Ten Bucks on the Nose, Joe
A sports writer introduces "my friend, the bookmaker" and lifts the curtain on a $35,000000 illegal gambling industry
THE LAWYER concentrated on the paper which lay on his desk. The afternoon sun shone through his window in an office building which commands a view of Toronto Bay. The lawyer hummed softly to himself and tapped on his teeth with a pencil as he examined minutely the figures on the paper in front of him. His concentration was the kind that costs a client $50 per day in the courtroom. Eventually he lifted his gaze from the paper, emitted a weary sigh, reached for his telephone and dialed a number.
“Hello, Joe,” said the lawyer, speaking precisely into the mouthpiece, “give me $10 to win on Captain Eddie in the sixth at Oaklawn—and give me $10 to win on Singing Heels in the sixth at Tropical.”
The single event which gave the greatest impetus to the noble art of bookmaking was Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone. In the past couple of years, however, the bookmakers have been too busy to erect any plaques to the memory of Mr. Bell and, indeed, some of them, whose knowledge of industrial history is limited to vague and fleeting associations with the cinema, are under the impression that the telephone was invented by Don Ameche. But don’t get me wrong -some of my best friends are bookmakers.
The bookmaker without a telephone would be just as helpless as Charlie McCarthy without Edgar Bergen. The average bookmaker’s telephone is so busy that he develops cauliflower ears from holding the receiver against his lugs. As a matter of fact the lawyer who bet that $20 on Captain Eddie and Singing Heels had to dial the number three times before he made a connection with his friend, Joe.
The scene in the lawyer’s office is duplicated, thousands of times daily, in other parts of Toronto and every other major Canadian city. Strangers, who are irked by Toronto’s smugly righteous exterior, chortle openly when they discover that “Toronto,
The Good” is one of the bettingest cities in North America. Certainly there is more betting in Toronto than in any other city of comparable size on the entire continent. Every type of person bets the horses — doctors, lawyers, shoe clerks, accountants, housewives,
big business tycoons and workers in war plants.
In addition there is a large element of purely professional gamblers in Toronto. They bet on prize fights, races, hockey and baseball games.
A gentleman who grew up in the shadow of a roulette table and who has been associated intimately with big-scale gambling for 35 years says that at least 1,000 persons are engaged actively in the various phases of the bookmaking business in Toronto. He estimates, further, that Torontonians who wager on horse races with the bookies bet at least $50,000 per day. In other words, in the City of Toronto alone an estimated $15,000,000 is wagered through these illegal channels each year.
Stand well back if statistics give you the ague! However, it is reasonable to assume that another $20,000,000 must be wagered illegally each year in the combined metropolises of Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Windsor,
London, Calgary and Edmonton.
That makes a total of $35,000,000 for the Dominion of Canada. The total figure may be much higher than that! Bookmakers, quite naturally, are coy about their income tax returns and, after all, some of my best friends are bookmakers.
Now let us see how much the Canadian racing public wagered legally through the pari-mutuel machines at the various tracks last year. According to the Dominion Department of Agriculture, the total pari-mutuel wagering in 1943 was $33,145,013—an increase of 40% over the, previous year. Thé Federal Government took 5% of that sum as a tax; the Provincial Governments extracted taxes ranging from 5 to 7% and the race track operators took 7% for their end.
The Government took its paltry “cut” of the $33,000,000 but no tax whatsoever was levied on that additional $35,000,000 bet outside the tracks— unless some bookmaker, in a moment of excessive patriotism, happened to mention the matter in his income tax forms.
There are two primary reasons for the increase in race track wagering, which has been very rapid. (In 1941 wagering on Canadian tracks totalled $21,000,000.) In the first place, people who didn’t have enough money to gamble on the races in pre-war years now are doing quite well financially. In the second (and most important) place, race trac1winnings aren’t taxable as income. Thus, everyone who goes to the races hopes to make a spectacular betting coup and pocket a large bundle of bank notes without suffering any interference from Mr. J. L. Ilsley
and his minions in the Income Tax Department.
Race track operators are expecting another increase in wagering this summer and Ontario tracks, in anticipation of this business upsurge, have increased their purses for horsemen. The Ontario Government recently upped its race track tax from 5 to 10%. Thus Ontario bettors will pay to taxes 22 cents out of every dollar wagered—10 cents to the province, five cents to the Dominion and seven cents to the tracks themselves.
In my opinion it is ridiculous to assume that you can eliminate gambling by eliminating the bookmakers. Those naïve tactics have been employed in some communities but the bookmaker refuses to remain eliminated. You can stop a man drinking by depriving him of his liquor but you can’t stop gambling. It is in man’s nature to gamble and if he can’t bet on the races he’ll gamble in phoney oil stocks.
The bookmaker’s mode of living is likely to make him a schizophrene. Officially he is a highly lawless
individual who is likely to be tossed into the local sneezer, but, in actuality, by a large section of the population he is considered a broker whose services are sought by some of the most respectable members of society.
This dual personality was illustrated strikingly one day in a Toronto court when F. G. Gardiner, K.C., arose to defend an inoffensive bookmaker named Benny. Mr. Gardiner, who is a colorful courtroom orator, made a stirring plea on behalf of his client. He expressed the view that the five or 6,000 persons who go to the races waste an afternoon away from work. He suggested further that a man could go to the telephone, give a bet to the bookmaker and get back to the assembly line without causing any disruption of industry.
Then, wiping a furtive tear from his eyes, Mr. Gardiner delivered his punch line. “The bookmaker,” he said, “is infinitely a better institution than a race track.”
A beautific smile illuminated Benny’s face and, in the shadowy courtroom, it appeared that a halo was suspended above his head. The court was moved so deeply by Mr. Gardiner’s oratory that the charge was dismissed and Benny was told to go his way in peace.
There is a possibility that Mr. Gardiner’s estimate of the situation was a shade prejudiced but no one seemed particularly upset when Benny went back to his telephone.
Those backward people, the English, who accomplish a good deal without becoming unduly excited, have no gambling problem the bookmakers in England simply are licensed and bonded businessmen.
The Chadian Government could obtain some revenue from that extra $35,000,000 if it licensed the bookmakers in (.'añada.
Continued on page 46
Ten Bucks on the Nose, Joe
Continued from page 7
Paradoxically, apart from the Government the people who would benefit most from the licensing would be the bookmakers themselves. Under the present laws it is impossible to collect a gambling debt. Accordingly it is possible for the bookmaker to get stung badly. A gent who owes the bookmaker $200 or $300 may say pleasantly: “Well, Joe, old boy, I
haven’t any money—what are you going to do about it?”
Poor old Joe has no recourse to law to collect his debt. Of course, if he is the narrow-minded type he may send a couple of his secretaries around to kick the bettor’s teeth down his throat. However, such tactics are considered somewhat feudal and are frowned upon in the profession. Competition is keen in bookmaking circles and it isn’t good form to maim a delinquent customer who, conceivably, some day may achieve affluence which will permit him to renew his business associations. 11 is worth pointing out, too, that there aren’t any recent records of bookmakers going through the bankruptcy courts.
This story isn’t designed to be a gratuitous “plug” for the communications industry but the fact remains that the telephone enables the Canadian hookies to keep in constant touch with events at the southern tracks. Through that not-so-mysterious network known as “The Service,” the individual bookmaker can ascertain the odds on each horse as the field faces the barrier in any race at New Orleans or Miami. Through this same “Service” he learns the result of the race immediately after the horses have passed the finishing wire. Fie knows the parimutuel prices a few seconds after they are posted on the board at the track.
Here’s a little illustration of the efficiency of the bookmaking network. A Toronto-owned mare named Passa Grille was taken to F'air Grounds in New Orleans during the winter. She trained very well and her handlers took their time in selecting a proper race for her. She hadn’t won a race during 1943 but the previous season she had been a high-class mare and every Toronto racing enthusiast knew her reputation. Consequently when she was entered in a cheap claiming race at F’air Grounds not a few Toronto bettors decided to wager a small chunk on her.
In view of her 1943 record Passa Grille logically should have been a long-shot at 15 to one or more. But an hour or so before the race the Toronto handbooks were loaded with bets on her. Promptly the Toronto bookies protected themselves by betting on Passa Grille with bookmakers in nearby Buffalo, N.Y. The boys from Syracuse (beg pardon, Buffalo) in turn dumped the bets into the laps of bookmakers in other American cities.
The price on Passa Grille at the track opened around 15 to one. Within a few minutes the price tumbled to 10 and
then five to one. When the field left the starting gate Passa Grille had been hammered down to two to one.
The reasons for this sudden interest in Passa Grille at New Orleans were elementary. One of the big American bookmaking syndicates—which was holding the wagers on Passa Grille simply instructed one of its agents to bet a couple of thousand dollars on her at the track, thus cutting the parimutuel price and protecting the fraternity against any heavy losses.
Great instrument, the telephone!
In the interests of bitter truth it is necessary to report that Passa Grille ran like most “good things”— she didn’t finish in the money. She ran far enough but not fast enough.
One of the great gambling games is Dice. The war has been responsible for a tremendous increase in the number of Canadian crapshooters. Correspondents who have been making the transoceanic crossings on troopships report that the most familiar sounds aboard those liners is the stimulating click of the little cubes as they roll across a blanket.
There are cities in Canada where the large-scale gambling houses still are doing an impressive business. But most of the big houses in Ontario have closed down in the past two years. Premier George Drew was a vigorous and vocal opponent of dice games when he was leader of the official opposition. Now that he is premier of the province the big operators are lying doggo.
If a gentleman feels disposed to indulge in a discreet game of dice in Toronto, however, it is likely that—if properly introduced—he can find an outlet for his energies.
Gone are the large carefree gambling establishments including those with their ostentatiously modern chrome furniture which catered to ladies and gentlemen in evening dress. Those were pleasant days for the tired businessman. After you lost your money you could assuage your grief to some extent by drinking good whisky (with the compliments of the management) and chicken sandwiches (white meat only). The attendants in those places were courteous and sympathetic. If, after a particularly heavy loss, you felt impelled to blow out your brains one of the staff’ would hold the gun steady while you pulled the trigger. Some of our most prominent businessmen sigh with nostalgic memories of such scenes as they thumb the stubs of old cheque books.
Wagering on professional hockey and baseball games is confined largely to the professional gamblers. This is due, probably, to the fact that many professional gamblers have a chronic case of ants in the pants. The ordinary citizen goes to a hockey or baseball game for amusement. The professional gambler isn’t content to be merely amused — he wants some personal action. Consequently he finds it necessary to bet on the outcome of the game.
The “bull ring” in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens is known to most tourists who have visited that famous sports
abattoir. The “bull ring” is situated in the large smoking room directly behind the press box on the east side of the rink. There—between periods— gather the gamblers who argue fiercely and record their wagers on the back of cigarette boxes. The prevailing prices generally are quoted by a gentleman whose business acumen belies his nickname of “The Goof.” This betting is strictly exercise for the gamblers and this is reflected in the fact that no one ever has heard of a “fixed” game in the National Hockey League.
But bull ring betting got a sudden jolt one Saturday night in March when the RCMP and Toronto police converged on the premises and arrested 40 bull ring regulars. Two gamblers were charged with evading the draft and a number more were ordered to report to war industry jobs by Selective Service. It was the first time since the Maple Leaf Gardens was opened 12 years ago that the betting fraternity
had played hosts to the police.
The war has made casualties of those English football “pools” which in
Ípeacetime extracted thousands of dolars from Canadian investors each week. The 10-cent experts who attempted to predict the result of the week-end matches in the English and Scottish Leagues were baffled when the war scattered the rosters of the Old Country soccer teams.
There are a few hockey “pools” in existence and, inevitably, the Chinese lotteries operate wherever more than half a dozen Chinese are making their homes.
One of the things that puzzles most Canadian bettors is that although he can be arrested for making a wager with a bookmaker he is fair game for the smooth machinations of the highpressure mining stock salesmen who offer him shares in some mine which may be located in'Jhe middle of a lake.
To the bettor it sometimes seems that there just ain’t no justice.