He is in exile now, this multimillionaire who built one of the most successful sports empires in the world, living in a land where it is always 3 o'clock in the morning and sports is just another excuse to place a bet.
But Jack Kent Cooke does not bet. The owner of the Washington Redskins, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Kings and the Forum (in Inglewood, Calif.) remembers that he once put four quarters in a slot machine while waiting for Edward Bennett Williams in a Las Vegas airport.
"I lost those four quarters and figured it was a sucker's game," said Cooke. "I've never gambled since."
Certainly, he is not a gambler in the Las Vegas sense on the term. But the spry, white-haired Cooke is betting, or hoping, that the National Football league can be persuaded not to carry out a policy that would force NFL owners to give up franchises in other sports.
Would he sell his 71 percent interest in the Redskins if NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle insists on pushing through with the policy? Cooke, smoking reflectively, prefers not to answer directly. The hint, however, is that he would keep a football team that is both a moneymaker and his delight as a fan.
"I would be distressed to be forced to give up the Redskins," Cooke said.
Both as a businessman and a prosional sports owner, Cooke is used to taking chances and winning. Perhaps his biggest gamble was the construction of The Forum, an elegant, white-columned enclosed coliseum that serves not only as the home of the Kings and Lakers but as an arena for rodeos, circuses, ice shows, rock concerts and championship fights.
"The House That Jack Built" cost Cooke more than $16 million and was referred to by some as "Cooke's folly" while it was under construction. However, in the 10 1/2 years of its operation The Forum has averaged 250 events a year and has grossed revenues estimated at 10 times its cost.
Cooke now operates The Forum and his sports franchise by remote control. A divorce suit filed two years ago by his wife of 42 years drove Cooke into Las Vegas exile for tax reasons. The suit, in which Cooke's assets are estimated at $100 million, is pending and Cooke will live here at least until it is resolved.
He, like another former resident of Las Vegas, the late Howard Hughes, is an unlikely member of this hard-living community. He drinks no liquor and avoids casinos, nightclubs and noise. But he has made the best of Las Vegas and of the changes in his own life.
Cooke's home, in a quiet residential section of Las Vegas, is a striking example of modern architecture, flanked by a pool and banks of oleanders. Inside, Cooke has a spacious office filled with momentoes of his sports teams, a well-stocked wine cellar and a room devoted almost entirely to house plants.
One of Cooke's hobbies is gardening. Another as befits a onetime bandleader and clarinet player, is composing popular music on a piano in his circular living room.
At 65, the Canadian-born Cooke is one of the remarkable individual success stories in American business and sports ownership. Starting as an encyclopedia salesman after his family was hard hit by the Depression, Cooke ultimately teamed up with the late Lord (Roy) Thompson in buying and operating a string of Canadian newspaper and radio stations.
In the United States, he prospered again in cable television and now owns the pending cable TV franchise in Las Vegas along with maverick Las Vegas Sun publisher Hank Greenspun, who admires Cooke and says he has "a mind like a computer."
A similar accolade comes from his friend, Williams, president of the Redskins, who says: "If you combine energy, industry and brights, you've got a pretty good entry."
In his first formal interview in several years, Cooke was alternately open and guarded. Although he has taboo subjects - his divorce, George Allen - he freely gave his opinion on a wide range of issues, including:
Professional Football: Cooke thinks it is America's national sport and that it will continue to grow in popularity despite the forecasts of those who say it has reached its zenith. "I don't think the crest has broken at all," he said.
The Redskins: They will be a strong contender this year under Jack Pardee and could win the title, but "Dallas is potent - a very potent team." In Cooke's view, Dallas looked to be three touchdowns better than Denver in an exhibition game that the Cowboys won by only seven points.
Basketball: It lacks the stability of other pro sports and continuing violence is a serious problem. "I think there's altogether too much violence in pro basketball," said Cooke, adding hand-checking is outlawed.
"A rigid, stern and strict officialdom is needed on the court," said Cooke, who is mindful that most basketball fights start as retaliatory action for uncalled fouls.
Last year, in the most celebrated instance of basketball violence, Kermit Washington of the Lakers was fined and suspended - and subsequently traded by Cooke - after shattering Rudy Tomjanovich's face.
While Cooke is reluctant to designate a favorite sport, he seems proudest of his hockey team, perhaps because it succeeded in a warm-weather areas where hockey had been virtually unknown.
"If hockey can succeed in Los Angeles - and it has - then it ought to succeed in every town and village in America," said Cooke.
Perhaps his pride in the Kings is particularly strong this day of the interview because an arbiter has just decided in Cooke's favor and given Cooke the player he wanted from the Detroit Red Wings in compensation for goaltender Rogie Vachon. The player is center Dale McCourt, whom Cooke confidently predicts "will be one of the great superstars in the history of the National Hockey League."
Toronto judge Ed Houston, awarding McCourt to the Kings, called Cooke's closely reasoned brief "masterful." After carefully examining the statistics of three inferior players that the Red Wings wanted to give up for Vachon, Cooke closed with a Churchillian exhortation to Houston: "I hope you will not allow your good self to preside at the dissolution of the Kings."
Note: McCourt's attorneys say they will challenge the ruling sending McCourt to Los Angeles.
Cooke prides himself on his use of language both in speech and writing, and prods his employees not to use words such as "hopefully" or "contact-wise." Recently, he replied to an undecipherable letter from an NHL lawyer seeking pension-plan information by saying that neither he nor the employe who had received the letter "can comprehend what it is you are trying to communicate."
"In the spirit of good will . . . and the English language," Cooke sent the offending attorney an article on how lawyers can improve their language and a quotation from H. G. Fowler: "Mind communicate with mind through a veil and the result is at best dullness, and at worst misunderstanding."
On this day of the McCourt award, Cooke is communicating very well. He is on the telephone immediately, directing the wording of the press release and telling key figures in his organization about his triumph.
A forum employee who asked not to be identified says that Cooke is "just as much in charge, totally in charge," as when he lived in Los Angeles. Cooke does not deny it. Not a sparrow falls at The Forum that his is not on the telephone questioning, directing, exhorting, planning what is to be done.
"What I've learned to do is substitute the telephone for face-to-face meetings," said Cooke. "It isn't totally satisfactory, but I've learned to do it."
Cooke is not totally deprived of watching the professional sports teams he owns and loves. A number of the Lakers and Kings road games are televised on a Las Vegas channel, and Cooke also watches the televised football games each Sunday and Monday. For the most part, he seems a happy, well-read man who delights in his accomplishments, his children (two grown sons) and his reading.
But for all that, he is a man in exile, an owner deprived of watching the teams his interviewer and his friends and those he talks to everyday can see throughout the season. Los Angeles is only 290 miles away, but the distance for Cooke is as great as the 2,750 miles to Washington.
"Sure I miss them," he said. "I have a box at the Forum. I know how it looks there. I miss them very much."