After I got to know him better, I invited Gio to come stay at our house in Cincinnati after the end of the baseball season. Gio fit right in and became a good companion. He had a pretty good setup. He ran errands, babysat for Pete Jr. and went with me to the racetrack. My first marriage was on the rocks, and I was looking for any excuse to get out of the house. I'd like to say that my wife, Karolyn, and I had grown apart, but we were never that close to begin with. Not that she didn't try. I just didn't respond. Being close was not something I had any experience with. I was only 22 and Karolyn was just 21 when we got married. So my dad was probably right—we were too young.
When things didn't pan out with his baseball career, Gio started running some of my football and basketball bets during the off-season. I wasn't betting large at that time—just a grand a game—unless it was Monday Night Football, when I might bet two. If I was up a couple grand from Sunday's NFL games, I might sponge my bet and try to double up. But if I was down, I'd sometimes play it safe. I was making $376,000 in 1978, which
was a lot of money but not so much to push me over the edge. Besides the ponies, football was always my favorite betting sport. All the guys would come over to my place on Sunday. We'd order chicken and ribs from Montgomery Inn and make a whole day out of it. Like my dad, I loved watching sports on TV. If I put money on a game or a race, I wanted to watch it on television.
By 1984 Gio had started working out at Gold's Gym, which had just opened in Cincinnati. [He was later hired by Gold's.] At 43 I wanted to keep Father Time from kickin' my ass, and like every athlete my age I refused to accept that I was slowing down. My legs were as strong as ever, and my vision was 20/20. But the baseball experts accused me of losing bat speed. So to stay on top of my game, I started working out at the gym, too.
Through his contacts at Gold's, Gio made some inquiries and got in touch with a local bookmaker who agreed to take our action on football and basketball games. Gio liked to gamble as much as I did. He just didn't have the same means—at least not at first. If I bet two dimes [$2,000], Gio would bet a nickel [$500]. We usually bet on the same teams, which made the games more fun to watch. If I won, he won. If I lost, he lost—a camaraderie thing.
Most real gamblers—guys who bet a grand or more per game-use a runner to call in their bets. The runner provides a buffer between the gambler and the bookmaker in case someone turns up the heat. He also handles the pickup and delivery, something I had no time for. I knew that betting with a bookmaker was technically illegal. But my brother-in-law was a cop, who informed me that they had never prosecuted a gambler in the history of the department. "Gambling is considered a victimless crime," he said. "I've never read where a gambler crossed over the center line at 90 miles an hour and killed another gambler."
I preferred not to know the identity of the bookmaker at all, and vice versa, but Gio could not get credit for a bet of two grand per game based on his income. He was probably earning only five or six hundred a week working at the gym. So Gio informed his bookmaker, a former assistant golf pro from Franklin, Ohio, named Ron Peters, that he was laying action for Pete Rose.
I would normally establish a settle-up figure of 30 grand to be paid on Tuesday—right after Monday Night Football. But Peters wanted to settle up every Monday, regardless of the amount. If I won during any given week, Gio would drive the 30 minutes to Franklin for the pickup. If I lost, I'd give the cash to Gio, and he'd wrap it up in a sock and make the drop-off at some prearranged site. At one point Gio was supposed to toss the money into the back of someone's pickup truck as it was pulling into a gas station. Gio missed the truck and hit another car by mistake, which must have been pretty funny to everyone but Gio. He had to jump out of his car in the middle of a snowstorm before the $100 bills started blowing in the wind. Gio freaked out when he told me about the mishap. I couldn't help but laugh. It was only a few grand, so I really wasn't worried.
Gio and I did pretty well on football and basketball throughout the fall and winter of 1984. On any given week I might have been down 10 or 15 grand with Gio's guy in Franklin, but I might have been up with my guy in New York, or Florida, or Dayton. You see, Gio wasn't the only runner I used to place my bets. Over the years I met many bookmakers at the racetracks. These were honest, working-class guys with wives and families—not the "Mafia" guys the press made them out to be. My guy in Florida was the ma�tre d' at the track restaurant, a guy I'd known for years. My guy in Dayton was a longtime family friend—a local fireman. So if I was down 15 to the guy in New York but up 5 to the guy in Florida, I was just minus 10 overall. Not earth-shattering money for a man in my tax bracket—it wasn't the same money I used for paying my mortgage or utility bills. It was entertainment money—the same money other folks spent on boats, cars, planes, or hunting and fishing.
There were advantages to spreading the wagers around to different runners. If I ever went really cold and lost all of my bets, it was better to be down 15 to three guys than down 45 to one guy. Like everyone else, bookies like to get paid when they win. They won't worry over 15 if the client is out of town or short on cash. They will worry over 45.
By the time spring training of 1985 rolled around, my wagering focused on one last big quest of the year. March Madness. Growing up in Cincinnati, I learned to appreciate great basketball. I was exposed to some of the best college players in the country with the Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio State teams. Over the years I earned what you'd call a basketball pedigree. I understood the game, so I knew how to bet the game. I got to the point where I could have sat in on the NBA draft and advised each team on its selections. But with all of that knowledge I'd still pick teams that lost. That's why they call it March Madness—because those kids drove me mad! Some young guy would come out of nowhere, steal the ball and make a layup at the buzzer to win the game. But regardless of how much money I won or lost, I got a great deal of satisfaction from watching those young kids play.