Hamstrung by Bobby Kennedy's laws against interstate traffic in gambling, the illegal horse parlor is vanishing, and betting on the other sports is on the way down
September 02, 1962

In 1951, after all the whoop-de-do kicked up by the Kefauver investigations, the House of Representatives and Senate passed two antigambling laws. One required a bookmaker to buy a $50 federal wagering stamp; the other called for a 10% tax on all bets. But inasmuch as few bookies either paid the tax or bought the stamp, the laws were a joke.

A year ago this month Congress, under prodding from Attorney General Robert Kennedy, took another crack at gambling. This time Congress passed three more bills. Altogether, they could be described as a Mann Act for bookmakers. They prohibit the sending of odds, wagers or gambling paraphernalia across state lines under maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine and/or two or five years in prison.

In view of the tax-stamp fiascos, it would have been reasonable to expect the government to come up a loser again. But the truth, as a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED survey shows, is that the new laws have succeeded surprisingly well. This is not to say that illegal gambling is dead—during the football season it is still possible to get down a $5,000 bet on a game if you know the right person. However, bookmakers all over the country are up against it as they never have been before.

In the first 10 months since the laws were passed, the Federal Bureau of Investigation looked into 4,000 possible violations. Of these, 809 cases were forwarded to the Department of Justice for further study. So far, 95 persons have been indicted and 11 convicted. Eleven out of 4,000 may seem a small number, but the key figure is 809; the FBI does not send on a case unless it is considered "hot."

Kefauver put the Continental Press Service, which furnished results to bookmakers, out of business. Now the new laws have put an end to Continental's illicit successors. Chief among these was Nola News in New Orleans, which closed down for good last fall. This year the Federal Government charged Tom F. Kelly, Tom F. Kelly Jr. and George Kelly of Chicago, scratch sheet publishers, with shipping gambling information across state lines. The government argued that 80% of the sheets were going directly to bookmakers, and on July 31 the Kellys were convicted and fined $5,000 each in Louisville. They are appealing on the grounds that the new laws specifically exclude "newspapers and other similar publications." The Kellys are also fighting a government attempt to cut off their race-result telephone service, which has handled up to 60,000 calls a day.

While off-track betting has declined, at-the-track betting has increased. Frank Pape, former Chicago police lieutenant, now chief of the Arlington-Washington Park police, says, "I think the lack of wire services has curbed activity. The old days of the big bookie giving you the call of the race to determine how you would bet the next race are over. It's made a big crimp in the operations, and, as a result, our mutuels are up considerably even though attendance is about the same."

Other sports betting—baseball, football and basketball—has been cut sharply. Gil Beckley, the No. 1 bookmaker in the country for the last few years, was reduced to operating out of pay phones in Miami hotel lobbies last winter. This winter may be more confining: in October he goes to trial in federal court in New Orleans. Beckley's chief rival for bookmaking honors, Maurice (Red) Dodson, is wandering around seeking haven. He has left Birmingham and last week was in Las Vegas, where gambling is legal, looking for a home. One vendor of football parlay cards has already been sent to prison; Richard A. Styles of Toledo drew three years for transporting them across state lines.

The leading sports handicappers in the country are, shall we say, handicapped. Leo Hirschfield, president of Athletic Publications, Inc. in Minneapolis, has quit. The so-called Minneapolis line is no more. Hirschfield is using the company presses, which used to churn out football and basketball schedules, to print hunting and fishing books. The other top odds-making firm, Angel-Kaplan in Chicago, is about to go out of business. Bill Kaplan, the Runyonesque founder of the firm who goes by such pseudonyms as Pigskin Pete, Patrick F. Gilhooly and Coach Goldberg, suffered a heart attack recently, what with all the wear and tear, and Don Angel, his partner, says he is putting out a daily baseball line "just to keep in." Says Angel, "We're just going to stick around for the World Series to make a price for some guys, then we're going to quit. You can't cross a state line, and it doesn't pay us to operate locally." There are simply not enough bookmakers in Chicago to make odds-making worthwhile.

In Miami, Chief Investigator Mike Peyton of the Dade County state's attorney's office says, "One thing you can say about the law, and that is that it really struck fear into the bookmakers." A year ago a sport could walk into any one of a hundred Miami stores or hotel cabanas to get down a bet. Now it is difficult to find a bookie. Only a few will take more than $100, and horse odds have slumped from 20, 8 and 4 to 15, 6 and 3. That is, the bookies will pay no more than 15 to 1 for a winning horse, 6 to 1 for place and 3 to 1 for show—alltime lows. Round robins, parlays and even the daily doubles are out.

Miami bookmakers have declined in quality as well as quantity. Says one bettor, "There used to be, well, call it a sense of honor among bookmakers. But now there are nothing but rats left. If you do win, you take a chance on not collecting." This bettor is owed $9,000 by two bookies. "This couldn't have happened a few years ago," he says. "If they didn't pay off then, there were people who would see that they did. Now there aren't."

Throughout the South the refrain is the same. Only a few bookies in New Orleans will take a $100 bet on a horse, and in Hot Springs, Ark. the bookies operate on the sneak. This in a town with two gambling casinos, the Vapors and the Southern Club, running wide open.

Up North the pattern persists. New York bookmakers have taken to using telephone answering services to avoid tapped wires. In Washington it is possible to get a bet down across the street from the Justice Department, but police keep bookies on the run. "Anything is possible, but these operations are not as big as anyone would like to believe," says Deputy Chief Roy E. Blick of the metropolitan police. Recent raids have included a big one at the Pentagon, the Navy Department, Walter Reed General Hospital and the Old Soldiers Home.

A bookie isn't even safe these days in the traditionally wide-open towns in the Ohio River Valley. Evansville, Ind., which nurtured such gambling celebrities as Ray Ryan, the oilman, and Jimmie (The Greek) Snyder, the Las Vegas handicapper, is dead, or close to it. In the late 1940s Evansville had 48 books handling anything. But that was all B.K.—Before Kefauver, Before Kennedy. After Kefauver, the number of books dipped to 20, but you could still get a sizable bet down. With Bobby Kennedy, the number has been cut to 10, all furtive "two-bit operations." Says an involuntarily retired Evansville bookmaker, "Kefauver was just looking for headlines. He hurt us, but we still made a living. This Bobby Kennedy is doing the job. Without a wire service, without a telephone, how can you make it? Everybody's afraid to call across the state line into Kentucky. Sometimes I've needed a result in Louisville. Well, I'd drive over to Henderson and call Louisville. But that's a 30-, 40-minute round trip. I had to have my information quicker than that.

"It's not like it was before the Kennedys put through that interstate law. Listen, Dan Topping, you know, the guy who owns the Yankees? Yeah, well, Topping had a friend in Evansville. Every day Topping used to call this friend and give him some horses. He played pretty good, I'm telling you. But no more. I guess Topping is afraid of the interstate law."

Evansville is so bad that during a recent card game at the Elks Club, a former golf pro said he would give any one of his brother Elks $200 as a gift if he could make a $200 bet on a horse for him.

"Here's $400," said the pro, laying the money on the table. "You book me $200 on a horse here in Evansville, and you can keep the other $200." A brother Elk tried to book the bet. It was late evening, and every bookie he called begged time until morning. They needed the time to lay off. Finally, not one would book his bet, and the golf pro wound up with the $400 back in his wallet.

The ex-Evansville bookie has been looking for work in the Newport area, just across the river from Cincinnati. But there, in addition to government heat, George Ratterman, the ex-Notre Dame quarterback, is in office as reform sheriff. It is indicative of Newport's present moral state that the Club Flamingo, a gambling joint run by "Sleep Out Louis" Levinson, is now a twist parlor. Unemployment among gamblers is so rife that several months ago, the local fathers of Newport and next-door Covington went to Washington to ask for assistance as a depressed area. Of all things, they asked the government to locate an income-tax processing center in the vicinity.

"I tried to get on in Newport," says the bookie. "It was laughable. I tell you the town is dying. You think Evansville is clean, Newport is in a coma. I saw this friend up there. He used to be in the numbers racket. He's out on bail now, but he's gonna do at least a year.

"The only action in town was a bingo game. It was going crazy with people, but it was for charity! I saw a sign in Newport. I swear to it. This big club was for sale. There's a sign on the front that read, 'For Sale—See George Ratterman.'

"They got big hotels in Newport worth maybe $800,000. You can buy 'em today for $200,000, but what would you do with 'em? You see, Newport depended on its out-of-town business, the business brought there by gambling. The shutdown has hurt everything in the town. Business people are screaming, everybody is dying. You heard of the Glenn Hotel? That's the place where Ratterman was framed with that stripteaser April Flowers. The Glenn has burned down. How lucky can they get?"

Internal Revenue Service figures bear out the clampdown on Newport. In the fiscal year ending June 30, 1961 Kentucky bookmakers reported accepting $7,650,000 in bets. In the fiscal year ending last June 30 that figure was cut to $2 million. The drop can be directly attributed to Newport, whose bookies took in almost $6 million of the $7,650,000.

In Seattle, "a nickel-and-dime town," the situation is worse than ever. One horseplayer, trying to make a bet on the Kentucky Derby, couldn't find a bookie. He had to trust a friend to take the cash down to Portland to bet it. Clifford Winkler Jr., a Seattle horseplayer, says, "Suppose a fella came to town and said, 'Here's $200 on a horse at Longacres [the local track]. I'll give you $100 of it, but I want you to bet it off the track so I can get a better price.' Well, buddy, there's no place to take him."

Of course, it is possible to bet legally in Nevada. But despite the clampdown elsewhere, betting on sports or horses will not grow appreciably in Vegas; the bettor must pay the 10% federal tax. Business is so bad that Jimmie The Greek, the last of the oddsmakers, plans to quit at the end of the year. There is not a book in town that isn't up for sale or losing money. One bitter Vegas bettor says, "They lost in Laos, they lost in Cuba, they lost in East Berlin, but they sure are giving the gamblers a beating."

PHOTOG. E. ARNOLDBLEAK HORSE ROOM in a southern city, its chairs empty and its odds boards blank, testifies to the effectiveness of the new federal laws.


Judging by all the evidence available to us the new anti gambling and racketeering laws have had an immediate and continuing effect in curtailing gambling profits. Not long after they were passed the operator of the major sports betting information wire service shut down, saying, "Too old to go to jail." Most of the other race wire services also have shut down and we are moving against the rest.

While there are no reliable statistics on the amount of illegal gambling in the United States, we do know that betting on football last fall dropped off sharply from 1960. And we know from a number of specific cases that there has been a drastic drop in the amount of money handled by individual large scale gamblers.

For example, we recently indicted the operator of a million dollar sport betting operation in a large eastern state on charges of violating the new laws. Our evidence shows that in April of 1960 he handled $110,000 in wagers. In April 1961 the total was $142,000. This year, following passage of the new anti gambling laws, the total was $39,000.

So we have been able to make significant progress in the fight against organized crime. But it is essential that we make further progress. In my opinion, we need the additional anti racket legislation we have recommended to Congress. We need a complete awareness by all people of the serious threat posed by illegal gambling and other forms of organized crime.