For some gamblers, the Super Bowl was not the best betting proposition of the weekend. That event, after all, involved an element of uncertainty. But there were no risks for the sharpies who plunged on the Toledo-Western Michigan basketball game.
The experience of Washington bookmaker Jerry was shared by many other members of his profession across the country on Saturday. Jerry went to his office a little after noon, called the service that provided him the point spreads on about 50 college games and braced himself for a hectic day.
Jerry started answering the telephone at 12:30 and, as he had anticipated, most of his customers were betting the televised Georgetown-Pennsylvania and Clemson-Virginia games. But for reasons he could not fathom, there was a surprising amount of interest in Toledo and Western Michigan. By 1:30, a half-hour before tip-off, he was on his ledger that he had taken $1,200 on Toledo, a 6-point favorite, and nothing on Western Michigan.
Then came the deluge. The phone started ringing nonstop, and everybody wanted Toledo. Customers who normally wagered $100 were betting $500. Jerry raised the line to 6 1/2, 7, then 7 1/2 points in an effort to stem the tide.
At 1:45, Jerry was holding $8,800 in bets on Toledo, more than he would handle on the Pittsburgh Steelers the next day, and nothing on Western Michigan. He raised the line to 8 points. The phone continued to ring, but his customeis suddenly seemed to lose interest in the game. Jerry didn't write another bet.
"That figure sure stopped them like a rock," Jerry's assistant said. "Eight must be a real solid number."
Jerry nodded, but he sensed something was wrong. He could not believe that bettors would find an 8-point spread unattractive if they loved the game at 7 1/2. And he was surprised that people who had bet Toledo at 6 weren't calling back to take Western Michigan at 8, in an attempt to execute a "middle." What was going on?
A few minutes before the scheduled tip-off, Jerry nervously called the Sports Phone, the New York service which provides regularly updated recorded information on the day's athletic events. He'd expected to hear that half the Western Michigan team had been stricken by the bubonic plague.
Instead he heard something worse. "In college basketball today," the Sports Phone said, "we have one final score, Toledo 80, Western Michigan 72. In other first-period scores..."
Stunned, Jerry called the field house at Western Michigan University and asked, "Is the game already over?"
"Yes," he was told."They moved the starting time up to noon for regional television."
Past-posting is the dread of every bookmaker and, correspondingly, the dream of every unscrupulous bettor. Over the years, gamblers have concocted many elaborate schemes to make wagers after an event has been decided.
Once a horse player contrived to set back by two minutes the great clock in Penn Station, by which a New York bookie recorded the time when he accepted bets. The horse player beat the bookie for thousands. Less enterprising gamblers hope to find events whose starting times are earlier than indicated on the schedule that bookmakers use. And sometimes they catch the bookies napping.
Jerry escaped that fate this time. "When the guys called me again, I told them: 'You had no bet.' Most of them knew they were wrong and they acquiesced right away. One of them beefed but when I told him he wasn't getting paid, he said, 'Well, at least I got down with bookmakers in Arkansas and Georgia.'
"To me," Jerry said, "what these guys tried to do is outright thievery. It's no better than bank robbery. You'd think they'd have more respect for the sanctity of the relationship between a bettor and his bookmaker."