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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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"The difference between an amateur and a professional gambler is the difference between a general practitioner and a heart specialist. The only similarity is that they're both called doctors.

"An amateur who wins is just borrowing the bookmaker's money.

"You can't be a successful gambler when you're young. You have to go busted a few times.

"There are no geniuses in gambling. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication and discipline.

"You can't beat the [blackjack, crap] tables because of the PC [percentage] and the limit. The only gambling game you can beat is a game of opinion.

"I don't want good luck. I just don't want bad luck.

"I've been a bookmaker and a player. I respect a good bookmaker. But I admire a player. We're on the outside. We're warriors."

Lefty said his only aim as a handicapper is to pick winners; he isn't concerned with middles and other point games. I had to agree it was a distraction. The way to pick winners, he said, is to remember that football is still decided "in the trenches" and by staying two or three weeks ahead of the linemaker by anticipating a team's changing fortunes. Injuries, he thought, are overrated. Of course I loved him for all of that, since it confirmed my own findings. His insights into the specifics of teams and individuals were so dead-on that I got the feeling of comparing political notes with a stranger who had made the same clearheaded, enlightened discoveries. In some cases he went further than I had, startling and exciting me at once.

We discussed the Vikings- 49ers game. He said, " Alan Page is the greatest lineman in the history of football." I've thought that but never felt compelled to put it that boldly. A bettor knows Page's worth because he creates such havoc, forcing fumbles and interceptions, that he is indirectly responsible for many scores. ( Fran Tarkenton once said that if he were starting a franchise Alan Page would be his first choice, over any quarterback.) I said I liked the 49ers because they run just well enough to throw effectively. He said that without Ken Willard in top form San Francisco doesn't run that well. I said Vic Washington was a pretty good football player. He cut me dead with, "He's a fumbler." (some pros, wise guys, players I've met have impressed me with their knowledge of the turnover tendencies of various teams and individuals. I haven't concentrated on that as much as I should. Pro Football Weekly runs a turnover chart that can be a valuable aid.) I said I liked Steve Spurrier. Lefty said he did, too, "But this is his first big game. Experience is a factor in a big game." I pointed out that Spurrier passed for 300 yards against the Vikings in his only start against them. Lefty repeated firmly, "Experience is a factor."

I was chastened by this exchange. It is perfectly plain why people all over the country are waiting for Lefty Rosenthal to bet. He does his homework. He knows the game.

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