The Big Bankroll they called him. The Brain. Mr Big. Even the mere mention of his initials, A.R, elicited a known look from all within hearing distance. In his hey day, Arnold Rothstein was the biggest gambler in America, standing gracefully on both sides of the ledger. He owned a town and controlled an empire. He was so big that despite denials it is universally accepted that he fixed the most hallowed of American affairs, the World Series.
Back in the 1920’s, money was rife and those who held it didn’t have too tight a grip. And the man who ran with the mark Titanic Thompson was there to clean up as much of that scratch as possible.
Lore has it that he was the biggest gambler of them all. At least in his heyday between the roaring twenties and World War II, when Thompson traveled back and forth across the free plains and high mountains of the United States looking for rubes to fleece and action to be part of. Ti, as he eventually became known among friends and well-wishers, was a card shark, a golfer and a professional. He would combine all his skills- pure athleticism, suave charm, dedication and an eye for a sucker- to make his way.
There are few more important men in the history of Australian racing and gambling than John Wren. Not that those running the game wanted any part of him. Wren took racing and gambling to the masses. He was a working class hero who wrenched racing from the aristocracy and placed it at the feet of the working and the poor. At a time when involvement in racing and gambling was determined by money and title and class, Wren took the grandeur of thoroughbred racing and the hope of gambling to the inhabitants of the pubs and the streets and the factories. And he was adored and hated for it and to this day, half a century since he met his maker, he still elicits the most extreme of emotions.
Perc Galea was sucked into the punting game from a young age. He never left, even as he breathed his last breath, needing not only the rush that comes from laying down a heavy wager but the knowledge that comes with being right. From both sides of the ledger and both sides of the velvet rope, Galea was a gambler and at the high end of gamblers that both Sydney and Australia have ever known. And unlike most heavy rollers who ride the road until left destitute by frazzled nerves, bad instincts and no bank, Galea left this earth much better off than how he entered it, leaving a considerable estate.
It was early on, soon after he took over the family empire and soon after he started sending shivers down the collective spine of Sydney bookmakers, that he was nicknamed The Big Fella. It was iconic racing scribe Max Presnell who dubbed Kerry Packer same but it was soon the term most racing folk came to know him by. It was an apt nickname, conveying perfectly not only his ample stature (in both a physical and social sense) but his bet sizes. In Las Vegas, he was the Big Whale, for a period of time the biggest of the big players. He could shake not only a casino but a town, a place supposedly built for big time gambling. Kerry Packer was a behemoth of the gambling world. And boy, did he love a punt.
Las Vegasis known for its mythical beasts, legends who have hit the neon and green felt of Sin City and performed amazing feats of size or skill in victory and in defeat. It is what the town is built on. And the most legendary of all the gambling stories that sizzle on the Boulevard bitumen and circulate through the ever-fresh casino air is that of Archie Karas, the self professed biggest gambler in the history of the world. His wagering throughout 1992 and 1993, under the glare of the Vegas sun and the local eyes that get their kicks from such high wire play, would certainly lend itself in support of the claim.
Adelaide v Wollongong (Friday, Adelaide -4.5 to -5.5) The two bottom teams square off on Friday night in a game that will play a major bearing on the wooden spoon. The Sixers are strongly favoured, playing on their home court, but they are a lowly 1-4 in Title Town this year. With Wollongong beating New Zealand and pushing the Crocs on the road this year and with Oscar Forman in good nick, the Hawks look the play.
This story was first published on Punting Ace in 2008
This weekend, at Radio City Music Hall, the NFL will hold its 73rd draft. All thirty two teams will have finished with all the research, the workouts, the film study, the interviews, the measurements and the forecasting and will be complete and with crossed fingers and prayers to the Gods, the selections will be made. Some selections will be written into legend, remembered by history as positive for both the team and the league. Others, however, will be considered failures, draft busts who disappoint fans and leave franchises reeling. History is littered with those who could not make the transition to the professional game. Some did not have the tools to step up. Others did not have the dedication to make it as a pro. There were some who could not handle the fame. Others could not shoulder the responsibility.
On a rain-swept and wintry night, the first of June in 2002, between the South African city of Bloemfontein and the Western Cape town of George, Hansie Cronje died and so to did the truth. It had been less than two years since the former South African cricket captain, a man adored by fans and teammates alike and described by coach Bob Woolmer as a “true leader of men”, was called on to answer charges of match-fixing and accepting money from bookmakers for what is known as “forecasting”. Cronje, aware the evidence against him was overwhelming, admitted, in part only, his guilt. Through carefully worded statements and a public relations campaign that focused on his devout Christianity and the weaknesses of humanity, Cronje “confessed” his wrongdoing and threw himself on the mercy of the public and the game. Many, however, believe his admissions were nothing more than an orchestrated campaign to win back a reputation that would have been gutted without an acceptance of transgression and that a true confession was never forthcoming. And it never will be, the skeletons Cronje had in his cupboard buried back in June of 2002 with Hansie himself.
To date, we have looked at gamblers made famous by their deeds. This tale is different. It wasn’t gambling that made Pete Rose famous though today, it is intrinsically linked to the man baseball fans once calledl Charlie Hustle. No, Pete Rose was well known long before his punting deeds reached the forum of public opinion. He swung bats and ran hard and got hits and was as good a baseball player that hit a diamond in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. He was adored by the town of Cincinnati and generally loathed by most other Major League Baseball cities. But throughout his career as a hard playing hustler who never said die, Pete Rose was always respected. Always.