‘The Greek Who Makes the Odds’ – 1961 Sports Illustrated Profile of Jimmy ‘The Greek’ Snyder

Speaking of legal sports betting, this 1961 feature profile of Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder by Gilbert Rogin is a hell of a read for modern eyes. (The Sports Illustrated story spells his first name “Jimmie”, but he eventually went to “Jimmy”.) The web version has a few OCR errors, but they’ve also got the entire original print issue of the magazine scanned, and it’s a hoot to page through just to look at the ads. (Lots and lots of booze.)

If you’re old enough, you’ll recall Snyder as a mainstay on CBS’s “The NFL Today” football studio team back in the 1980s, until he was fired after making offensive remarks about black athletes in a 1988 interview.

Back in 1961, though, Snyder was running a small legal sportsbook in Las Vegas, at a time when the major casinos didn’t handle sports betting. No internet, of course, and no cable TV. So this is how they got information and scores:

Nowadays Jimmie relies chiefly on newspapers for information; he subscribes to 27. “There’s a lot of handicappers that know how to read newspapers,” he says. “They’re called good readers.” Other sources of information are magazines, wire-service-clips and college brochures. [...]

On Saturdays during the football season the gamblers — the affluent and the busted valises alike — gather in the smoky interior of the Hollywood Sports Service to watch the televised game on two sets, listen to another on radio, get the results, which come in fitfully over an often faulty Western Union ticker and bawl for free hamburgers. Snyder soothes the malcontents, pleads for last-minute “starkers,” or sure bets, and finer language, dissuades customers from betting more than they can afford — really — and tries, vainly it seems, to lead them in cheers and song.

The anti-Semitism in the piece is rather shockingly matter-of-fact:

And through meeting an Arabian prince who admired his suit (Jimmie later gave him a stunning white number — “a perfect fit,” he says) at Maxim’s, the Paris restaurant, he got involved in another oil proposition. This took him to Saudi Arabia and would have made him a millionaire if he hadn’t innocently included a Jew on his board of directors. The deal fell through.

Jimmie is often mistaken for a Jew or an Italian. Once, when he was staying at a restricted hotel in Miami, the manager told him that a lady had complained he was Jewish. Her reason: he had bet a horse $200 across the board. Jimmie protested that members of many ethnic groups bet horses $200 across the board. The manager explained that he had told the lady the very same thing. She had replied: “But Mr. Snyder won.”

Times change.

Saturday, 15 January 2022