About $100 million was bet on sports in the Washington area last year, said Lt. Gene Newville of the D.C. Police Department's gambling squad.
Washington, according to bookmakers and law-enforcement officials, is the only major metropolitan area in the country in which all sports betting (pro football generates more than half the action) is not controlled by one organization.
Prince George's County police busted an alleged major sports betting organization last week. It is one of several area sports-betting groups, according to Sgt. Dave Van Dyke of the county police, the man who supervised that raid.
The bookmaker, who use these major operations to obtain their betting lines (or point spreads) and balance their books through layoffs, consider themselves as independents. The police, on the other hand, consider them as another form of organized crime because of the pyramid effect of the larger operation.
Whatever, it causes a lot of distrust between the bookmaker and the customer. The bookmaker in the 11-to-10 league cares not who wins or loses, just that his books are balanced. He pays $10 for every bet the customer wins, but he collects $11 for each losing bet.
The 10 per cent difference is called "the vig," or "the vigorish." It's how he makes his money. After expenses, a local bookmaker said he figures to make $25,000-$30,000 off the $1 million he handles annually in sports betting.
However, that figure is dependent upon the integrity of his customers. Last year this bookmaker had bettors who welched on paying $15,000, or more than half of his anticipated profit. So, now, he accepts new customers only if they post their money in advance.
The local independents, he said, do not use violence to collect their debts. This fact was verified by the police.
And, according to the bookmaker, customers can get stiffed for the same reasons. Some gamblers, he said, get into bookmaking as a way of generating more betting capital. As long as the customer loses, everything is fine.
But, if the new bookmaker gets hit hard by a lucky customer, he is likely to skip out without paying.
And, thus, with the local police - and, in Washington, the FBI - anxious to pounce on open gambling - local bookmakers, for the most part, do their business by telephone with 20 to 30 steady customers, sometimes more, sometimes fewer.
So you liked the Redskins getting 11 points against the Colts Monday night and wanted to get a $20 bet down on them. Forget it, a local bookmaker said. It's not worth his trouble. He handles a $50 minimum bet: other bookmakers, he said, have a $100 minumum.
Betting with a bookmaker, unlike office pools and the football pool cards that offer certain odds for picking a number of winners and also are illegal, is a game for someone of means. And, as long as it is done by telephone, it is extremely hard to get caught.
But bookmakers do, as evidenced by occasional court convictions.
The police there used a wiretap approved by a Maryland court. Permission for wiretaps, are extremely hard to obtain, Van Dyke said.
He has been in charge of the county's gambling squad for five years. In that span, only 11 wiretaps have been approved and the first seven cases made through them were dismissed because of technicalities concerning the firetap.
In Washington, obtaining a wiretap is even more difficult, according to Insp. Charles Light, who is in charge of the Morals Division. Because of the City's federal stauts, the D.C. police must go through the U.S. attorney's office, which means going through the Justice Department, which means a lot more red tape.
In addition, the personnel in the Gambling Squad changes every two years in an tttempt to ward off possible corruption. Such action also manages to make the squad less effective because, by the time a policeman knows the territory, it is time for him to be reassigned elsewhere.
However, according to Van Dyke, his recent raid included every local jurisdiction except Washington because the county police had no evidence that anyone in Washington was involved.
Lt. Newville, who heads the Gambling Branch of Morals Division, said sports betting Washington ranks second by a 2-to-1 margin to numbers betting. Again, Washington is unique nationally in this regard, he said.
However, in Prince George's County, Van Dyke said that sports betting has reached the same monetary level as numbers.
The police contend, as does Head Linesman Bob Martin, the Las Vegas oddsmaker, that no amateur bettor can beat the 11 to 10, just because the odds are 11 to 10.
But, Van Dyke said, when vice is involved, there will always be bettors and bookmakers, just as there will be prostitutes and Johns. So, in the latest raid, he was trying to arrest the bettor as well as the bookmaker.
"What other way can you discourage this type of activity?" he said, "You can't eradicate vice crimes. You try to keep it illegal and out of the view of the public.
"The courts, the justice system has to take appropriate action against these people - make an example of them. Once they find they can get away with a vice chime, it takes over.It's like a cancer."
On a recent raid, the Prince George's County police also discovered an office-pool type betting at a county bar. The police, in addition to other charges, also arrested the owner for operating his office-type pool.
"It's just an office pool, the owner pleaded with the arresting officers, "Everybody does it; it's as American as apple pie."
Indeed, during pro football season, almost every office across the land has some kind of football pool, a winner-take-all kitty, Without too much investigating. The Washington Post was able to verify pools through federal agencies and on Capitol HIll.
They all are illegal, of course, but, as Insp. Light of the D.C. police put it, "The police department does not have people assigned to work office pools."
Prince George's County's Van Dyke follows a similar policy, but will move to make arrests when office-type pools are flaunted openly in bars. He calls this nothing more than a way to attract customers.
The pools run the gamut from very simple-pick the winners and the points for tie breaker - to very sophisticated.
The other form of football betting is comparable to betting the numbers - the offs are that much against you if you bet the football cards distributed throughout the area.
You receive odds for picking a certain number of games correctly. The football-card operators profit, like the numbers man, from offering odds much lower than they actually are.
Betting straight up with a bookmaker, his vigorish is 10 per cent. The smallest bet on a football card is picking four games correctly at odds of 10 to 1. The true odds are 16 to 1 for such a parlay, thus the operator is getting a 20 per cent vigorish.
And, as perhaps the truest sucker bet, the card offers a consolation prize of 20 to 1 for picking mine winners out of 10. The true odds in this case are about 1,000 to 1.
"Football cards are kind of a poor man's way to bet on sports." Said Lt. Newville, "Football cards are a sucker game, yes: the odds are bad."
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