Kenny Brodie describes himself and his circle of friends as "just a bunch of action guys who'd bet on anything."
Indeed, the four young men from Philadelphia were typical gamblers in most respects. They had misspent their youth at poker tables and racetracks. They had taken a fling in the stock-options game. They bet dogs and trotters and, Brodie said, "If there had been cockroach racing anywhere, we'd have been there."
But Brodie and his pals weren't entirely typical of action guys. For a period of a few months, they were the biggest horse bettors in the United States -- the mysterious Philadelphia betting syndicate that collected a $764,284 payoff at Sportsman's Park near Chicago and six-figure bonanzas at many other tracks across the country.
Brodie said the group made a profit of nearly $1.5 million until its fantastic streak came to an abrupt and unpleasant end last month. The management of Sportsman's Park barred the group from betting at the track, and that much-publicized event touched off disagreements within the syndicate that finally caused its breakup. But the gamblers surely will be back in action in new alignments, and similar syndicates will be born, because Brodie and his partners showed what big profits can be made from modern-day exotic wagering.
The members of the Philadelphia syndicate had a simple philosophy. "We always thought it was great," Brodie said, "if you could gamble with the percentages in your favor. If something looked good, we'd always try to bet on it." They also liked the idea of betting big. "One of our guys had always wanted to put $100,000 on a race," Brodie said, "but he was definitely looking for a good spot."
The opportunities for such a wager arose as tracks began to offer exotic wagers -- such as the Pick Six and the Twin Trifecta -- with jackpots that kept growing day by day if nobody hit them. Last winter, when Suffolk's Twin Tri jackpot grew to hundreds of thousands of dollars, Brodie said he flew to Boston with one of his partners and a huge bankroll. Brodie handicapped, the partner dealt with the mathematics of playing so many combinations, and they made a $105,000 wager on the Twin Tri.
"We got buried," Brodie said. "But everybody saw the strength of what we were doing."
They saw that if the jackpot for an exotic wager had grown large enough, it made mathematical sense to bet big money in an effort to win it. The sheer size of their bankroll would give the syndicate an edge over everybody at the track. The concept finally paid off at Sportsman's Park.
The track had introduced a super-exotic wager, the Super Bet, which consisted of two exactas and a triple. When he thought the time was right, Brodie flew to Chicago and proceeded to lose $80,000 in two nights of betting. Then, on the third night, he handicapped the three cheap races and concocted a play that consisted of 30 combinations in one exacta, 20 in another exacta and 120 combinations in a triple -- 72,000 combinations altogether at $1 apiece. When they hit for the record $764,284 windfall, the syndicate was off and running -- and making headlines.
They hit a Twin Trifecta at Waterford Park for $247,000; a Twin Tri at Delaware for $149,000; a Pick Six at Longacres for $340,000; a Super Bet at Maywood harness track for $140,000.
Last month, as the jackpot for the Super Bet started to build during the harness meeting at Sportsman's, Brodie returned to Chicago. This is his account of what happened. "I went with the guy who was doing our stat work, and we both felt it was going to be a long siege," he said. "On our first night I went to the window with a satchel to make kind of a goodwill play of $40,000. I was betting when a guy wearing a work shirt came up to me and said, real belligerently, 'You're going to have to get on another line and give other people a chance to bet!' "
Brodie was perplexed. "Do you work here?" he asked.
"I'm the president of the track," said Billy Johnston. "And you guys from Philadelphia aren't going to come here and get special treatment."
Brodie said, "I was bewildered. It was the theater of the bizarre." He finally came to understand that it was in the track's interest to keep the Super Bet jackpot building as a drawing card, but he still was stunned when Johnston told him not to bet at his track any more.
Brodie wanted to make a public fight. He knew his group was in the right and besides, he has an ego and he likes the limelight. His partners craved anonymity. Some of them were starting to resent Brodie, who was putting up relatively little of their capital but was hogging the spotlight.
Instead of fighting Johnston and Sportsman's Park, the Philadelphians split up. Brodie was bitterly disappointed. He wanted to correct the impression that he was part of some sinister monolith.
"On the night that we were barred," Brodie said, "I had handicapped for an hour and a half on a trotting circuit I'd never seen before. There are 5 1/2 million possible combinations in the Super Bet, and I bet 40,000 of them.
"We weren't covering the board. We weren't betting any locks. We were really just a bunch of guys looking for action."