On July 14, 1966 at 2:50 in the afternoon, a time when bookmakers' clerks stop taking bets based on the afternoon line, a blue steel door opened cautiously from Apartment 5C, a $126.50-a-month efficiency at Manhattan's 336 East 81st Street. Instantly Detective Doug Ferrary jammed his foot into the opening and the compact room built for one was overrun by eight members of the New York Police Commissioner's Confidential Investigating Unit. One detective told the room's two occupants, both fortyish, to sit down. Others picked up things like The National Armstrong Daily scratch sheets. In doing so, the police made the obvious mistake of turning their backs on the two men.
But they always do something like that. After waiting for the sound of something hitting the uncarpeted floor, Ferrary pivoted and took, as abandoned property, a small white pad one of the men had tossed behind a striped couch. "Chief, we'll go over five and a felony," Ferrary said, passing the pad to Howard Gardner, the squad's scholarly-looking deputy chief. Gardner readily saw that the 45 slips on the pad would total more than $5,000 in bets—enough to charge the men with a felony. The first page read "Lee #1, Koufax 3 act.," meaning that pay-and-collect No. 1 had taken Lee's bet for $3,000 that Sandy Koufax would beat the Mets. A second sheet was marked "Lefty for #40, Gt. 2 act. 5/6 if Perry, E/no Perry, IF 5/7 Twin 1.5 act.," indicating that No. 40 took Lefty's bet for $2,000 on the Giants (to beat the Phillies) at 5-to-6 odds if Gaylord Perry pitched, even odds if he did not pitch, and if Lefty won, $1,500 would ride on the Twins at 5-to-7 odds to win, too. The third slip read "Doc for #1 bg 4 d/Syncom & Calama Su Ke w/Defoliate," code for a doctor's two $400 bets on Aqueduct's daily double.
Statistics indicate that scenes like this occur on the average of 27 times a day in New York and 288 times in the U.S., because apartments and phone booths, not Las Vegas' legal sports books, are where most bets are processed. Information about such bets emerges from today's intensive drive on bookmakers by honest police in the 49 states where organized betting (outside racetracks) is illegal, by the FBI when interstate gambling is involved and by the Internal Revenue Service when bookies fail to buy a gambling tax stamp and pay a 10% tax on all bets: seized betting slips show that more money is bet with bookies on baseball, basketball, football and horse racing than is bet at the nation's legal racetracks and spent to attend all major league sports. The annual total, estimates the Justice Department, is at least $7 billion.
Specifically, Internal Revenue's agents often find in a quiet, semifurnished room two beer drinkers—taking bets only by phone—with gross receipts larger than, say, those of the Baltimore Orioles. "Locating bookmakers who handle $1 million a month is not uncommon at all," says A. Robert Manzi, IRS's assistant director of intelligence. "Our agents even caught a bookie who worked across from the IRS office in Baltimore and ate lunch in the IRS employees' cafeteria. He had records showing he'd taken $365,949 in baseball and football bets in a month."
This phenomenon flourishes because bettors seek out bookies for quite uncomplicated reasons. Horseplayers, who place a large percentage of all illegal bets, find a bookie's telephone more accessible than the track. Many bettors are stubbornly loyal to perennial winners even after they become perennial losers. "Wives call police every day trying to turn in a bookie because their husbands lose the grocery money betting the Yankees," says Howard Gardner. "Seems the husband claims he's been winning as a Democrat and Yankee fan for 30 years and is not about to change now. Our information shows that Yankee fans bet much more than Met fans and, with the Yankees losing regularly, bookies are enjoying it."
Bettors also come in two styles, inveterate and intermittent, and two sizes, giant and economy. The inveterate giant size begins with men like "Orange for No. 10," a code given a rasp-voiced factory owner in lower Manhattan by a bookie whose phones are wiretapped by police. Orange bets around $4,000 a week, dividing it among all major league baseball games—which moved Police Sergeant Harvey Gunson to predict: "One dull Monday when no one is playing in the majors he'll go for the Texas League games." Last week Orange lost $420. The previous week he won $175. But, by agreement, he pays or collects only when his account exceeds $500.
An isolated case? Indeed not. Confiscated records verify that one New Yorker lost $103,000 on a Chicago Bears- Green Bay Packers game in 1964. Twelve men bet at least $100,000 once a year on a football game, and one bets $500,000 each year on football. "There is constant activity in the $100,000 sports bet," says IRS's Robert Manzi. "Besides that, we know of about 3,000 men who have a bookmakers' credit rating of some $2,000 each week, and nearly 400 men who have a credit line of $10,000 or more."
Just who the economy-size bettors are, the ones risking something more like $40 a week, is disclosed by the following locations of gambling raids: the Pentagon and Navy Annex buildings in Washington; a beatnik pad in Greenwich Village where a small baby slept under a fox coat; a shop near New York's Mt. Sinai Hospital where so many customers wore white that an IRS agent easily infiltrated it by wearing a doctor's jacket; a Fu Manchu-type hideout in New York's Chinatown in which three clerks wearing green eyeshades and using newspaper names as a code for racetracks worked in a basement concealed by two phony walls, three hidden doors, four trapdoors and removable broken steps.
Since bettors usually stick to a bookie the way men patronize one barber, bookies seldom leave their area regardless of pressure. That much seemed apparent recently as Deputy Inspector John Guido, a stocky member of the New York police's Confidential Unit, took a sledge hammer from a black automobile. "Couple of weeks ago we knocked this bookie's door off the hinges right over there," he said, pointing toward York Avenue. "Today he's probably back in business a few blocks away. That's because his trade's here, not across the river."
Passionate bettors, moreover, guarantee bookies guerrillalike loyalty. "They attract so much sympathy that we don't have much chance to nail them by going into a building and asking about a bookie," adds Guido. "We have to sneak through the coal bin on the assumption that nearly everybody's a bookie's lookout." Lookouts often turn militiamen during emergencies, fighting bitterly, as they did a year ago, for example, when 85 IRS agents moved through Boston's North End beating down doors of bars, bakeries and variety stores and arresting 23 alleged bookies. First came insults from hecklers in windows, the nicest being, "Did Leif Ericson send you bums?" Then agents fell under such a barrage of tomatoes, eggs and bowls of leftover food that they had to radio the police for help.