Despite gambling's unsavory ambience, the darndest people keep flirting with it. In June, United Press International announced that it had worked out a deal with American Sports Advisors to form Telesports Communications Corporation, which is designed to provide up-to-the-minute sports information to subscribers through a computer-printout system in subscribers' homes. The fee would be $299 a month. What kind of sports fan would pay $299 a month for information on injuries, weather, late trades and, of course, Las Vegas odds and point spreads?
Well, American Sports Advisors is a tout service (the four tip sheets it peddles are less elegantly named: The A Play, The Professor's Weekly Report, Big Apple Sports and The Austin Edge). Tout services have come under scrutiny by federal law enforcement officials for possible mail and wire fraud. And while ASA came up clean, even board chairman Ed Horowitz (the Professor himself) calls ASA "the leading company in a gray area."
How gray? Last winter someone at UPI apparently felt uneasy, and two top reporters, Timothy Bannon and Gregory Gordon, were asked to look into ASA. They made a preliminary report but were not assigned to do a story. "What the reporters were asked to do," says UPI spokesman William Adler, "was to provide information. Edit was told a story was not necessary."
But managing editor Ron Cohen, knowing that the wire service prides itself on "integrity and independence," let the reporters do some more digging. After six weeks, they turned in a 2,170-word story that ran on UPI's weekend wire last March 30-31. "The story was good," Cohen says. "We let the chips fall where they may." The story was critical of tip services in general and ASA in particular, claiming that high-pressure phone salesmen promised customers sure winners, failed to fulfill money-back guarantees, sometimes mischarged customer credit cards and in general harassed prospects and customers. The story had Horowitz saying, "The idea of the business is to get as much money as you can up front and, if we're good [i.e., are right with touted predictions], get more. If we don't [expletive deleted]. We'll advertise again."
Horowitz says the charges in the story came from "jealous competitors" and "scam customers," but Bannon and Gordon say, "We wrote what we could prove."
Why then would UPI go ahead with the deal when its own investigation cast serious doubt on the ethical standards of ASA? Money, mostly. UPI has had hard times financially and badly needs another source of revenue. Adler says there is a "safeguard" in the agreement that limits UPI's liability (it is a 25% owner of Tele-sports). "It's a low-risk agreement," Adler says. "It's not our role to moralize on how the information is used."
As for Horowitz, he says he's more concerned about brightening ASA's gray image into a lighter shade. He says he wants to get out of touting and into the "electronic communications" business. "We won't have to worry about winning," he says. "Let them [the bettors] worry about that."
Distance runner Nick Marshall of Camp Hill, Pa. won a 32-hour, 165-mile race from Wheeling to Charleston, W. Va. the other day after catching and passing rival Jack Brinston in the stretch—well, at the 132-mile mark. Brinston dropped out with Achilles tendon problems. Winner Marshall said after the race, "I was chasing him for more than 21 hours. I was very close to exhaustion. All the muscles in my legs were screaming. I thought I was going to run out of time but, fortunately from my standpoint, things didn't go well for him. However, he nearly destroyed me."