Sports gambling is like air; it is all over the place, but getting a handle on it isn't easy. In seeking to come to grips with the subject for the special report that begins on page 30, senior editor William Oscar Johnson assigned stories to writers who were well qualified for their tasks. Senior writer Robert Boyle was a natural to do the profile on Charles McNeil, the man who developed the point spread, because he and McNeil had been friends in Chicago three decades ago. Free-lancer Sam Toperoff arranged and wrote about the first meeting of two former Seton Hall basketball teammates since one of them was picked up for point-shaving on March 17, 1961; he was himself a college basketball player, a 6'4" guard/forward at Hofstra in the 1950s.
Writer-reporter Armen Keteyian was another obvious choice to work on the project, and not just because he had written about compulsive gambling for The San Diego Union in 1980. In setting out to do the story on the gambling-related afflictions of Art Schlichter, Keteyian was able to get access to the troubled quarterback partly because they had met in San Diego in 1982 at an all-star game for college seniors. "I didn't like him much then because he seemed arrogant and self-centered," says Keteyian. "I found out later that even though he was MVP of that game, it was one of the worst periods of his life." While the compulsive gambler, like the alcoholic, is never cured, he can recover. " Art Schlichter is fighting back," says Keteyian. "Here's a guy people thought had everything. He had nothing."
Besides interviewing and writing about Schlichter, Keteyian provided important reporting for the lead story about the scope of sports gambling and the dangers its growth poses for both professional and college sports. He also helped out on Boyle's report on the Computer Group, a modern-day network of high-tech and apparently high-profit sports gambling operatives. Keteyian brought to these stories the same burning curiosity he exhibited in contributing to most of our other special reports of the past year, including those on anabolic steroids and on scandals at LSU and Tulane. "You have to find all the pieces and then fit them together," Keteyian says of the reportorial legwork necessary for such assignments. "It's like detective work."
In delving into the subject of sports gambling, Keteyian met many people for whom betting on games is of consuming importance. These are individuals who have felt the exhilaration of the big win and, far more often, the despair of the big loss. "It was an education," says Keteyian. "I never thought about gambling much before because it didn't affect my life."
But it affects many other people's lives—and, as our 32-page report shows—many sports as well.