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'HEY, GREEK, WHO DO YOU LIKE?'
Frank Deford
September 08, 1980
Mrs. Synodinos had lofty ambitions for little Dimitrios. He would play the violin and be a priest or a lawyer. Instead, he became Jimmy The Greek, Oddsmaker to the Nation
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September 08, 1980

'hey, Greek, Who Do You Like?'

Mrs. Synodinos had lofty ambitions for little Dimitrios. He would play the violin and be a priest or a lawyer. Instead, he became Jimmy The Greek, Oddsmaker to the Nation

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THE FALL LINE

Ronald Reagan vs. Jimmy Carter

5-2 Reagan

John Anderson's presidential chances

25-1 against

George Brett hitting .400

5-2 against

Passage of the ERA

5-1 against

Larry Holmes vs. Muhammad Ali

11-5 Holmes

The Dow Jones hitting 1,000 in '80

5-2 if Reagan

Pitt finishing No. 1 in college football

3-1 against

The Yankees vs. the Orioles in AL East

Yankees 1-3

Jack Kemp ever becoming President

12-1 against

Ted Kennedy becoming President in '84

5-1 against

The U.S. retaining the America's Cup

U.S. 4-1

Favorite in the NFC East

Dallas 8-5

Favorite in the NFC Central

Chicago 7-5

Favorite in the NFC West

L.A. 1-4

Favorite in the AFC East

Jets 2½-1

Favorite in the AFC Central

Pittsburgh 4-5

Favorite in the AFC West

San Diego 2½-1

Pittsburgh repeating in the Super Bowl

7-2

Oakland switching permanently to L.A.

3-1 yes

—Issued Aug. 31, 1980.

When Jimmy The Greek came to prominence more than 20 years ago, he would give you a line on anything, and he would tell droll tales about growing up a gambler in a wide-open town—"I was 25 before I knew it was illegal to bet." But of himself, of how this character was formed, The Greek was very guarded. He would deflect inquiries by saying things like, "That's the past. That's history. It's over now. What's the use of discussing it?" He was just a businessman whose field was wagering, just a family man. "Don't put a cigar in my mouth." Don't stereotype me. But, of course, everyone did. The Greek. Vegas. "Who's your father got a contract out on now?" the other kids would ask his children at school.

The Greek is, however, a man you should study first through his hands. Jimmy is heavy now, much too overweight, but his hands—and his feet—are not soft, not fleshy. They remain fine, nearly dainty; it is almost as if they belonged to someone else, which, in a way, they did. They were meant for a violin player long ago. But what's the use of discussing that? That's past. There have been tragedies in The Greek's life, odds—yes—against himself and his family that he refused to accept. That made it difficult if you were an oddsmaker. So he let them put a cigar in his mouth; he dressed himself in a gold chain and the royal we and became a generic character.

Now he is 61, in the autumn of his life, and in a sense, autumn 1980 will be the apogee of all his life, too. Pro football has always been The Greek's prime sport and politics has become his favorite game. And this is the fall of a presidential election year, with The Greek a national television celebrity of the first water. This is the brightest moment. Other times were more fun, perhaps, more spectacular; but the trail is done winding. There is more comfort and respectability to The Greek's life now than there has been since the day he gave up the violin. "The reason he acts like such a kid," says his daughter, Stephanie, 21, "is that Daddy never had a childhood himself."

He lives now not in some Vegas condominium, as everyone imagines, but in the Piedmont, tucked deep away in the woods of Carolina, in a perfectly appointed mansion, the epitome of good taste. Everything in every room fits: the paneling, the great windows, the cathedral ceiling, the furniture, the many Steuben glass objects, the paintings. "Look at that," Jimmy says, pointing to a storage area, "$30,000 worth of paintings we can't even put up."

His wife, Joan, decorated the house, but Jimmy was the one who found it; he moved his family there last year. "The first time I looked at it I came out on the deck, and it all seemed so familiar, all these trees, the crick down below," he says. "And then I knew why: it was like the time I won a big bet and bought my father and stepmother a house back in Steubenville. I thought when I came here I was only escaping from the cement jungle, but it was really going back to Steubenville." There, in Ohio, was where he spent the childhood he didn't have.

The new house is huge. And Jimmy gives Joan and his family everything they want. In fact, he often gives them more than they want, perhaps trying somehow to compensate for the one thing he cannot give his eldest son, Jamie. Stephanie shakes her head ruefully. "I don't care about a mink coat or the $6,000, whatever it is, to fix up my room," she says. "Daddy doesn't have to spend money on me like that. I'm not ungrateful. I just get so tired of hearing about money in this house."

Greek, are you happy? "Well, I have to travel too much and be away from home, but I know my family has everything they want. They have everything."

Nowadays, Jimmy gets very mad if anybody refers to him as a gambler. He only gambles recreationally now, although his idea of betting just for fun is somewhat more than penny ante around the family-room gin-rummy table. But no longer does he gamble for a living. "When nobody gambled, we did," he declares. "Now everybody gambles, and we don't."

The we is Jimmy. He talks a great deal in the first-person plural and frequently in the second-person singular. "Sometimes you can be proud that we've done as much as anyone to get rid of the image that gamblers are second-class citizens," he says. "Why, the biggest gambling today is done at the country clubs. That's where our numbers are used the most."

The Greek, Mr. Snyder, wants honor, the esteem that comes with success and age and money. Within his own world, where he is at ease, he is awarded this respect, too. He is in the dining room at Belmont. A gambler at another table calls to him.

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