We’re standing on the backstretch of OTB — for the unitiated: Off-Track Betting.
We’re about to observe a moment of silence for The Ghost, Sully, Gus, the Greek …. that noble band of bookmakers who defied the laws of state to satisfy the laws of nature — that man must wager he’s smarter than the next sap.
If prostitution is the oldest profession, bookmaking has to run a very close second. It’s believed some early bookies took a bath on the parting of the Red Sea and lost their tunic when David, and his slingshot, took down Goliath at 100-1 odds.
We owe a debt of gratitude to this much-maligned, but gallant group.
American bookies are still perceived as parasites, lower even than politicians on the take.
But in the old country — the United Kingdom, where betting has been legal since the sixties — they have been given status. The Gambling Act of 2001 established trusted, legal bookmakers to settle all disputes.
We here in the states tend to be nonchalant about betting until someone jumps in over his head and a mother with 4 hungry mouths to feed wants his scalp. The order then goes out to round up the usual suspects, but before anyone is dragged off to the hoosegow, it’s back to business as usual.
Bookies withstand all the slings and arrows because, to paraphrase Hyman Roth of Godfather II, “that’s the business we chose.”
However, no one complains when cash-strapped governments decide to go into the bookie business or promote casino gaming, a tidy little euphemism they roll out now and then. It was expected the government entities would drive bookies underground if now out of business.
Anyone who believes the state can run a better book take a look at your nearest OTB office any afternoon but Derby day. Most days you can count the customers on one hand.