The Greek was born Dimitrios George Synodinon 42 years ago in Steubenville, Ohio. "I grew up in a town where everything was wide open," he says. "You had to bet to survive. I was 25 before I found out gambling was illegal." Steubenville has shut down now, but many of the dealers and pit bosses working Vegas are Steubenville boys. They are in great demand in Nevada, like shepherds from the Basque country.
Jimmie is reluctant to talk about the past. "What's the use?" he says. "It's the past." But a few revelatory facts emerge. "I was the best 9-year-old violin player in Steubenville," he said once. He has also told how he used to build bicycles, always painted white because it was the only color he had, and rent them out to kids in the neighborhood, the rent going toward the purchase price. And he once mentioned playing soccer in Greece.
At 14, Jimmie forged his father's name to his school-savings certificate and bet it all on Cavalcade to win the Kentucky Derby. Cavalcade did. "A well-publicized horse," says Jimmie with a shrug. He recalls that his first good bet was taking Great Lakes Training Center over Notre Dame at 8 to I in 1943. Great Lakes won 19-14. In the late '30s and early '40s Jimmie waxed fat, splurging on football, Joe Louis and Franklin Roosevelt. "Every situation with Roosevelt or Louis was a tap-out," he has said.
After the Kentucky- Santa Clara disaster, Jimmie moved to Florida. "I wanted to divorce myself from gambling," he says. "I wanted to live a different life." Jimmie thrived in the stock market but, he modestly explains, it was a bull market. At one time or another he has owned a small racetrack and has had an interest in four or five others. He also has owned a couple of theaters and a stable consisting of a dozen horses.
One day in Florida he had a horse running which had been shipped from New York. The horse had raced poorly there, but Jimmie discovered that his public trainer had been holding him back and that he would no doubt go off a terrific long shot. The day the horse was to run Jimmie was called for jury duty. He was frantic, because he had to be at the track that afternoon to put his money down at the last possible moment. He asked the judge if he could be excused for "personal reasons." The judge inquired what they were, and Jimmie said he would like to explain them privately. They went into the judge's chambers, and Jimmie told him his story. The judge said Jimmie would be excused on one condition—that he bet on the horse for him, too, and he gave Jimmie $60. The horse paid $77 to win.
At one period of his life Jimmie went into the oil business. He drilled 22 straight dry holes before he gave up. "I matched my wits with Mother Earth," he says, "and she got the decision. My handicapping wasn't too good." A more profitable venture was winning $48,000 in chemin de fer at Enghien, a casino outside Paris; it was the first time he had played the game. He also had an interest in a freighter that took Jews to Israel � la Exodus. And through meeting an Arabian prince who admired his suit (Jimmie later gave him a stunning white number—"a perfect fit," he says) at Maxim's, the Paris restaurant, he got involved in another oil proposition. This took him to Saudi Arabia and would have made him a millionaire if he hadn't innocently included a Jew on his board of directors. The deal fell through.
Jimmie is often mistaken for a Jew or an Italian. Once, when he was staying at a restricted hotel in Miami, the manager told him that a lady had complained he was Jewish. Her reason: he had bet a horse $200 across the board. Jimmie protested that members of many ethnic groups bet horses $200 across the board. The manager explained that he had told the lady the very same thing. She had replied: "But Mr. Snyder won."
On Saturdays during the football season the gamblers—the affluent and the busted valises alike—gather in the smoky interior of the Hollywood Sports Service to watch the televised game on two sets, listen to another on radio, get the results, which come in fitfully over an often faulty Western Union ticker and bawl for free hamburgers. Snyder soothes the malcontents, pleads for last-minute "starkers," or sure bets, and finer language, dissuades customers from betting more than they can afford—really—and tries, vainly it seems, to lead them in cheers and song.
On the Saturday that the Army-Oklahoma game was televised, Jimmie exhorted the fretful crowd: "All right, those for Army—three cheers!" The bettors looked at him like he was some kind of a nut. "Just one cheer for Army, fellas." They remained belligerently silent, apparently Oklahoma bettors to a man. The score of the Michigan State-Northwestern game came in over the ticker. Northwestern was leading 7-0. "Bless their cotton-picking hearts," shouted Jimmie gleefully. "The upset of the week! Hot diggity dog! Gol-ly durn!"
Another score came in, and he was abruptly plunged into gloom. He went behind a partition to his narrow office. The phone rang, and he answered it in a low, ominous voice. Above his head a betting slip was pinned to the wall. It had been stamped by a time clock: "Oct. 8, '60, 4:07 p.m." Jimmie explained that it chronicled the last argument he had with his wife.