Monday, August 27, 2007


Gambling and Sports-Football

The old gambling gossip has not been heard around the halls of the National Football League for some time. There are controversial stories that are emanating from Michael Vick’s behaviour in the Southern States that have many officials slightly nervous at this time.

Vick’s involvement with dog fighting has been quite well documented; however, his involvement with the type of gambling that goes with the dog fights still is somewhat murky. Lots of allegations; however, up to this point, nothing has been decided, nor proven.

The NFL is trying to clean up its image after a couple of seasons of controversy. Most of the problems stem from alcohol and substance abuse, and are not related to gambling.

In 1963, future Hall of Famer Paul Hornung was suspended from the NFL for one full season for “betting on games and associating with undesirable persons”. That decision came as a complete shock to football fans, especially Green Bay Packer fans.

He was their “Golden Boy”. (In fact, his autobiography published in 2004 is entitled Golden Boy). He teamed with Jim Taylor to form a backfield combination called “Thunder and Lightning”. Many experts considered Hornung to be the best short yardage runner ever to play the game.

He won the Heisman Trophy in 1956 as the most outstanding player in United States College football. Folowing an outstanding high school career, he decided to attend the University of Notre Dame. He was the quarterback who could run, pass, block, tackle, and yes, he was the team’s punter as well! He played both ways on a losing team, and is the only player in history to win the Heisman while playing on a losing team.

In 1960 in the NFL, in just 12 games he scored 176 points-as a halfback and a kicker. That record stood until LeDainian Tomlinson scored 180 points on 30 touchdowns in 2006.

He was always a fan favourite, but drove his coaches to distraction. Lombardi fined him several times for missing curfew. He also was labelled as a bit of a “loose canon” for his activities off the field. One of his quotes: “Never get married in the morning. You never know who you might meet that night.”

Also suspended with Hornung was Alex Karras of the Detroit Lions.

Karras grew up in Gary, Indiana, and excelled at football throughout high school. His father George was a Greek immigrant who got his medical degree in Canada. Alex Karras was heavily recruited by American colleges, finally deciding to attend Iowa. The team went to the Rose Bowl in Karras’s sophomore year.

Always outspoken, Karras made no bones about the fact that he was not thrilled with California: “Pasadena was the most boring town I have ever been in. I remember one guy on the team got a date. It was me, and she was 67 years old.” In his senior year, Karras excelled. He was a first team All American, and was second in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. He was selected in the first round by the Detroit Lions.

He had a stint as a professional wrestler before attending his first camp with the Lions. (Several football players have gone that route, either before or after their careers on the field: Bronko Nagurski, Angelo Mosca, Gil Maines, to name a few.) He even had an offer to sign with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Karras also wrestled during his year under suspension in 1963.

Karras’s troubles were linked to his part ownership in a famous Detroit bar named Lindell’s. Commissioner Pete Rozelle warned Karras that the bar was the source of gambling and organized crime. At that point, Karras admitted to betting on NFL games.

The following year, after his reinstatement, he once refused when asked by an official to call the pre game coin toss. Karras told the referee; “I’m sorry, sir. I’m not permitted to gamble.”

Karras worked for three years as a commentator on Monday Night Football, and also starred on television as the father in the show entitled Webster. He is best known, however, as the slow –witted thug named Mongo, who knocked out a horse with one punch in the movie Blazing Saddles.

Lenny Dawson led the Kansas City Chiefs to victory in Superbowl IV, and also won MVP honours in that game. On the Tuesday evening before the game, it was announced on the Huntley-Brinkley Report that Dawson was one of several football players who was going to testify before a Grand Jury investigating gambling in Detroit. Other players named along with Dawson included Joe Namath, Karl Sweetan, Pete Lammons, and Bill Munson.

Nothing came of it-no summons, no apology, no word. Just speculation.

As long as there are games, there will be gambling. You can bet on almost anything in Las Vegas. There are also bookies in almost every city and town who will take your bets illegally as well. It is an easy, very lucrative business. The nature of the activity is greed, and it will be around forever.

Professional athletes are learning that the scrutiny by the media and by the public is almost overwhelming. There is very little that an athlete can do without someone looking over his or her shoulder, often with a cell phone and a camera. Discretion is the better part of valour.

International sport has been tainted with gambling scandals in the past few years-cricket, soccer, and even tennis.

Go ahead. Fill out that Pro Line form. But don’t ask me for advice. I wouldn’t know where to start. I will be sitting in Section 314. I can enjoy the game perfectly, without a little on the line.

James Hurst
August 27, 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Gambling and Sports-Baseball

The little kid stood on the courthouse steps in Chicago and pleaded with his hero: “Say it ain’t so, Joe. Say it ain’t so.”

He was looking at the baseball legend “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who was leaving the court after facing the grand jury. Jackson and several of his team mates had been accused of cheating by “throwing” the World Series in 1919.

Jackson was the premier player of the day. Born in 1889 in Pickens County, South Carolina, he made his major league debut in 1908 with Philadelphia of the American League. In his thirteen years as a major leaguer, his batting average was a magnificent .356. An outfielder most of the time, he made few errors. In fact, he made no errors in fourteen World Series games.

He moved from Philly to Cleveland, then on to Chicago in 1915 to play for the venerable Charles Comiskey. Comiskey was a tyrant, and very cheap. He promised the boys a case of champagne for winning the 1917 pennant, cheap champagne. He also promised his best pitcher Eddie Chicotte a $ 10 000 bonus if he could win 30 games. After Eddie won his 29th game, Comiskey benched him.

The team was the Chicago White Sox. The incident was called the “Black Sox Scandal”. Some observers believe the name comes with shame. A Chicago writer told me that Comiskey was too cheap to wash his players’ socks, and a lot of them wore them the entire season without washing them, as a gesture of defiance to Comiskey.

The situation was ripe for subterfuge. Several gamblers were contacted to put up the money for the 1919 Series to be fixed. Joseph “Sport” Sullivan met Chick Gandil on September 18th of that year, in the Hotel Buckminster in Boston to seal the deal. Another gambler, Arnold Rothstein, provided most of the money. Word had it that he would bet on anything he could fix.

Cicotte hit the Reds leadoff batter with his second pitch. That signalled that the fix was in.

It was to be a nine game series, but the Reds won in eight. Promised money did not appear, thugs were hired to intimidate the players, fielding became shabby, pitching was weak. Through it all, Jackson played his heart out. He batted .375, made 16 put outs.

But that was his last game in the Major Leagues.

Jackson confessed to a lawyer in a Chicago law office along with Cicotte and Lefty Williams. He then admitted his role to the Grand Jury. That testimony was released in 1988, and is available in its entirety on the web.

Jackson was asked: “How much did they pay?” he replied; “They promised me twenty thousand, and paid me five.”

At another point in the 26 page deposition, Jackson said that Mrs. Jackson “felt awful bad about it, cried about it a while.”

Although all players were acquitted for lack of evidence, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first Commissioner of baseball, banned the eight players for life.

Peter Edward Rose played 24 years in the Major Leagues. He was known as “Charlie Hustle” because of his work ethic. He just would not quit. He played “full out” all of the time. He loved the game. He dedicated himself to the game.

He established several records that remain to this day. He went to bat more than any player, ever. He got more hits than any player. He ended his career with 4 256 hits. Near the end of his career, Rose began to bet. He bet on horses, he gambled at casinos, he bet on sport, and he bet on baseball.

The January 12, 2004 edition of Sports Illustrated has a photo of Rose on the cover. The current commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig, had asked Rose about his involvement in gambling.

Rose stated: “Mr. Selig looked at me and said: ‘I want to know one thing. Did you bet on baseball?’ I looked at him in the eye. Yes sir, I did bet on baseball. ‘How often,’ he asked. Four or five times a week, I replied. ‘Why,’ he asked. I didn’t think I’d get caught.”

That was after fourteen years of denials. And it was also, coincidentally, three days before the release of his autobiography, “My Prison Without Bars.”

Bart Giamatti was the commissioner when Rose’s gambling habits surfaced. He appointed a law firm to investigate Rose’s activities. For many years the report remained confidential; however, it was recently released in its entirety by its author. The Dowd Report contains more than 200 pages of interviews with a variety of friends of Pete Rose, detailing times, dates, betting amounts. It contains threats from thugs which were received for not paying debts on time. Rose lost more than he won. He was always trying to “double up” his bets to break even.

He wagered two to five thousand dollars per game, according to the many witnesses who ran the roads with him. Names like Gioiosa, Peters, Bertolini, Janszen, Chevashore, and Val appear frequently in the document.

In the end, Rose signed an “Agreement and Resolution”. He acknowledged that the Commissioner had a “factual basis to impose a penalty.” Item 5a states: “Peter Edward Rose is hereby declared permanently ineligible in accordance with Major League Rule 21.”

No uniform. No dugout. No coaching. No Hall of Fame. End of Story.

There are hoards of fans around the country who would like to see the issue revisited. He likely would be elected to Congress in Cincinnati.

There are other baseball players who have placed a wager or two on the ponies or at the tables. Mickey Rivers was banned from using the dugout phone to check on his bets at the track. He then resorted to using the Yankee bullpen pitchers to call the track to check on his wagers while he wandered in the outfield at Yankee Stadium.

Denny McLain was the best pitcher in baseball in 1968. He won 31 games, lost six. He led the American League with 28 complete games. (I very much doubt that feat will ever be duplicated.) He then got mixed up with a Pepsi rep, and attempted to set up a bookmaking operation. He was suspended for the first three months of the 1970 season. His attempted comebacks included a stint with the London Majors of the Intercounty Baseball league. Because his arm was sore, he caught, played first and at short. He batted .380 in 14 games-not too shabby!

Are there other gamblers in baseball? Certainly. But the day has arrived when these athletes need to be circumspect with their salaries, as inflated as they might be.

And that kid who was pleading with Joe? Hollywood hogwash. At least that’s what Jackson said years later. “There was no kid there. Just me and the deputy sheriff.”

James Hurst
August 20, 2007

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Don't Bet on It! Gambling and Hockey

On the 17th of August, former NHL player Rick Tocchet has a sentencing hearing in New Jersey. He most recently served as an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes, but has been on an indefinite leave of absence since the time he was charged with gambling.

Tocchet recently plead guilty to promoting gambling and conspiracy to promote gambling. It is expected that he will receive probation for his indiscretion, because he co-operated with the authorities after he was charged.

Tocchet was playing in a little more than a “penny ante” poker game. It was revealed that his group handled $ 1.4 million over the last 40 days before he was arrested in a sting called “Operation Slapshot”. How appropriate!

Former New Jersey State trooper James Harney, Tocchet’s partner in the gambling ring, recently received five years in prison for using his patrol car in the operation. The other partner, bookie James Ulmer, also entered a guilty plea on the gambling and conspiracy charges.

Tocchet played eighteen years in the NHL for seven different teams. He scored 440 goals and had 512 assists, pretty respectable numbers.

When asked about Tocchet’s status after the guilty plea, NHL Commissioner Bettman avoided doling out any punishment. “I’m not really in a position to say what’s going to happen until there’s a complete disposition of his case.”

Rest assured, the hammer will fall on Tocchet’s NHL career. As a friend and employee of Wayne Gretzky, he did nothing to enhance the Great One’s image with his activities. Even Gretzky’s wife Janet Jones went along for the ride, as she was linked to placing bets with Tocchet and his cronies. To make matters worse, Jones and Tocchet participated in a poker tournament in Vegas less than two months ago.

Hockey has never been totally immune from gambling. All of the big shooters in the early days had their hands in the pursuit. Conn Smythe, the mastermind behind the Toronto hockey franchises, spent as much time at the race track as he did the rink.

In the mid 1920s, Smythe was hired by Colonel John Hamond to build the first roster of the New York Rangers. When he fell into disfavour with the Colonel, Smythe returned to Toronto with a $ 10 000 severance cheque in his pocket and with revenge on his mind.

He took $ 2 500 from the cheque, doubled it on a college football bet, and then wagered $5 000 on the Rangers to beat the Toronto St. Pats. With his winnings, he was able to convince the St. Pats owner that the team should stay in Canada. Smythe then bought the team, went blue and white, and changed the name to the Leafs.

Connie had paid $ 250 for a nag named Rare Jewel. A perennial loser, The Jewel was entered in a prestigious race, the Coronation Stakes. Smythe poured a pint of brandy down her throat, bet heavily on the horse at 107-1 odds, and used a portion of the $ 35 000 he won to snare King Clancy over from the financially-strapped Ottawa Senators. Clancy played seven big seasons for the Leafs, and stayed on as an executive for decades.

A couple of other families dominated the game in the United States in the infancy of professional hockey- the Norris family and the Wirtz family. You name it-they were involved in it. Always with money on the line.

In the 1940s, three NHL players were suspended for gambling. Initially, the bans were for life; however, each of the suspensions was retracted. Babe Pratt got the boot in 1946 for betting on hockey. Pratt did not bet on games in which his Leafs were involved. He promised not to do it again. He was reinstated after 16 days.

Two other players also received lifetime suspensions. Bruins teammates Billy Taylor and Don Gallinger were kicked out of the game for gambling, more specifically for betting on their own games. They were cleared of charges that they tried to fix an NHL game.

Gallinger initially claimed innocence; however, he fessed up nineteen months later and admitted betting as much as $ 1000 on games his team was playing. Taylor admitted betting $ 500 on the same game as Gallinger. In the 1940s, not exactly chump change. Gallinger also was found to be supplying bookies with information about the Bruins “sick parade”-players who were injured. Nowadays, if a player has a cold, the injury report usually states: “upper body injury”.

In his wonderful book, Players-The Ultimate A-Z Guide of Everyone who has played in the NHL, Andrew Podnieks sheds a little more light on Gallinger’s fate. He was a young phenom, and played with the Bruins when he was 17. He played on a line with two other teenagers, one being Bep Guidolin, who later coached the Belleville McFarlands.

Both Gallinger and Taylor were reinstated in 1970.

When former Belleville football star Mike Schad played with the Philadelphia Eagles, he was often questioned about the injury status of the star players before a game. The illegal bookies needed that information to calculate their odds., and to enhance their winnings. Schad had no time for that action. He was only interested in protecting Randall Cunningham at the time.

The NHL has avoided serious gambling scandals since the 1940s; however, the Tocchet situation indicates that there will always be someone out there, somewhere, wanting to lay down a couple of bucks on a game. And there will always be someone to take those wagers, some legal, some against the law.

In a television special on hockey called Major Misconduct, the CBC investigated gambling and hockey, with an eye on the Russian influence. The league’s position: “The league takes very seriously any allegations of potential influence of a Russian criminal element on the game or its players and has been closely monitoring the situation since 1996.” That was in relation to Fetisov and Bure with suggestions that they may have been contacted by the Russian mafia.

Fortunately, hockey has, for the most part, escaped the gambling bug. With swift and harsh punishment, all involved in the game will avoid the temptation of getting richer a little quicker-by gambling.

Note to all concerned: find another hobby.

James Hurst
August 8, 2007

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