SI Vault
 
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
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
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

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

"Do you do that in your business? Do you cheat your boss?"

"No. Because he treats me decently. When business is good he gives bonuses. He talks to me. He treats me like a human being. I take pride in the organization."

"Do you bet?"

"No. A few years ago a guy I knew as a player called me up and said he had information. I followed him for a while and we won. Then we lost, so I quit. I still can't pick winners."

THE MAIN MAN

Bob Martin ran a bookmaking operation with two associates in a house across the street from the State Department in Washington (laying odds, no doubt, on everything from the Berlin Airlift to the Bay of Pigs). They were arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to up to five years in prison. The case went to the Supreme Court, stewarded by Edward Bennett Williams, the trial lawyer who is now president of the Redskins. Evidence had been gathered through presumably illegal eavesdropping equipment.

Bob Martin was so certain the verdict would be reversed that he took 10-to-1 odds from one of his associates, $1,000 to $100, that the decision would be 9-0, unanimous, a forfeit. When the decision was handed down he was sunning in Miami.

"I knew what the call was about as soon as I got it," Martin said in his office at the Churchill Downs Race and Sports Book, one of several bookmaking emporiums in Las Vegas. ( Martin is no longer with Churchill Downs, now being employed at the Dunes Hotel.) "I didn't ask for the verdict, I asked for the score. It was unanimous."

Bob Martin is 53 years old. He has a prominent forehead and Nixon-like jowls and brown X-ray-vision eyes that give him the look of a wise old cherub. He grinned warmly as he spun the yarn, relishing it, I thought, because yarns like this are the chocolate souffle of the eight-course banquet that the world of gamesmanship is to him.

"I middled a Supreme Court decision," he said, delighted to see the glee in my baby blues.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19