SI Vault
Robert H. Boyle
October 01, 1956
A rare behind-the-scenes report on the men who set the odds for a nation's bets on spectator sports
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October 01, 1956

The Illegal Whole's Legal Half

A rare behind-the-scenes report on the men who set the odds for a nation's bets on spectator sports

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A few gamblers have adapted Silverman's techniques, and some have improved upon them. Perhaps the best one, with amazing sources of inside football information, was an Ohio bettor, now in semiretirement. In the 1940s he ranged far and wide through football-rich Ohio and Pennsylvania, spotting prospective college stars while they were still high school juniors. The bettor would become acquainted with a promising lad, and, after expressing an avuncular interest in his future, offer to pay his way through school. The boy's parents would enthusiastically consent, and the bettor would then notify a college in mind that he had just the quarterback the coach was looking for. There was no need to worry about a scholarship, the bettor would inform the school, he was taking care of everything. Within a few years, he had put a considerable number of boys through college, not one of whom ever knew his benefactor's real occupation. There was no reason why the boys should have. He never asked them to play their best or worst; he never sought to influence them in any way. All he would do was call up a boy at one college on a Friday night, ask about his marks, then turn the conversation to the big game the next day. Having learned that the fullback pulled a leg muscle, he would then call the boy at the rival college to see how that team was doing. By comparing notes, he was able to make a killing. Naturally he was happy. And so were the boys. Several of them became All-Americas, and a few are now coaching.

But the greatest bettor of them all is the aforementioned securities analyst. Universally respected for both his brains and integrity, the analyst is, so to speak, the Supreme Court of betting. Many betting disputes are sent to him for adjudication, and, in rendering decisions, he has made any number of rulings that have become part of betting's extensive but unwritten law.

In 1947 Alabama was a 14-point favorite over Miami in a Friday night game in the Orange Bowl. Several bettors heard a weather forecast that reported a bad storm was headed toward Miami. They took Miami and the 14 points, reasoning that the wind and heavy rain would make scoring all but impossible. But the rains were so torrential that officials postponed the game until Saturday night. The storm passed, and the next night the weather was fine. That night Alabama defeated Miami 21-6, and thus the bettors who had taken Miami lost 21-20. But they wouldn't pay up. They protested that the game had not been played on Friday night as scheduled. The analyst got the case, and after brooding about the problem, reluctantly ruled that all bets were off. Since then no bet on a sporting event, except for outdoor boxing, carries over to the next day.

Last year a pro football exhibition game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Giants in Portland, Ore. caused considerable controversy. It was a night game, and just before it started, at about the time bookmakers and gamblers in the East were going to bed, both teams agreed to a sudden-death overtime in event of a tie. The Rams were favored. The game ended in a tie, and in the overtime the Rams won 23-17. The Giant bettors, on the losing end, protested. There had been no announcement of the sudden-death overtime in the event of a tie. They had bet on a football game, and a football game has only four quarters. The analyst's verdict: sudden-death overtime, even though not announced, is part of the game.

The most recent dispute occurred last August 31. It involved a game between the Phils and Pirates at Pittsburgh. Harvey Haddix of the Phils was favored over Ron Kline of the Pirates. Haddix was announced as the starting pitcher, but he hurt his back while warming up. Granny Hamner, an infielder, went in to pitch for Haddix. The Pirates won 6-3. The bookmakers demanded that the bettors who had bet on Haddix pay up. He had been announced as the starting pitcher, his name appeared in the box score. Officially there was no doubt that Haddix was the starting pitcher. But the Haddix bettors refused. And the analyst agreed with them. He ruled that all bets were off. His reasoning: a starting pitcher is not a starting pitcher unless he pitches at least one ball in the game.

There are those who seriously contend that the analyst, endowed as he is with a Solomonlike mind and an uncanny way with numbers, would have made the greatest Secretary of the Treasury in U.S. history. When asked about this, the analyst demurred.

"I'd much rather have been Secretary of State," he replied with genuine modesty. "I think I could have done something there. During the war I offered 3 to 1 the Russians would be at our throats when it was over. My friends just said, 'Ah, you're nothing but an economic royalist.' "

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