The game was long over, but the action was just beginning. J.A.
Davis, a 23-year-old Texas Tech senior, fought against the flow
of departing fans as he weaved down the concrete aisles of Jones
Stadium in Lubbock. He was in search of a better seat to catch
the closing minutes of the Red Raiders' made-for-ESPN Thursday
night football game against No. 1 Nebraska on Sept. 8. It didn't
matter to Davis that Tech was already soundly beaten -- it
trailed 35-16 with barely two minutes to play -- or that
Nebraska had the ball. In his world, wins and losses are
secondary to point spreads and over-unders, and on this day
Davis had taken the Cornhuskers, giving 25-1/2 points.
``Two hundred bucks I had riding on that game,'' recalls Davis.
``Lots of people had Nebraska, giving 27, 28 points -- you never
bet on Texas Tech -- but I got in with my bookie at 25-1/2.''
Nebraska, with third-and-one on the Tech 30, the clock running.
Davis, dying the slow, hopeless death of a gambler longing for
points from a team that doesn't need any. ``I'm thinking, This
can't be happening,'' says Davis. ``I'm going to lose 200 bucks,
220 with the juice [the vigorish, the bookie's 10% commission on
losing bets], and be down going into the weekend.'' Then a
bettor's miracle occurred: The Huskers scored a trash touchdown,
running back Clinton Childs going 30 yards on a sweep. Kicker Tom
Sieler's vital PAT pushed the margin to 26, covering the spread
and turning Davis into a winner.
Davis celebrated with a friend who also had $200 on the
Cornhuskers, also spotting 25-1/2. ``I had no right to win,''
Davis says, ``but it gave me a jump on the weekend.'' College
football: the color, the pageantry.
Meet the Juice Generation. For them, finance isn't a major, it's
knowing how to spread $1,000 in wagers over 10 Saturday college
football games and stay alive for Sunday's and Monday's NFL bets
with a zero balance in their checkbooks and their credit cards
maxed out. Class participation is sitting in the back of a lecture
hall with Vegas-style ``spreadsheets'' laid out, plotting a week's
worth of plays on games from Seattle to Miami. Communication is a
desperate call to some 1-900 tout service in search of this week's
Lock of the Year. Road trip is a drive through the desert to Las
Vegas or across Midwestern plains to Native American and riverboat
casinos, both of which have proliferated like Home Depots.
April 2, 1995
There is nothing in the collegiate rite-of-passage handbook about
gambling. There are chapters on alcohol, drugs and sex laid out
against a backdrop of winking acceptance. Kids. Society has hacked
out a neutral zone of sorts and allowed undergraduates to briefly
frolic in it. But gambling? Who knows from gambling -- in
particular sports gambling -- on campus? It is the dirty little
secret of college life in America, rampant and thriving. ``It's
ubiquitous, it's popular, it's pervasive,'' says psychologist
Michael Frank of Richard Stockton College in Pomona, N.J., one of
a scant few academicians who has studied the phenomenon.
``Wherever you go in the country, you're going to find access to a
bookmaker. It's true in casinos, it's true at the General Motors
plant, and it's true on college campuses all over the country.''
Not only true, but pandemic, according to William (B.J.) Jahoda,
52, who for nearly 10 years ran a $20 million a year illegal
sports-betting operation for Chicago mob don Ernest Rocco
Infelice. Upon being told that SI was doing a story on campus
gambling, Jahoda said, ``It's about time. What's taken you so
long?'' Jahoda, who is in the U.S. marshal's witness-protection
program after testifying for the government against Infelice and
mob enforcer Robert Salerno, said, ``You see gambling on every
campus. It is an epidemic. It really has been out of control.''
This outbreak might seem inconsequential, considering that
legalized gambling is a growth industry in the U.S. However, most
of the gambling that college students do is not legal. And just as
we think of colleges as institutions of higher learning, so it is
with gambling. ``A kid finds a bookie on campus, he learns about
gambling, he gets hooked,'' says Arnie Wexler, a leading
consultant on problem gambling. For every college kid who derives
nothing but entertainment from his betting, there is another who
cons his parents to get money to cover his gambling losses,
another who becomes so consumed with betting that he tosses away
an education and another who plunges into gambling addiction. It
is far from harmless recreation.
Hard information on campus gambling -- on any gambling -- is
scarce. There have been only two broad, national studies of
gambling. The first, in 1974, found that 61% of the U.S.
population gambled. The second, a Gallup poll in '89, raised that
figure to 81% and concluded that 31% of adults gambled weekly.
``I'm sure that first number is at least 85% now; gambling is
growing at a phenomenal rate in the United States,'' says Henry
Lesieur, chair of the criminal justice department at Illinois
State University and the acknowledged dean of American gambling
Lesieur headed a panel that in 1991 published the only widespread
study of gambling among college students. The study, with surveys
at six schools in five states, concluded that 23% of the students
gambled at least once a week.
That's it for numbers, because gambling, on campus and off, is
difficult to quantify. ``It's very hard to estimate illegal
gambling,'' says sociologist Rachel Volberg, who has overseen
several more narrowly focused studies of gambling. ``We get a very
low rate of responses to questions about sports betting with
bookmakers. The numbers are affected by that difficulty.''
Yet during two months of research, SI found that it was nearly
impossible to visit a campus in search of organized gambling and
not find either 1) sophisticated on- or off-campus bookmaking
operations with a large student clientele or 2) legal casinos
within a short distance of the schools, easily accessible to
underage students (box, page 84) -- or both. Tom Decker, a retired
FBI agent who investigated sports gambling, says, ``You'd be
shocked at how easy it is for kids to get involved in gambling and
how many of them do. You and I could go into a bar in Athens,
Georgia, right now, and within minutes we'd have the name of a
bookie. Within minutes.'' (In fact you could bypass the bar and go
straight to the University of Georgia campus, but we'll come back
``It's such a hidden thing on college campuses,'' says Wexler, a
recovering compulsive gambler for 27 years. ``But if you saw what
happens when I go to a college campus and do a presentation and
then ask the audience how many of them gamble, it would blow your
mind. One hand goes up, and then another, then another. . . .''
Occasionally illegal college gambling operations will come to the
public's attention, usually when they've run afoul of the police.
Since 1992 this has happened at Michigan State, Maine, Rhode
Island and neighboring Bryant College, Texas, Arizona State and
Northwestern. Sometimes college athletes are involved (Maine,
Rhode Island, Bryant, Northwestern), which gives the incident a
longer public shelf life. But college officials often dismiss the
incidents as isolated and blame unsavory outside characters for
corrupting their youth. The views of James Rund, interim associate
vice president for student affairs at Arizona State, are typical.
Of the busting of four students at his school in February 1994 for
helping to run a bookmaking operation, Rund says, ``To
characterize it as a student gambling ring is an exaggeration and
probably an inaccurate depiction of the circumstances.'' He says
this despite the fact that names of members of 15 of Arizona
State's 22 fraternities appeared in betting records seized by
Busting gambling rings is labor-intensive work for
law-enforcement agencies, and there's little chance that those
apprehended and found guilty will receive heavy penalties since
much of the public considers gambling a victimless crime. ``The
payoff is trivial,'' says Frank, meaning that perpetrators
seldom receive long jail sentences (or any jail sentences at
all). Interest fades.
Yet consider the evidence that gambling is a booming, nationwide
The aforementioned ring busted in February 1994 by the Tempe
(Ariz.) police was operated by a 30-year-old former Tucson
sportscaster, who was assisted by four Arizona State fraternity
brothers. Of the 245 betting accounts uncovered, 140 belonged to
fraternity members at the university. Police suspect at least 60
other Arizona State students were also book clients. An average of
nearly $120,000 a month was wagered, mostly by students, through
the book between August 1993 and February '94.
Andrew Stewart, a 24-year-old senior at Georgia, ran a
basketball-betting operation out of an apartment near campus
until early March, when he quit because he and his two partners
were owed more than $10,000 by his clientele. The operation has
been assumed by two other Georgia undergraduates. Stewart, who
like all the other students in this story agreed to speak to SI
only if he was identified by a fictitious name, says that the
operation has 170 clients, ``about a quarter'' of whom bet
nightly. Stewart's client list was culled from the 220 names in
a friend's football book. How many of them are students? ``All
of them,'' says Stewart. ``I know just about all of them.'' He
and his two partners, both students, handled roughly $4,000 on a
good night in basketball business, $10,000 on a busy Saturday,
up to $75,000 a month.
Brian Cole, a 24-year-old marketing major at Clemson, ran a
$100,000-a-month betting operation during the 1993-94 school
year, with a 54-student client list. Most of his clients carried
other bettors on their accounts.
J.P. Browman, a 23-year-old senior at Florida, for the last four
years operated a book that catered exclusively to students at
his university. J.P. has a wiretap detector on his phone, a
mnemonic phone number and, he says, $42,000 in profits. His only
regret is that he can't put his bookmaking work on his resume.
Mike Tyler, a 21-year-old sophomore at Texas Tech, has contacts
with five different off-campus bookies in Lubbock and estimates
that at least 200 other students have contacted bookies or made
bets through him. This comes as no shock to Sgt. Tom McDonald of
the Texas Department of Public Safety, who can name 58 illegal
bookmakers in Lubbock County alone and says, ``Nearly every
bookmaker in this town got his start as a student at Texas Tech.''
From the never-too-early-to-get-started department, on March 1
police in Nutley, N.J., busted a student-run sports gambling
operation at Nutley High that took single bets as high as $1,000
and used threats of violence and kidnapping to get losers to pay
up. One prosecutor said the operation was ``sophisticated and
exactly mirrors an adult-run organized crime bookmaking
operation.'' This lends credence to assertions by many college
gamblers that they started betting seriously in high school.
The conclusion is obvious: Gambling sells on campus like Green Day
CDs. And the pervasiveness of campus gambling parallels the
explosion in legal gambling in the U.S. (of which college students
also partake). ``How could a college kid think there's anything
wrong with gambling?'' asks Wexler, a tireless antigambling
proselytizer. ``There's legal gambling everywhere: lotteries,
casinos, racetracks. Forget it.''
But if you are remotely inclined to attach some higher standards
to colleges and universities, if you would like to think of
gambling as an opiate of the streetwise and uneducated, the trend
is disarming. SI found no shortage of savvy 22-year-old bookmakers
and rough-hewn 20-year-old bettors on campus. ``Their behavior is
the same as that of older gamblers,'' says Frank, the Richard
Stockton College psychologist. ``They lie, they deceive, and they
steal. They're just younger.''
And if you're attached to the youthful enthusiasm that surrounds
a college sporting event -- the painted faces, the silly signs,
the reckless support -- there is reason to pause and wonder if
perhaps some small corner of Cameron Indoor Stadium, just to
name one arena, is Crazy because a few of the Crazies took Duke,
minus 4, for $25. And to wonder, also, just how short the jump
is from student to athlete and just how thin the line between
pure competition and fixed games may be. Says Kentucky football
coach Bill Curry, ``There's an awful lot at stake when somebody
asks you, `How's [running back] Moe Williams's shoulder?' ''
GAINESVILLE, FLA.: Lyle Ellington is a 21-year-old senior at
Florida, a tall, athletic-looking fraternity kid. He has been
betting since junior high, when he handicapped horse races at
South Florida tracks. At Florida he became the biggest client for
several prosperous campus bookies, including J.P. Browman.
``The most I ever bet on one game? Twenty-four grand. San Diego
Chargers versus Miami Dolphins in 1991,'' says Ellington. ``I took
the Dolphins -- I always take the Dolphins -- and I was already up
that week, like, 30 grand. Everyone's riding my coattails, so I
decide to push it. I bet 24 G on Miami. Going into the fourth
quarter the Dolphins are up by, like, 13. I'm staring $50,000
dollars in the face. Then Rod Bernstine ripped out my heart.
Scores three ---- touchdowns in the fourth quarter. San Diego
always kills me, though. I remember the Chargers were playing the
Los Angeles Raiders on a Sunday night a few years ago, and I took
L.A., minus 6. The Raiders were up 9-7 with less than a minute
left. Ronnie Lott intercepts the ball and falls to the ground.
That's the way it ended. Cost me 12 grand. I was dying because I
couldn't watch the game. I was pledging my fraternity. It was Hell
``October 23. I have pro bookies, one up north and one in Miami,
and that weekend I lost big-time, probably about $18,000. Add this
up: I took 20 grand from the joint checking account I have with my
mom. I owed, like, 35 grand to Allen, our neighbor, the internist,
who had bailed me out before. I owed 20 grand to another guy -- my
mom still doesn't know about that -- 30 grand to another,
although I've already paid him 17.''
Campus gamblers seem old in much the same sense that college
football players who weigh 280 pounds and bench-press
sport-utility vehicles seem older than their classmates. The
college bettor speaks the language of the trade -- juice, vig,
teaser, parlay, quarter ($25), dollar ($100), push -- and
sometimes deals in amounts that would buy sport-utility vehicles.
It seems out of place in a youthful, academic setting. Gamblers
come equipped with war stories of losing money and winning money,
stories you expect to hear from older, harder men. They have the
ability to make a campus hangout feel like a Keno lounge or a
storefront off-track betting parlor.
In one sense the young men -- and they are almost invariably men,
not women -- arrive on campus predisposed to becoming gamblers.
``First of all, gambling gets you high, like drugs or alcohol,''
says Wexler. ``Second, college kids are smart, and I've never met
a dumb compulsive gambler. They think they can pick winners, and
in the beginning they do. There's always an initial period of
The undergraduate environment is rich with enticements for the
budding sports bettor -- and full of opportunity for failure.
There is no typical gambler: SI found students from wealthy and
modest backgrounds alike who had thrown themselves into betting.
But with the exception of the Southeast, where illegal wagering on
college football is especially fierce, betting patterns across the
country are similar. And bettors do tend to have some things in
common: a degree of sports-obsessiveness (often an athletic past
cut short in college by a lack of talent), a community in which to
share their betting tales (usually a fraternity house) and a
little resourcefulness. They are bright, if often naive. Put
simply, lots of college sports bettors are clever frat-boy jocks
who like to watch games with a crowd and get pumped by betting on
them. And they are often clueless about the realm they have
Jahoda, the former bookmaker for the mob, sees them as pigeons.
``These kids are young and often affluent and always vulnerable,''
he says. ``They are naive. They think they can do no wrong. They
think they're brilliant and they know what they're doing. When
you're young, you're invincible. They're in an atmosphere where
the games are important. Everyone tells them that gambling is
healthy entertainment. They see the spreads on television. They
think that it's healthy and legal and the thing to do.''
Alex Andrews, a 24-year-old former student and admitted
compulsive gambler from Bethesda, Md., who began betting
illegally on sporting events in high school and continued
through four years of fraternity life, recalls that college was
for him a release from the parental controls that contained his
teenage betting: ``There are so many things going on in high
school, things that are forced on you -- you go to school, and
you're expected to do well, you have to play sports, you have to
do things socially -- that even if you're gambling, it isn't the
only thing in your life. I don't think you'll find many high
school kids who, even if they gamble, sit around all day and do
nothing else. But in college it becomes your choice. You're
unsupervised. You can wake up at noon, blow off all your
classes, call the bookie at four o'clock, watch all the games
while you get drunk and then do the same thing all over again
the next day.''
On most campuses illegal sports gambling is seldom further than a
conversation away. Somebody in the dorm knows a bookie. Somebody
in the fraternity house knows a bookie. Somebody in the frat is a
bookie. ``It's so easy,'' says Andy Gale, who finished St. Peter's
College in Jersey City last year and is now in graduate school.
``You can always find one person who knows somebody. If you want
to get a bet down, it's no problem.''
Often the process starts with football parlay cards, sucker
sheets listing the line on an entire weekend's major college and
pro football games. The bettor has to pick at least three games
to win at 5-to-1 odds. The next step is making bets through a
friend who knows a bookie. Eventually the bookie gives the
student an account of his own and a number to use when he calls
in his bets. Often the bookie is also a student, and it is
common to hear college gamblers profess never to have placed a
bet with a ``professional bookie.'' Of course, a student taking
bets is a professional bookie.
College kids are famously quick studies, and betting is a
fascinating and tempting subject. A guy who in September of his
freshman year wouldn't know an underdog from Underdog is by his
junior year routinely parlaying Big Sky basketball with the NBA.
Happens all the time, according to experts on gambling.
The sports-betting priorities of students mirror those of the
adult public: NFL football is most popular, followed by college
football, college basketball and the NBA. One exception to these
rankings is the NCAA basketball tournament, which rivals the NFL
in wagering frenzy.
The typical college plunger begins with $25 bets, frequently
shared with friends, and graduates to $50 and $100 bets. Most of
the bettors wager on far too many games, as many as 20 on a fall
weekend. Given the bookie's built-in 10% edge on losing bets, this
is fiscal suicide.
But no one gets into this with losing in mind.
CLEMSON, S.C.: B.J. Simpson is a 22-year-old senior at Clemson
majoring in German and international trade. He sits in the living
room of a friend's off-campus apartment, dressed in jeans and a
baseball cap. In the background Virginia is playing Duke in
basketball on ESPN.
``I started gambling in '93 when a fraternity brother was doing
it,'' says Simpson. ``Gambling just made the weekends fun. When I
got back into it this past fall, I was normally doing just 25 or
50 bucks a game. There was a Thursday night game; the Cleveland
Browns were playing the Houston Oilers, and I just went nuts. I
had a $100 parlay on the Browns and the under, another $100 on the
Browns straight and another $100 on the under. And I won
everything. I was up like $420 on the night, and I was going out
of my tree. I was downtown that night, going, `I just won $420 by
making a phone call.' But then I lost about $500 over the rest of
``There was a week in late October that I just got killed on my
picks. On Sunday my roommate and I went to this private club to
drink until we blacked out. On Tuesday we bumped into each other
at Sikes [a campus financial building]. I was walking out, he was
walking in. We were both there to get a $200 emergency loan.
``I was dating a girl last semester and she knew pretty much not
to talk to me on Sundays or Monday nights. After a game, if I won,
we'd talk for a little bit. If I lost, I'd just be like, `Look,
it's not going to be a very good week for me. I'll get in touch
with you when I have time.' If I won on a Monday night, I'd call
her and say, `Hey, we're going out to dinner tomorrow night.' If I
lost, it was like, `Well, I guess it's mac and cheese for the next
``I work at a country club. All sorts were betting through me --
waiters, cooks, golf pros. For some reason everybody on my ticket
was just getting waxed on the bowl games. After the North
Carolina-Texas Sun Bowl, my ticket, as a whole, was down $10,000.
I didn't even call in $3,000 in bets on the Tennessee-Virginia
Tech Gator Bowl. There were people I knew that for some reason
were taking Virginia Tech, and there was a total of three grand on
Virginia Tech. I didn't want to call it in because I was so
worried Eddie [his bookie] wasn't going to take it in the first
place. I was just like, Hell with that, I'm booking it myself. It
ended up paying off, thank god. Leading up to that game, I
honestly had a migraine headache. I'd heard people talk about
them, but I never realized what they were like. I had such a pain
in my head for 24 hours a day. I couldn't sleep. My whole
Christmas holiday was one constant migraine.
``After the Tennessee game I told myself I was done for good, but
if I can find a bookie next fall, I guarantee I'll gamble again.
I'm sure it won't be a problem finding another bookie.''
If you are 21 years old, you have been witness to the emergence of
USA Today, ESPN and all those other college football- and
basketball-saturated networks, picture-in-picture television,
widespread use of satellite dishes, published injury reports,
ATMs, the Internet, Jeff Sagarin and Danny Sheridan. In the winter
of 1968 it was a wondrous achievement that TVS was able to bring
Lew Alcindor and Elvin Hayes into our homes. Now we get Iowa State
and Fred (the Mayor) Hoiberg, plus 8, against Kansas at Allen
Sid Diamond, the 59-year-old director of the race and sports book
at the Excalibur Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, stands behind the
counter. (In Diamond's business, ``the counter'' is more than a
slab of Formica, it's the invisible barrier that separates bettors
from bookmakers.) To his right is a wall of glistening white
boards listing the night's games, the scores of which will be
constantly updated in grease pencil. To his left are the entry
cards at a dozen racetracks. Television sets abound, playing a
feast of games and races for an audience that sits in lounge
chairs with armrests. On one side of Diamond, the Warriors and the
Sixers. Behind him, Seton Hall and Pittsburgh. On the other side,
the sixth at Golden Gate.
Diamond, a smallish, grandfatherly man has been on the house side
of the counter for 20 years. ``Look over there,'' he says,
pointing to the racing side of the room. ``All older guys. Now
look over here.'' He points to the seats facing the sports betting
wall, even as the first-half scores on Ivy League basketball games
-- ``Ivy League, who knows Ivy League?'' asks Diamond -- are being
posted. ``Young people,'' he says. Sure enough. To the left,
Sansabelts and loafers. To the right, baggy shorts, T-shirts and
cool hiking boots.
``Fifteen years ago people knew Notre Dame played college
football,'' says Diamond. ``Out here, maybe Southern Cal and UCLA.
Now you can ask people and they can tell you all about Arizona
State and Oregon State. These young people, they form opinions.
Whether those opinions are correct or incorrect, that's not the
point. They're not ignorant. They know what it means to lay 11-
to-10 odds. They know the value of a point spread. You can't fool
anybody anymore in this business. You can beat them, but with all
these communications facilities out there, you can't fool them.
Years ago you could.''
Two miles up the Vegas strip from the Excalibur, Sonny Reizner
makes lines at the Desert Inn. He has been in this business for
more than 20 years. ``There's a young crowd in sports gambling
now,'' says Reizner. ``And there's so much information out there
about betting. These kids might not have the sophistication in
terms of how to bet, but they follow the action.''
Young gamblers embrace a lifestyle that revolves around, of all
things, CNN Headline News's sports ticker, the scoreboard that
runs across the bottom of the screen beneath images of natural
disasters, global politics and O.J. The routine is simple enough:
Watch a game, channel-surf whenever possible to another game and,
when commercials and timeouts clog the air, fire up CNN and cruise
the ticker. ``My god,'' says Clemson's B.J. Simpson, ``I knew more
national and international news than anyone else in my classes.''
Says Ted Moone, a sophomore at Georgia, ``Why do you think they
run that thing, anyway?''
For study materials there is a new generation of electronic and
print icons, and they're not exactly McNeil and Lehrer or the beat
poets. They're anybody with a pick. Touts like the Gold Sheet and
Leonard's Losers. USA Today's Gordon Forbes. And more. ``Nick
Buoniconti's the man, [HBO's] Inside the NFL,'' Conrad White, a
Georgia senior, says of the former NFL star who picks the pro
games each week. ESPN's College GameDay is required Saturday-
morning viewing, ditto that network's NFL GameDay on Sunday. Lee
Corso. Ron Jaworski. Phil Simms. Anybody with a blazer and a
guess. Or a laptop and a guess. J.A. Davis and his Texas Tech
housemates, college guys with a modem, peruse an on-line service
for betting information.
But much of what the student gamblers study is stale information,
already absorbed by the oddsmakers. ``People watch ESPN and read a
few newspapers and think they're informed to bet,'' says Wayne
Allyn Root, a 33- year-old professional handicapper in Las Vegas.
``It's old information, built into the point spread. You have to
find something that the average person doesn't know about. I work
12 hours a day during football season, trying to get information,
and I win between 57 and 62 percent of the time. How does somebody
think he can win by watching SportsCenter? He's going to get
Moreover, with all of this potentially useless research, there is
precious little time for what the NCAA calls degree progress.
``I'd say it's like another three-hour class with Sundays being
the lab,'' says Jay Mitcher, a Clemson junior. ``I sit around
studying that stuff more than my schoolwork.''
ATHENS, GA.: Sonny Martin is hunched over a wobbly wooden table in
the corner of a dumpy off-campus bar on Broad Street. He drinks
from brown bottles of Anchor Steam and chain-smokes. Once a good
high school baseball player, Martin is now a 21-year-old senior at
Georgia. He has debt, a photographic memory of his betting history
and a piker's vision of sports.
``I've always just liked sports a lot. Always been crazy about
March Madness. Always been crazy about the NFL,'' he says. ``I
started betting when I was a sophomore here, just to be more
interested in the games. It's nice to have a team to root for. Me
and my roommate heard that guys in the fraternity were betting on
games. It turns out their bookie was living with one of the
brothers. I got in touch with him, gave him my phone number, he
gave me an account number. That's pretty much the procedure.
``The two of us started out pooling our money and betting about
$25 a game, total. We started out with one game, USC-Arizona. We
took Arizona; the line was Arizona by three. USC won outright, so
we lost $27.50. The next day we put $50 on the Indianapolis Colts.
They were playing New England, and Scott Zolak was the Patriots'
quarterback. New England was horrible. Anyway, that ended up being
New England's first win of the year, so we lost $55 more. So we
put $100 on the Denver Broncos in the Sunday-night game, and they
pulled through for us. The next night we took Miami, and Buffalo
just killed 'em.
``That same year me and my roommate were down $600. He had already
taken out an IFC [Intra-Fraternity Council] loan for $300. We had
$500 on the Rams against the Bucs on Sunday, $300 with one bookie,
$200 with another bookie. Tampa Bay was up 27-3 at the half. We
were pulling furniture into the middle of the room, trying to
figure out how much we could get if we sold it. Then Jim Everett
came back and had the game of his life, and the Rams pulled it out
31-27. It still wasn't enough to get us even.
``I was way up this fall. I turned everybody on to the Steelers.
Basketball's been rough. Four of us together, we're down about
$2,000. I'll tell you, if you're losing money, watching sports is
the worst feeling in the world. You hate the game, you hate
sports. You can't stand them.''
This is what happens: The fan's appreciation of the game is
eroded. Whatever passion the bettor may have had as a fan
dissolves into a flaming desperation, tied to point spreads,
over-unders and multigame wagers like parlays and teasers. We
watch games in this country with blinders on anyway. We delude
ourselves into believing that Dennis Rodman would rebound just as
ferociously for free and that Steve Young wears denim shirts
because he really doesn't care about the money he's paid. And that
is absurd, because to the sports gambler the last Super Bowl
wasn't Young's afternoon of deliverance. There was an 18-point
spread on that game, and had the Chargers scored a garbage TD --
as Nebraska did against Texas Tech -- San Diego would have covered
and to hell with Steve Young and the San Francisco 49ers. You
It works no differently for the college student and his college
games. At first the game is the thing. A kid grows up an Oklahoma
fan, watches all the games, wears crimson on Saturdays, the whole
deal. He goes to college in Norman, starts betting on Sooner
games. Then Missouri games, Nebraska games and Texas games. The
game is no longer the thing. The bet is the thing. Teams are like
horses or numbers on a roulette wheel.
``I used to bet on Vanderbilt all the time in basketball,'' says
Alex Andrews, the admitted compulsive gambler. ``And I still don't
know where Vanderbilt is. Where is Vanderbilt?''
There is a purity attached to college sports; despite the abuses
of recruiting, under-the-table payments to players and the like,
there remains a veneer of joy, shared by athletes and fans. That
is less true in the pros. ``When I was with the New York Knicks,''
says Kentucky basketball coach Rick Pitino, who coached in the NBA
for two seasons, ``I was always amazed at the people who stayed
until the end of a game. Somebody finally told me why: the point
spread. I believe our fans here stay because they love Kentucky
And many of them undoubtedly do. But this is what former mob
bookie Jahoda means when he says of college students who gamble,
``They are in an atmosphere where the games are important. . . .''
The green campus bettor is given to wagering on his own school,
and the gambling lines in college towns are skewed to reflect this
audience. But once the college bettor becomes seasoned, games
become cold propositions. Then it's not the Wisconsin Badgers,
it's Wisconsin, minus 5.
Kevin Woods, a 20-year-old junior at UCLA, likes to bet against
the Bruins in both football and basketball. ``They're my
moneymaker,'' he says. ``They're always a hot pick, because it's
easy to identify the games they won't cover.'' For a February road
game at Southern Cal, UCLA was playing without point guard Tyus
Edney and had lost four of five to the Trojans at the L.A. Sports
Arena. Still, Woods got Southern Cal, plus 9-1/2 -- ``A joke,'' he
says -- and bet $250. UCLA won 73-69, but the Trojans covered.
A bettor turned bookie at Florida named Jerry (Slaw) Davidson
says, ``I went to every home game this season. I made about $400
when Auburn beat us that day, but I would have gladly traded it
for a win.'' Be true to your school.
LUBBOCK, TEXAS: Mike Tyler, the Texas Tech sophomore, stands 6'1",
192 pounds and has the easy presence of an athlete. In fact, he
was a wrestler and a football player in high school. His
fraternity pledge name is Gambler. He is standing on the porch of
a warehouse-cum-cowboy nightclub, wearing a denim jacket and
``First of all,'' he says, ``I can't tell you a lot of horror
stories because I have very few. The reason is because I don't
lose a whole lot of money. I'm what you call a successful bettor.
I know what you're trying to get at here -- some kind of pollution
of innocence type story. Well, I win. I don't mean to glorify
gambling, but I love it, and I don't think I'll ever be able to
``My first season of gambling was in 10th grade, just small stuff.
By the time I was a senior, I won $9,000 in one year. I've lost as
much as $6,000 in one weekend, but I always look at that and
think, Hell, I'll win it back. Last year I won about $4,500, this
year I'm up $2,000. On a Saturday during the fall, I'll bet, like,
12 college games. Tech games are an easy pick. In the winter, by
the way, Lady Raiders basketball is an easy pick. The Lady Raiders
always cover big. A college football game I feel strong about,
I'll bet $500. If I'm just curious, maybe 50 or 60 bucks. On
Sundays I want to bet every one. I'll put down a grand on a big
game. You sit there with the remote control, greatest thing in the
``Everybody gambles around here. To say it's just in the Greek
system, that would be wrong. It's everywhere. I mean, god, I've
probably personally gotten lines with bookies or made bets on my
account for 200 people. I've probably booked bets for 50 or 60
people. A lot of my friends call me to make a bet, honestly, I
just book it myself. I guess I know I have to slow down someday,
but I'll always have a bookie. That won't ever stop. I don't want
it to stop. I came from no income at all, and now I can buy
things. If it wasn't for gambling, I wouldn't have half the things
I have. I live by the stroke of luck.''
Luck is a tributary of the American Dream in the 1990s. Vast
riches that can't be earned can surely be won, can they not? All
You Need Is a Dollar and a Dream, as the folks at the New York
State Lottery used to say. Gambling in one or more forms is legal
in 48 states and Washington, D.C. This includes 37 state lotteries
(plus Powerball, a multistate game, and a three-state lottery in
New England), pari-mutuel wagering in 44 states, bingo in 47
states and a total of 545 casinos (Native American, riverboat and
state licensed) in 22 states, with more opening all the time.
Sports betting is legal in four states, although straight sports
bookmaking is legit only in Nevada (and on a floating casino in
international waters off the coast of Fort Lauderdale).
An upshot of this is a wide acceptance of gambling as an
avocation, gambling as a hobby. ``We're working with the first
generation that has been raised when gambling has been seen as a
positive thing,'' says Roger Svendsen, director of the Minnesota
Compulsive Gambling Hotline, which serves a state where 17 casinos
have been built on Native American reservations since 1988.
``Instead of talking about gambling, we talk about gaming.''
Says Lesieur, the gambling researcher, ``What you have now, among
college students, is a group of individuals who have no
recollection of the time when gambling was outlawed. Gambling is
simply around now. It's closer than ever before, and it's
continuing to get closer.''
This explosion has done more than predispose college gamblers to
bet illegally; it has also given them a wide range of legal
possibilities. Fraternities at California colleges have for years
organized trips to Las Vegas; similar options have become
available to students at hundreds of colleges. Mystic Lake Casino
in Prior Lake, Minn., for instance, is just a 40-minute drive
from the University of Minnesota, and several smaller colleges are
within an hour's ride.
Matt Carter, a 22-year-old from Prior Lake who attended St.
John's University in Collegeville, Minn., recalls that Native
American casino operators would encourage students to recruit
friends for bus trips. ``The casinos would find a kid wearing a
college sweatshirt,'' he says. ``They'd say, `Hey, if you want
to arrange trips, we can do that.' They'll send the bus all the
way out to St. John's, a big old Greyhound. They'll put beer,
pop, movies on it. You get paid by the person; they'd give you
$150 or $200. A buddy of mine did it.''
Riverboat casino ``cruises'' -- in many cases, the boats never
leave the pier -- are available in five states from the heartland
(Iowa) to the Mississippi Delta (Louisiana). Officials at
Mississippi State and Ole Miss thought this was enough of a hazard
to invite Wexler to their campus to speak on the evils of
gambling, legal or otherwise.
The 1995 college student's parents and grandparents might have
played bingo or bet on horse racing (at a racetrack, not at an OTB
parlor or in the living room using a phone account). ``Horse
racing is much too slow for kids,'' says Diamond, the Vegas
sports-book director. ``Too much time between races, too little
return for the investment.'' Casino games are lethally swift: A
poor player can lose hundreds of dollars in 15 minutes at a $5-
minimum blackjack table. A good -- and lucky -- player can win as
much. The intoxication caused by such a pace is terrific. And then
there are the women. ``Video poker,'' says Wexler. ``That's the
game that started really bringing younger women into casinos.''
College women, too. Slots and video poker. No dealer. No other
players. Nonjudgmental wagering. Vegas casinos increasingly
attract young women in Champion sweatshirts, emblazoned with
college names, who slam quarters and silver dollars into video
poker machines and slots.
And college students' wagering can take bizarre forms. Last fall
the Georgia campus was swept for 36 hours by a form of the old
pyramid scheme. Eight people put up $100 each, and then each of
them got eight more people to put up $100 apiece. When you reached
the top of the pyramid, you ``won'' $800, a clear profit of $700.
Essentially, you were betting $100 that the chain would last long
enough for you to get your profit. It started one weekday at noon
and was dead by the next night, leaving dozens of students $700 up
and dozens of others $100 down. It is the nature of gambling that
the simpler the bet, the more attractive. Why else would people
play the lottery?
BLOOMINGTON, IND.: Steve (Lefty) McNeil, Bob Jacobs and Adam Grady
are seniors and fraternity brothers at Indiana. One of them has a
job for next year, one is looking for work, and the third hopes to
attend law school. They sit in jeans and sneakers, recalling their
nearly two-year run with a local bookie and, in particular, the
weekend last fall when they lost a combined $3,500, including
$2,300 on the Dallas Cowboys, who failed to cover a 12-point spot
against the Phoenix Cardinals.
``When it looked like we were going to lose,'' says McNeil, ``we
drove to Lake Monroe [20 minutes away], and we wondered how the
hell we were going to pay. It was the most sickening feeling I've
ever had in my stomach. Eventually you pay it off with creative
``I started out so small,'' says Jacobs. ``Everyone won with
``The ridiculous becomes normal,'' says McNeil. ``Two hundred
dollars easily becomes $500 without thinking about how much money
that is. I would double my bets. My rationale became: I win, we're
even. If I lose, there's no way I can pay what I owe either way.''
``My mentality was that if I only bet $150 one night, I was
minimizing my losses,'' says Grady.
``I took out $500 on my parents' credit card to help pay my
debt,'' says McNeil, of how he paid his share of the $3,500
weekend loss -- a bailout method he'd used before. ``I would tell
them that I had to buy some books or that I had a project that I
needed money for. Or that there was a dance. Usually I told them
it was a dance. They just thought I spent a lot of money.''
To pay his third of the weekend loss, Jacobs cleaned out a
savings account started when he was in his early teens. Grady?
``I have no idea,'' he says, ``how I paid any of it.''
A big part of the allure of sports betting for students is the
availability of credit. For the college kid there's no pressure in
making the first bet because bookies don't ask for cash up front.
Everybody runs a tab, and the bookie establishes a limit at which
he must pay off the bettor's winnings or the gambler must pay off
his losses. Jimmy Vaccaro, director of the race and sports book at
the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, stood in his establishment on a
winter Friday and surmised, ``You won't see a lot of college kids
in here. Here, they've got to put up money to make a bet.''
It's all just a paper game until the bettor reaches his maximum
and the bookie demands payment. ``At first guys don't really think
the bookie wants the money,'' says Timothy Mills, a Texas Tech
senior who ran bets to his off-campus bookie for several
fraternity brothers. ``It hasn't hit them that what they're doing
is real. Then the bookie says, `Pay me, or you're not betting
anymore.' That's when it hits them.''
A compulsive gambler will tell you that he bets for the rush and
not for the money. The money is just the syringe that carries the
adrenaline. Wexler, who hasn't placed a bet in nearly 27 years,
once bet on hockey games for three months before he realized the
game was played on ice. Yet, for the college bettor, money is a
significant factor on two levels:
Many of the gamblers are fraternity kids with a plentiful
initial supply of their parents' funds. They are, in effect,
playing with the house's money. Dad's house. It's not uncommon
for a college bettor to get deep into his parents' pockets
before he tells them that he's betting.
College students in general are cash poor. They see wagering as
a means to a sort of postadolescent wealth. ``I'm gambling to
make a profit,'' says Michael Smithson, a 21-year-old senior at
Miami-Dade Community College and formerly a student at the
University of Miami. ``I see my friends going out and having a
great lifestyle, and I want it too.''
In either circumstance, the bettor ultimately needs money to pay
off his debts. A kid with moneyed parents will eventually have to
look homeward to cover debts; a kid without resources will seek
any means available to pay. ``It is amazing what some people do,''
says Debbie Frapp, an addiction counselor at Texas Tech. ``I've
talked to students who have gambled away financial aid money,
received emergency aid and gambled that away.'' It's common
knowledge among campus bookies that the time to collect is at the
start of the semester. ``That's when people get money, from their
parents, from the school,'' says Georgia student bookie Andrew
Then again, college kids are a lousy credit risk. When Stewart
quit his book, he and his partners were more than $12,000 ahead,
but they had been paid only about $2,500, cash.
College gamblers are also blind to the game's scripted outcome.
As Jahoda says, ``They cannot do the math, and they have no
aptitude.'' Sports gambling isn't an issue of teams and games,
it's an issue of numbers and dollars. ``We have people in Vegas
whose entire job is to find a number,'' says Diamond. The number
is a middle, the gambler's promised land between two different
point spreads. Gambling syndicates hire runners to canvass sports
books in search of a variance in the point spread. Philadelphia
76ers versus Houston Rockets. You get the Rockets minus 9 with one
book and the Sixers plus 11 with another. If it's a 10-point game,
you win both bets. Anything else, you lose only the vigorish.
``These guys, they don't know a thing about the teams, and they
don't care,'' says Diamond. ``They're looking for numbers. Very
Most college guys pick too many games, oblivious to the bookie's
edge. And they wander off into parlays and teasers,
multiple-proposition sucker bets that are far more difficult to
win than straight bets. They are guaranteed to lose. ``They do not
understand [sports betting] is a zero-sum game, intentionally
designed for the house to get the sum and the player to get the
zero,'' says Jahoda.
The bookie's ledger, of course, doesn't stop at zero. It starts
there and ends up with columns of numbers that add up to red ink
and heartache for their clients.
It is a bizarre progression, indeed, which first brings these
college customers to the counter and then keeps them there,
plunging away on Weber State and whomever. It starts with the love
of sports and the rush that being a fan brings them and which
gambling intensifies. Then it becomes the money that they crave
and desperately need. Sometimes the money and the rush and love
all get together in one game, wrapped in desperation at the end of
This was the case on the second weekend in February, when four
brothers in the same Georgia fraternity found themselves down a
collective $900 to their student bookie. They were deep enough in
the hole that they pooled their bets into one account, the better
to manage their funds and share their anxiety. This was the day
they would escape their debt, by wagering $750 on . . . the NBA
All-Star Game. They split their money among straight bets and
parlays, concentrating on the East team (``I have a theory about
the NBA,'' says Conrad White. ``Always bet on Shaq-Fu'') and the
The West won and covered. The under hit. The four of them lost
another $825, including the vigorish. ``Wasn't even a real damn
game,'' says JoJo Simmons, one of the beaten four.
Then again, with money on the line, it never is.
NEXT WEEK: A profile of a student bookmaker who says he made more
than $40,000 off his fellow collegians.