DR. F. B. BOWMAN August 26 1961


DR. F. B. BOWMAN August 26 1961

Trent Frayne's book on B00KIES:

THIS IS A fashion note, of sorts, on crime. In their own day and in their own way bootleggers have been well thought of and eagerly sought out by a more or less wide public, but even they hardly compared in social standing, power, or cash turnover to the friendly bookmaker of the 1960s. Experts as authoritative, for different reasons, as the chief of Toronto’s police, James Mackey, and the dean of Toronto’s racing writers, Joe Pcrlove, are able today to assure any amateur gambler in this country that he can find within easy distance a professional gambler to take his money. "There isn't a city, not a small town in this country that doesn’t have bookies,” Mackey said recently. “Cigar stores, shoeshine joints, hotels, or guys just sitting at home by the telephone.” Neither Mackey, Perlove, nor anybody else can say with certainty why an amateur gambler can always find a bookie although a policeman, presumably, can turn the same trick only with difficulty. The best estimate of the number of bookies and bookies’ runners in Canada is 18,000, while the number charged before the courts in a year is less than a thousand. Bookmaking is a crime in Canada, to be sure, but not even the courts seem

inclined to treat bookmakers as criminals. An eastern judge, speaking privately, says that the regularity with which bookmakers appear in the courts, pay fines of a few hundred dollars, and depart to take up their books where they left off, is one of the most striking absurdities in Canadian justice. The less tolerant finance department does require bookies to pay income taxes on their net gains, but this information is confidential. Nobody can give, publicly, the answer to the most elementary question about Canadian bookies: how much money passes through their hands in a year.

Possibly because Americans love bookies less than we do, they want to know more about them. By law they require gamblers to register with the federal government and pay a yearly fee to the treasury department. In recent years several hard probes of organized crime have been undertaken in the U. S., all of them tending toward the conclusion a Brooklyn grand jury reached in 1959: “Gambling is the very heartbeat of organized crime . . . Actually, if you scratch the professional operator of gambling ventures you find the narcotics peddler, the loan shark, the dicegame operator, the white slaver

and the murderer." These investi gations have established a fair esti mate of the gamblers' share of the

American income: “The under-

world gets about $9 billion of the estimated $47 billion spent annually on illegal gambling,” a special group on organized crime set up by the justice department reported about a year ago. The group went on to say that “fully half of the syndicates’ income from gambling is earmarked for protection money paid to police and politicians.”

At about the time, this spring, when the newspapers of Ontario and the province’s attorney general were debating the existence of organized crime in Canada (the newspapers were resolved that it exists; the attorney general that it doesn't), a New York State crime committee published evidence that Buffalo and Toronto were both “drop points” on the northeastern bookmakers’ wire service for racing results. Still, since nobody knows much about bookmaking in Canada, there may be no harm in having a few drop points here and there around the country, and there may be no resemblance between the scale of bookmaking in the U. S. and its scale here.

To take a few cases in point, the bookmaker in the branch office of an insurance company in downtown Toronto not far from RCMP headquarters is a well-made, blond girl in her middle twenties. She is the kind of friendly community servant that all bookies would like to be classed with, and usually are: she simply takes bets for men in the office who can’t wait to get out to the race track, and pays them the track price next day if they’ve won. On a recent Monday,

Tuesday and Wednesday she booked $58, $36, and $42, respectively. Her book for the three days covered $136, of which $14 went back to two-dollar betters who won, and $122 went into her bank account.

As dumb blondes go, this girl is another Texas Guinan, but as a bookmaker she’s little better than a gifted amateur. Her next step, if she adopts the classic road to the top in her adopted profession, is to acquire a cigar store, a lunch counter or a dry-cleaning shop as a screen for her trade; a “sheet-writer” to record bets that come in by telephone; and, if she prospers, a contract with an American firm that wires the results of races at all the tracks on the continent as soon as they are run off. She might even sell cigars, although most bookies have little regard for their putative occupations. “I know a guy,” says racing writer Joe Perlove, “who has this dry-cleaning business if you brought in a suit


he'd smack you square in the head.”

In time a gifted bookie can graduate from his storefront entirely, to run his business sensibly under a club charter from the provincial government. These charters, though, countenance members gambling with each other on the premises but they don't stretch to telephoned bets from a wide public, as Toronto police pointed out when they took a swart businessman named Max Bluestein, proprietor of the Lakeview Athletic Club, to court last December. The evidence at Bluestein’s trial was that the club he ran with two other bookmakers was booking an average of $37,000 a day in illegal bets, or well over $13 million a year. Magistrate Joseph Addison acknowledged that a bookie usually pays out five dollars for every six dollars bet with him. He estimated the bookies’ profit at only $1.1 million a year, and sentenced them to two months in jail.


How did the magistrate conclude that the bookmaker usually pays out $5 for every $6 he handles, or in other words makes a dollar profit every time eleven dollars turn over? Well, that’s the way the bookie sets “-rhe ground rules for betting. It doesn’t matter how many points one team may be favored over another, and it doesn’t matter which team you want to bet on, the favorite or the underdog. You’ve got to give the bookmaker 6 to 5.

Let’s say the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are three-point favorites over the Ottawa Rough Riders. If you want to bet on Winnipeg you must give the bookmaker three points on the final score and you must put up $6 in order to win $5. Similarly, if you like Ottawa, you get three points from the bookie but you must again put up $6 to win $5. All he has to do is balance his book — one bet for, another against—and he can’t lose. To keep his bets balanced, a bookmaker “lays off” too much action on Winnipeg with a bookmaker carrying an overbalance of Rough Rider money.

How did the Bombers become three-point favorites in the first place? This is called the line, and usually the line is established by three or four prominent bookmakers sitting over an after-dinner drink. Bookmakers follow sports closely, even expertly, keeping close watch on hot streaks, injuries to key players or other factors likely to influence a game’s outcome. Small

bookmakers phone the bigger fish for the line, or they may get it from the newspapers, who themselves got it from the big bookmakers.

Football, or, more specifically, the Grey Cup game, gives bookmakers the most concentrated action of any Canadian sports event —a Toronto bookie estimates that “at least $5 million, likely more,” gets down with bookmakers on this single game every fall. Basketball, surprisingly, incites considerable Canadian betting on games played by American colleges. “There is this guy who bets with me,” says a Toronto bookmaker, “who wouldn’t know a basketball if it crawled into bed with him. He goes a hundred, two hundred every Saturday in the winter just because he sees there’s a game coming up on television from Albuquerque or some place.”

No Canadian bookie can be a real expert on American basketball, but he can always get a betting line from an American bookmaker or from Athletic Publications, an apparently legal business in Minneapolis run by Leo Hirshfield. He prints baseball, basketball and football schedules and, for a fee ranging from $20 to $30 a week, provides schedule-buyers with the latest odds on all sports events.

Basketball gets far less play in this country than any other sport largely because of the seamy reputation it has acquired for the number of college players who’ve been fixed in the past decade. Contrary to popular belief, the fix is not a tool of the bookmaker but of the gambler trying to make a killing at the bookie’s expense.

Hockey, on the other hand, gets a very light play in the U. S. because gamblers unfamiliar with the game are not only uninterested but unconvinced that it wouldn't be a shade too easy to fix the goalie, whereas in Canada a goalkeeper’s morals are regarded as ironclad and his game is bet on heavily.

The betting line in hockey is the same as football’s except that bookmakers call it a puck line rather than a point line. Thus, when the Maple Leafs are playing the Canadiens in Montreal, the Canadiens are likely to be “a puck and a half,” meaning that if you bet on them and they beat the Leafs 2 to 1 you lose (by the half-goal).

Canadian bookmakers handle a large volume of money on baseball, which is strictly an odds or money-line game; there is no such thing as a runs line, as there are points and pucks lines. Bookies

here get the line from their American counterparts, who don’t even talk in terms of teams, only pitchers. “Ford at Chicago over Wynn,” a bookie says, meaning that the New York Yankees with Whitey Ford pitching, are favored over the Chicago White Sox with Early Wynn pitching, in a game at Comiskey Park.


Just about the only enterprise in which the bookmaker doesn't make his assured profit is horse-racing, but even here he has thrown up defenses. Regardless of what a horse pays at the track (a longshot might return hundreds of dollars) the bookmaker will brook no odds higher than 15 to 1 for a winning horse, 6 to 1 for a place bet. and 3 to 1 for show. Below those odds, he pays off at track prices. Similarly, he sets restrictions on the amount of money he'll book. If you are particularly high on a horse and want to bet $500, you'll likely be told you can bet a hundred, and that’s it. Or the bookmaker can refuse your action altogether. even though you might be a steady client, on the grounds that he is already carrying enough money on a given horse and can’t be bothered trying to lay it off.

And so the bookies flourish in their self-governed lotus land. “Public apathy is responsible,” says police chief James Mackey. “Why, the bookmaker’s not a bad guy. He’s not a killer, he’s not molesting children. That, you know, is what the public thinks of these parasites who are quietly eating away at them. I don’t blame the magistrates. We know we can’t stop bookmaking—people want to bet. But it could be controlled by putting them away. They really scramble when they know they’re going to jail.”

A man who has had 35 years of business dealings with bookmakers, Toronto newspaperman Joe Perlove, also feels the public is at fault, but for different reasons.

“People who bet with bookmakers are imbeciles and half-wits and should be committed to an asylum,” he declares. “No one in his right mind would stand for it if the city council were to lay down rules like the bookmakers. They limit your bet, they quote their own prices, and on top of that they charge you for it. Citizens who bet with bookmakers should be put away for their own good.”

Does Mr. Perlove bet with bookmakers?

“Yes,” said Mr. Perlove.