Jimmie (The Greek) Snyder (right), a large, shrewd and popular man who broods about his weight, is the foremost oddsmaker and, as he grandly but precisely expresses it, "speculator in sports" in Las Vegas. Oddsmaker is, in a sense, a euphemism for bookie, a familiar noun Jimmie avoids as connoting a form of illegal and disreputable low life (so is the offending blowfish marketed as sea squab).
Jimmie is distressed by the raffish crowd whose members, technologically unemployed by repeal, became bookmakers with no other professional qualification than the ability to lick a pencil point and write "5" for the 5 horse. He is fond, on the other hand, of reciting the academic attainments of his Las Vegas confreres who graduated from or attended such institutions as Rice, NYU, Creighton, Notre Dame and Yeshiva, and of reminding his listener that there are more bank presidents in jail than bookmakers.
Snyder went to college, too, but will not mention which one. "I wouldn't want the school to get mad at me," he says. Jimmie feels that the force of public opinion is unfairly marshaled against a generally blameless and difficult profession. "I'm square," he pleads. "I lead a normal life. They're always trying to put a cigar in my mouth. The only bad habit that I have, if you could call it that, is my family." His family includes his wife Joan, a graduate of a Catholic college, his son Jamie, 5, daughter Stephanie, 2�, and a daughter from a previous marriage who attends the University of Nevada. "I can't tell you the exultation I get picking up Stephanie after I've lost a bet," he says. "I'm not a crook. I'm not a thief. I'm a gambler—and a damn good one."
Betting on sports is legal in the singular and swinging city of Las Vegas, if one wagers on licensed premises, known as sports books. Until recently there were seven—three on the Strip and four downtown within earshot of a monstrous, mechanical cowboy who gratuitously bellows "Howdy, pardner" every 15 seconds. It has been facetiously remarked that the cowboy is, in fact, a government man and that he is snidely greeting the proprietors of the sports books. These gentlemen comprise a mournful and dwindling fraternity—three books closed last week—whose major lament is that each bettor must pay an intolerable 10% federal tax when he makes a bet. A minor, but equally plaintive, refrain is that it is now illegal to supply odds to out-of-state customers, once a profitable sideline.
It has been estimated that 95% of all wagering on sports in Las Vegas is done sub rosa, or man to man, to avoid the tax and that if the government were more tolerant and reasonable business at the sports books would be up 1,000%. As it stands, the high gamblers gather about the lowball or klaberjass tables, in Strip coffee shops or health clubs, sipping raspberry phosphates or moodily wrapped in sheets. A typical scene between two gamblers who shall be called Big Red and Baron:
: Do you gentlemen wish to wager on any sporting events?
Baron: What futures you got?
: Texas, Texas A&M.
Baron: Where's it at?
: College Station.