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In 1951, after all the whoop-de-do kicked up by the Kefauver investigations, the House of Representatives and Senate passed two antigambling laws. One required a bookmaker to buy a $50 federal wagering stamp; the other called for a 10% tax on all bets. But inasmuch as few bookies either paid the tax or bought the stamp, the laws were a joke.
A year ago this month Congress, under prodding from Attorney General Robert Kennedy, took another crack at gambling. This time Congress passed three more bills. Altogether, they could be described as a Mann Act for bookmakers. They prohibit the sending of odds, wagers or gambling paraphernalia across state lines under maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine and/or two or five years in prison.
In view of the tax-stamp fiascos, it would have been reasonable to expect the government to come up a loser again. But the truth, as a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED survey shows, is that the new laws have succeeded surprisingly well. This is not to say that illegal gambling is dead—during the football season it is still possible to get down a $5,000 bet on a game if you know the right person. However, bookmakers all over the country are up against it as they never have been before.
In the first 10 months since the laws were passed, the Federal Bureau of Investigation looked into 4,000 possible violations. Of these, 809 cases were forwarded to the Department of Justice for further study. So far, 95 persons have been indicted and 11 convicted. Eleven out of 4,000 may seem a small number, but the key figure is 809; the FBI does not send on a case unless it is considered "hot."
Kefauver put the Continental Press Service, which furnished results to bookmakers, out of business. Now the new laws have put an end to Continental's illicit successors. Chief among these was Nola News in New Orleans, which closed down for good last fall. This year the Federal Government charged Tom F. Kelly, Tom F. Kelly Jr. and George Kelly of Chicago, scratch sheet publishers, with shipping gambling information across state lines. The government argued that 80% of the sheets were going directly to bookmakers, and on July 31 the Kellys were convicted and fined $5,000 each in Louisville. They are appealing on the grounds that the new laws specifically exclude "newspapers and other similar publications." The Kellys are also fighting a government attempt to cut off their race-result telephone service, which has handled up to 60,000 calls a day.
While off-track betting has declined, at-the-track betting has increased. Frank Pape, former Chicago police lieutenant, now chief of the Arlington-Washington Park police, says, "I think the lack of wire services has curbed activity. The old days of the big bookie giving you the call of the race to determine how you would bet the next race are over. It's made a big crimp in the operations, and, as a result, our mutuels are up considerably even though attendance is about the same."
Other sports betting—baseball, football and basketball—has been cut sharply. Gil Beckley, the No. 1 bookmaker in the country for the last few years, was reduced to operating out of pay phones in Miami hotel lobbies last winter. This winter may be more confining: in October he goes to trial in federal court in New Orleans. Beckley's chief rival for bookmaking honors, Maurice (Red) Dodson, is wandering around seeking haven. He has left Birmingham and last week was in Las Vegas, where gambling is legal, looking for a home. One vendor of football parlay cards has already been sent to prison; Richard A. Styles of Toledo drew three years for transporting them across state lines.
The leading sports handicappers in the country are, shall we say, handicapped. Leo Hirschfield, president of Athletic Publications, Inc. in Minneapolis, has quit. The so-called Minneapolis line is no more. Hirschfield is using the company presses, which used to churn out football and basketball schedules, to print hunting and fishing books. The other top odds-making firm, Angel-Kaplan in Chicago, is about to go out of business. Bill Kaplan, the Runyonesque founder of the firm who goes by such pseudonyms as Pigskin Pete, Patrick F. Gilhooly and Coach Goldberg, suffered a heart attack recently, what with all the wear and tear, and Don Angel, his partner, says he is putting out a daily baseball line "just to keep in." Says Angel, "We're just going to stick around for the World Series to make a price for some guys, then we're going to quit. You can't cross a state line, and it doesn't pay us to operate locally." There are simply not enough bookmakers in Chicago to make odds-making worthwhile.
In Miami, Chief Investigator Mike Peyton of the Dade County state's attorney's office says, "One thing you can say about the law, and that is that it really struck fear into the bookmakers." A year ago a sport could walk into any one of a hundred Miami stores or hotel cabanas to get down a bet. Now it is difficult to find a bookie. Only a few will take more than $100, and horse odds have slumped from 20, 8 and 4 to 15, 6 and 3. That is, the bookies will pay no more than 15 to 1 for a winning horse, 6 to 1 for place and 3 to 1 for show—alltime lows. Round robins, parlays and even the daily doubles are out.
Miami bookmakers have declined in quality as well as quantity. Says one bettor, "There used to be, well, call it a sense of honor among bookmakers. But now there are nothing but rats left. If you do win, you take a chance on not collecting." This bettor is owed $9,000 by two bookies. "This couldn't have happened a few years ago," he says. "If they didn't pay off then, there were people who would see that they did. Now there aren't."