One of my degenerate journalist friends was desperate this week.
For professional reasons, he has to watch all of the Olympic television coverage, but he could not imagine how he would maintain his interest (let alone his sanity) through day after day of luges and biathlons.
So he telephone his bookmaker and inquired, "Have you got anything on the Olympics? Anything?" If the bookie had said, "All I can give you is Peru at 3 to 1 in the two-man bobseld," my friend would have gratefully jumped at the opportunity for action.
Instead, his bookie replied, "I've got nothing. If there is ever any interest in any event, we'll put up a line. But I don't even know anybody who's watching the Olympics. Who'd watch the stuff with Syracuse and St. John's on television?"
The same gentleman would have let you wager on the total number of points that would be scored in the National Basketball Association All-Star Game (over or under 250?) two Sundays ago, or on Hartford giving 1 1/2 goals to Winnipeg last night. I know of bookies who have accommodated customers by posting point spreads on junior high school football games and over-and-under lines on holiday traffic fatalities.
If the nation's bookmaking establishment refuses to take action on an event, it is saying, in effect, that the event is pathetically bush league. It is putting the Olympics in the same category as professional wrestling or box lacrosse.
This, I feel, is deplorable. A little wager can enliven any activity, and the bookmakers of America would be making a contribution to the Olympic movement if they started handling bets that could create interest in otherwise boring events.
If an adventuresome bookmaker were to offer odds on foreign-dominated sports he might stimulate unprecedented interest in them for American audiences. As it is a television viewer's eyes tend to glaze over when the umpteenth Austrian starts his downhill ski run.
But if it were possible to place even a token bet on Wirnsberger at 4 to 1, I could hear the boys in all the local bars yelling, "get lower in your tuck, you bum!"
Betting would also stimulate interest in events whose outcomes are a foregone conclusion. Hockey is a perfect example.
It is impossible to work up much enthusiasm for the Olympic competition in this sport, since the Soviet Union could hold their own against the Philadelphia Flyers and can surely demolish any bunch of amateurs. But if the U.S.S.R faced the U.S. in the final round, and bookmakers established the Soviets as a 4 1/2 goal favorite, that might stimulate a surge of nationalistic fervor.
What could be more stirring than to see the crowd at Lake Placid screaming in the final moments of a one-sided game, exhorting our boys to cover the spread?