Throughout the South the refrain is the same. Only a few bookies in New Orleans will take a $100 bet on a horse, and in Hot Springs, Ark. the bookies operate on the sneak. This in a town with two gambling casinos, the Vapors and the Southern Club, running wide open.
Up North the pattern persists. New York bookmakers have taken to using telephone answering services to avoid tapped wires. In Washington it is possible to get a bet down across the street from the Justice Department, but police keep bookies on the run. "Anything is possible, but these operations are not as big as anyone would like to believe," says Deputy Chief Roy E. Blick of the metropolitan police. Recent raids have included a big one at the Pentagon, the Navy Department, Walter Reed General Hospital and the Old Soldiers Home.
A bookie isn't even safe these days in the traditionally wide-open towns in the Ohio River Valley. Evansville, Ind., which nurtured such gambling celebrities as Ray Ryan, the oilman, and Jimmie (The Greek) Snyder, the Las Vegas handicapper, is dead, or close to it. In the late 1940s Evansville had 48 books handling anything. But that was all B.K.—Before Kefauver, Before Kennedy. After Kefauver, the number of books dipped to 20, but you could still get a sizable bet down. With Bobby Kennedy, the number has been cut to 10, all furtive "two-bit operations." Says an involuntarily retired Evansville bookmaker, "Kefauver was just looking for headlines. He hurt us, but we still made a living. This Bobby Kennedy is doing the job. Without a wire service, without a telephone, how can you make it? Everybody's afraid to call across the state line into Kentucky. Sometimes I've needed a result in Louisville. Well, I'd drive over to Henderson and call Louisville. But that's a 30-, 40-minute round trip. I had to have my information quicker than that.
"It's not like it was before the Kennedys put through that interstate law. Listen, Dan Topping, you know, the guy who owns the Yankees? Yeah, well, Topping had a friend in Evansville. Every day Topping used to call this friend and give him some horses. He played pretty good, I'm telling you. But no more. I guess Topping is afraid of the interstate law."
Evansville is so bad that during a recent card game at the Elks Club, a former golf pro said he would give any one of his brother Elks $200 as a gift if he could make a $200 bet on a horse for him.
"Here's $400," said the pro, laying the money on the table. "You book me $200 on a horse here in Evansville, and you can keep the other $200." A brother Elk tried to book the bet. It was late evening, and every bookie he called begged time until morning. They needed the time to lay off. Finally, not one would book his bet, and the golf pro wound up with the $400 back in his wallet.
The ex- Evansville bookie has been looking for work in the Newport area, just across the river from Cincinnati. But there, in addition to government heat, George Ratterman, the ex-Notre Dame quarterback, is in office as reform sheriff. It is indicative of Newport's present moral state that the Club Flamingo, a gambling joint run by "Sleep Out Louis" Levinson, is now a twist parlor. Unemployment among gamblers is so rife that several months ago, the local fathers of Newport and next-door Covington went to Washington to ask for assistance as a depressed area. Of all things, they asked the government to locate an income-tax processing center in the vicinity.
"I tried to get on in Newport," says the bookie. "It was laughable. I tell you the town is dying. You think Evansville is clean, Newport is in a coma. I saw this friend up there. He used to be in the numbers racket. He's out on bail now, but he's gonna do at least a year.
"The only action in town was a bingo game. It was going crazy with people, but it was for charity! I saw a sign in Newport. I swear to it. This big club was for sale. There's a sign on the front that read, 'For Sale—See George Ratterman.'
"They got big hotels in Newport worth maybe $800,000. You can buy 'em today for $200,000, but what would you do with 'em? You see, Newport depended on its out-of-town business, the business brought there by gambling. The shutdown has hurt everything in the town. Business people are screaming, everybody is dying. You heard of the Glenn Hotel? That's the place where Ratterman was framed with that stripteaser April Flowers. The Glenn has burned down. How lucky can they get?"