By In the huddle with Fran 4.0
Along time ago I did a piece for Playboy, " Jimmy the Greek’s Crash Course on Vegas." In preparation I read everything I could find on gambling. Then I went to Vegas for a week.
Most of the article dealt with table games—blackjack, craps or slots. But there was a reference to sports betting. The Greek referred to a "straddle", a rare but profitable occasion when you could bet opposite sides of the same NFL game and win both. This was occasioned by a huge outpouring of wagers on the home teams in both markets, with a corresponding change in the odds. You would need to know a bookmaker in, say, both Philly and New York, and that the odds were, in fact, different. Has the prevalence of national sports betting sites eliminated the straddle? There are still local bookies, of course, but can odds fluctuate by city?
Perhaps most interesting was something not in the Playboy article. As a matter of routine, I taped all our conversations, as much to catch the flavor of the interview as the facts. At one point we were talking about bribery and sports—the Black Sox, the City College point-shaving scandals.
The Greek: Some NFL games had the iron in them.
Me: Iron in them, meaning they were fixed?
The Greek: Yeah. Turn off the damn tape.
Me: How do you know about this.
The Greek: I know. Everybody knows.
The Greek named a famous NFL player who, he alleged, had taken a bribe on several occasions. He named the player—never a Giant—but I won’t. The Greek isn’t around anymore, and neither is the player. I pressed him for details—the size of the bribe, was it paid for a loss or a lower point total. I got stony silence.
Do I believe him? I do. When you spend concentrated time with someone you sense when they are being straight or bsing you. And as a practical matter, in those days players’ salaries were relatively modest, and an offer to, say, double or triple your annual income might appeal. The phrase, "Everybody knows" might have included Pete Rozelle, and it would help explain his unyielding hostility to sports betting.
And then there is Donald Rumsfeld’s dictum. "There are things you know, and things you don’t know. And things you don’t know you don’t know".
Some months later The Greek invited my wife and me to the Bahamas, which had become a client, "Jimmy the Greek says, Odds are it’s better in the Bahamas." On the plane flying down, a chatty woman across the aisle suggested I didn’t have to go to Nassau to gamble. I could do it in New York. She offered an address and a password.
Back in New York a week or so later, my wife and I went to the address, a bijou townhouse in the East 60’s between Madison and Fifth. If you don’t know this area, it is one of old money, and a lot of it. Feeling slightly foolish—could an illegal casino really be on this block?— we went to the given address, took a tiny elevator to the third floor, and knocked on the only door. A peephole opened. "Charlie sent us" I offered. The door swung open —I noticed the steel reinforcement on the inside—and we entered the casino. Staff wore the white shirts and black trousers familiar from casinos everywhere. Two very large men in sports jackets, arms folded across their chests, surveyed the room. The survey embraced several blackjack tables, a craps layout and a roulette wheel. This was a Saturday afternoon, and only a few punters were present. We dutifully each lost 20 bucks at blackjack. Before we left, I signed the guest book with my name and address. Over the next few months I received multiple invitations to other casinos on the East side of Manhattan. The most memorable was an engraved card for a New Years Eve party, Bubbles and Baccarat, black tie requested.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio.