huge Eagles’ fan that he’s still in mourning over the loss in the Super Bowl a couple of weeks ago, which Berman attended in Glendale, AZ.
“How legendary is he?’ Antoniades said. “Fox wouldn’t even start the Super Bowl on time because he was there. They dragged seven.
“I could spout superlatives for an hour, but I think the general feeling is you sit back and appreciate a person that gave his life to The Meadowlands and was a pivotal part. And to see the way The Meadowlands is succeeding now — 12 years after it almost closed — is a testament to a lot of people and he’s one of them. Take it from somebody that’s been around mutuels for his whole life, this is one special guy.”