My father was a numbers (illegal lottery) bookie in Downtown Jersey City from the ’50s through the ’80s. Back when he ran his operation out of a candy store on Fourth and Grove (back when there was a Fourth and Grove), a new customer — who we shall call Jake — started betting a significant amount every day.
After placing his now routine daily numbers, Jake had a query “Tony, do you take baseball action?”
Back then bookies were specialists; numbers guys didn’t take sports bets; sports guys didn’t take track (horse) bets. My father was about to say, no, but instead nodded in the affirmative.
“OK here’s fifty for the Whirlybirds on Saturday.”
After Jake left someone who hung out in the candy store — George — had a question. “You’re takin’ sports now, Tony?”
“Nah, I jus’ didn’ wan’ ta chase a spender. I’m gonna run aroun’ the corner and han’ it over to Sal.”
“Yah, know, there’s somethin’ uncanny abou’ tha’ Jake. Whadevah team he bets on always loses.”
A little later while walking over to the neighborhood sports bookie, my father thought about what George had said. “Sal, the Whirlybirds are playin’ this Saturday?”
“Yeah. Gainsda Pitchforks.”
“OK. Here’s fifty on the Pitchforks.”
For that entire season, every time that Jake placed a bet on a team, my father instead put it on the opposition. He wound up having to pay out only once or twice.