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Bet, book and handle
Larry Merchant
September 03, 1973
'Life,' wrote Damon Runyon, 'is 6-5 against.' At least in that game there's no vigorish—the 11-to-10 odds a bookie gets on each football bet, which constitutes his edge. As if he needed it. Twelve to 15 million Americans bet pro football on any given Sunday (or Monday), and unless they're wagering against each other, sooner or later almost all of them lose. In the 1972 season the author set out to see if he could buck the odds, have fun and find true love. 'The National Football Lottery,' to be published this month by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, describes his quest. The following excerpts deal with some of the characters he met from New York to Las Vegas (left). P.S. He won $17,309
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September 03, 1973

Bet, Book And Handle

'Life,' wrote Damon Runyon, 'is 6-5 against.' At least in that game there's no vigorish—the 11-to-10 odds a bookie gets on each football bet, which constitutes his edge. As if he needed it. Twelve to 15 million Americans bet pro football on any given Sunday (or Monday), and unless they're wagering against each other, sooner or later almost all of them lose. In the 1972 season the author set out to see if he could buck the odds, have fun and find true love. 'The National Football Lottery,' to be published this month by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, describes his quest. The following excerpts deal with some of the characters he met from New York to Las Vegas (left). P.S. He won $17,309

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"How so?"

He explained why the Chiefs were not bettable for several games in the late '60s. Martin said two or more players were involved in a point-shaving conspiracy. He said they had an acquaintance bet $1,500 for each of them against themselves. The acquaintance, naturally, added something of his own. Suddenly a man who was betting a thousand or two was betting $5,000 or more.

"It pyramids," Martin said. "The bookie they were dealing with smelled something so he bet another bookie $10,000, and so on right down the line until someone in Texas tried to win the whole world. He bet $200,000."

An alarm, a red light, a siren and sun-spots went off, alerting the betting community to a probable coup. The Chiefs were taken off the board.

In the course of our discussion on dumps of the past, Martin mentioned a player whose name rang an alert-bell in my head. This player once got himself penalized to avert a late touchdown that would have affected the result for bettors. The player is the one identified by my confessed dumper as having arranged a fix with 11 teammates.

Martin said he was not suspicious of hanky-panky this season nor has he had strong suspicions since the Chiefs. He said there was an NFL official he was "curious about." If his curiosity was aroused again he would first check every game the official worked and then collate that with his memory of where the important money came from on those games. If there is a significant trend, Martin said, he would make sure it got back to Commissioner Pete Rozelle somehow.

"The money always shows up here," Martin said, meaning that whenever and wherever big money is bet in America it will be reflected in Las Vegas, meaning with himself. I asked him why this was so. He cited two reasons that The Mover gave—few big offices, few of those remaining that will take big bets close to game time—and a third.

"We pay," he said. "Some people might not."

What did he mean by that?

He had a parable. "A few years back the mob declared themselves partners with a bookie in Baltimore," he said. "This was in the baseball season. The first week they lost. The second week they lost. The third week they lost. The fourth week they lost. The fifth week the mob declared itself out. They don't like to lose."

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