When Jerry went into the bookmaking business this winter, he figured that he would make something between a modest profit and a respectable profit.
He knew that taking wagers on basketball can be a chancy proposition, but he also knew that the percentages in his favor would tend to grind down bettors over a long season. In his wildest imagination, though, Jerry could not have anticipated what was going to happen to him during his 37-day career as a bookie.
Jerry has been involved in the gambling business for all of his adult life, either as a bookmaker or a bettor. He was on the wrong side of the fence this fall, during a professional football season that was bewildering for most handicappers and immensely lucrative for the men who took their bets. Jerry went broke betting his own selections, and knew of only one way to revive his fortunes.
So he did the bookmaker's equivalent of hanging out his shingle. "First I got a money man to back me," he said. "Then I lined up an office. And then I made a few phone calls and put the word out on the street that I was back in business.
"I thought I could get a jump on the competition by going into business right after the football playoffs, because most bookmakers don't handle basketball until after the Super Bowl and during that two-week respite you get a lot of guys drooling for action. I lined up about 30 customers, mostly street guys and solid gamblers who had managed to avoid tapping out during the football season."
Every evening at 6:30 Jerry would be at his telephone rattling off betting lines on far-flung games like Creighton versus Wichita State. It was probable that none of his callers had ever seen Creighton play, and likely that they could neither name a player on the Creighton team nor even tell whether Creighton is located east or west of the Mississippi River.
But even though they presumably were betting in the dark, Jerry's clientele beat him on his first night in business. They did it again on the second night. And the third night. Jerry noticed quickly that his customers tended to gang up on the same team, and discovered that a number of them were subscribing to a Las Vegas basketball touting service that was enjoying a remarkable hot streak. One night the touting service proclaimed that Kansas State was a four-star cinch to upset Oklahoma State, and when they proved right, Jerry was out $3,000.
By the third week of the season Jerry's financial backer would ask for his daily report by inquiring, "How much did we lose today?" And Jerry might reply, "Oh, we had a good day. We lost less than $1,000."
Jerry's woes began to multiply when the Atlantic Coast Conference teams got into full swing. "The lines on the games were ridiculous," Jerry said. "The Vegas oddsmakers just didn't seem to understand the nuances of the ACC but my customers sure did. Everybody around here knows that Maryland's got all the talent in the world and they can play with anybody.
"When Notre Dame opened a six-point favorite at Maryland, the whole world took Maryland. And when North Carolina State had lost four straight conference games and came home to play Virginia, the whole world had them laying 5 1/2 points.They won by 20."
When he went into his office a week ago Sunday, Jerry studied his records and saw that in 36 days of action he had shown a profit on four and a loss on 32. He could not have known that the worst was yet to come.
On that black Sunday, Duke was playing Marquette in a televised game and the Bullets were entertaining the Knicks. "Everybody knew that when Notre Dame was No. 1, Marquette had played them to a standstill and they looked like a steal getting 8 1/2 points at Duke." Jerry said. "The boys bet $8.800 on Marquette and $600 on Duke. And the Bullets' game was real sweet. I got $7,000 on the Bullets and not a dime on the Knicks."
Jerry sat in a trance as he watched Marquette give Duke a tough battle on television and listened to the Bullets rout the Knicks on radio. Most of the other pro scores were bad news, too.
At the end of the day Jerry had lost $17,000 and decided that there were easier ways to make a living. "I think I'll go back to betting," he said, "as soon as I pay off a few guys."