Until recently, Nevada was the only place in the United States where it was legal to place a bet on a sporting event. All the same, as long as all the newspapers run the point spreads, even the most naive sports fan knows that some outside betting must be going on.
While official league organizations try to pretend they don’t know about it or that it isn’t very important to the popularity and public appeal of their games, odds makers, bookies, and private parties know that a baseball or football game without a book is about as likely as horserace with no bets.
Like it or not, sports betting is big, big, business, and not just in Nevada, either. A serious gambler with big bets to place may call seven or eight major cities to lay money on a game with as many major bookies.
All this is illegal, of course, and a bookie can be busted just for giving odds over the interstate phone line.
And they don’t involve themselves in card games, unless they happen to be expert players as well as good gamblers. Your average full-time gambler is a person fascinated with the odds, the numbers, and the probabilities.
He sees in two seconds that the odds against the player are relentless in casino gambling, and besides, he knows that if he did manage to win big at craps or blackjack, the casinos would shut him out of action for the rest of his life.
And the common feeling about horseracing is that, hard as it is to dope out what a bunch of men might do next Sunday afternoon or Monday night, it’s impossible to accurately figure out what a horse is going to do.
The only other bet that attracts more action than sports is politics. There’s big money in Super Bowl wagers, and for all the millions that Mohammad Ali generates for himself and his promoters, he generates lots more in bets.
But the really big money— big and secret— is wagered only on national elections. Luckily for the state of the political sanity, national elections don’t happen as often as baseball games or even Super Bowls.
And you can’t put a twenty on Kennedy to place, not even in Las Vegas. Big odds makers have teams of poll-takers fanning out across the country every summer and fall, just like the TV networks do.
In elections, the odds are everything. Since Truman was elected in 1948, no election has ever gone against the odds.