David the Hat

A new sports betting show is about to debut on ESPN, a dramatic reversal of that network’s previous views on gambling. But gaming veteran Richard Schuetz (l.) recalls when sports bettors in Las Vegas had to work hard to find reputable and accurate sports betting information.

David the Hat

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” —Alexander Pope 1688-1744

Back during the glory days of the Stardust Race and Sports Book, there was a special place called the Players’ Library that was tucked-away around the corner from the main sports betting counter. This space was the creation of the book’s manager, Scott Schlettler, and was a tactic that Scott used to market the book. In that library, there would be all kinds of information about the sporting events happening that day, or in the near future, and the bettors could stand and read things like the Gold Sheet, weather reports, and whatever Scott could find to hang up there – and the bettors would even take notes. More importantly, standing in that library they gained an opinion, and in the Stardust Race and Sports Book we wanted people with opinions – for people with opinions made us money.

This is why the sports betting industry had to be thrilled when ESPN recently announced it was going to launch the Daily Wager, a one-hour weekday show that will focus on sports wagering and information. I predict it will be a hit and also include Sunday mornings with the return of the NFL season. The show will feature a number of personalities including a man I have visited with on several occasions, and I believe I have read damn near everything he has published. His name is David Payne Purdum, but for those that follow David on Twitter will understand why I now think of him as David the Hat.

Mr. Purdum has been with ESPN for seven years covering the betting scene, and covering it well. It is my tendency to be a bit critical of so many of the “experts” who are now running about the country trying to sell themselves as something that they are not, but David is not one of these. My critical litmus test of sports knowledge is if the so-called expert knows of Billy Walters, for if a person is involved in the U.S. betting scene and doesn’t know the Billy Walters’ story, well, they are probably one of those 90-day wonders who I generally like to belittle. But David knows a great deal about Billy, and much, much more, and that is the true test of someone who has both been around and studied the industry for an appreciable amount of time.

Aside from being quite smart, Mr. Purdum is a brilliant writer. He is incredibly talented—a real artist with the keyboard. He is also pleasantly understated and is as likely to listen as to talk—a nice break from so many of us in or around the casino industry.

The betting industry should also pay Mr. Purdum a commission for he gives people an opinion about things, and remember, opinions make the betting industry a great deal of money. On his Twitter feed, he will discuss both the spread of money and bets, allowing many to conclude that they can tell where the “smart” money is falling, what the “insiders” know, or some such thing. He will quote what the different books “need,” especially late, and once again the bettor is made aware of a small bit of information that can make that individual think he knows something important and so loosen the grip on the old betting bankroll.

Many people argue that betting is a game of skill, whereas others suggest it is a game of chance. Mr. Purdum clearly understands that it is a game of emotion.

Last November, David led the media charge on what was the so-called disaster of November 4th for the books, and what better way to welcome the betting industry to the United States than to have the books loose their asses in the middle of the NFL season. My God, such a story was worth millions to the books, for it gave a ray of hope to those many bettors allowing them to believe they could beat the system, and beat it hard. Well, in spite of this great betting disaster as so well chronicled by David, the books managed to stay open, and actually made some money in November. David had masterfully crafted the notion that they could be hammered and hammered hard, and in truth they were—for one day. But November seemed to prove what I always experienced in my time on the house-side of the books and that is that the money stays in the system, and there is nothing better than having a player who thinks he is smart and has a bunch of cash in his or her pocket or account.

As one of the stars of the Daily Wager, Mr. Purdum will be joining a model established by an absolutely fascinating personality born Dimetrios Georglos Synodinos, a man who was also a true gift to the betting industry, albeit most of it was operating in black markets in his day. Dimetrios’ name was a bit challenging in the US, and so he went by the moniker of Jimmy the Greek Snyder. The Greek had a fascinating reputation as being a bettor, bookie, and hustler and was once convicted of a felony for violating the Wire Act. He paid a large fine, and says he then stopped booking, a business he had tried from time to time. My old friend Sonny Reisner, one of the first real legendary legal bookies in Las Vegas at the Hole-in-the-Wall, said the only problem that the Greek had as a bookie was that his book took in less money than it paid out, which in Sonny’s kind way of stating things suggested that the Greek was not too competent as bookie.

The Greek did receive a Christmas pardon for his felony by President Gerald Ford in 1974 and this event prepared him to become involved in something approaching prime time. In 1976, the Greek was hired to appear on the NFL Today Show, a CBS Sunday morning show that was aired prior to the start of the day’s NFL games. Because of concerns relating to the Wire Act, the show did not list point spreads, but the Greek would pick final scores of the games, such as the Cowboys will beat the Giants 31 to 27. Obviously, this code was not too difficult for the bettors of the world to figure out, both with respect to the spread and the totals.

The Greek also brought great color to the show. He was famous for his expressions and his colorful language, often sounding like those old mob guys who used to testify at organized crime hearings. He became known as a bit of a high-maintenance individual and once punched one of the anchors of the show, Brent Musburger, in the face at a bar. In addition, he was sufficiently rude to bring another of the show’s principals, Phyllis George, to tears just prior to going live; an event that resulted in the show taping the Greek’s part ahead of time so that he and Ms. George were not on the set simultaneously—a funny reality of a show that was “live.”

Dan Rather probably had the best read on the Greek when he suggested on an ESPN 30 for 30 episode: “Jimmy the Greek was an invention of Jimmy the Greek.” The end finally came 12 years after it started when the Greek decided that he should share his theories about genetics, evolution, and sport, especially as it pertained to black athletes. This was a bridge too far for CBS, and that was basically finito for the Greek.

One should always be suspicious of those who want to give their insights on making money to people, for if they had some real inner insight, they would probably be using it to make more money for themselves. But this logical test is rarely applied, and the Greek’s Sunday routine was fun, and gave people opinions. And again, opinions are the currency of the betting industry.

One thing that used to annoy me about the Greek was that he was really just talk. When he stated an opinion there were not people waiting to throw a ton of cash down on a counter in front of him. When our book put up a number, people fired at it, and fired hard. It was also the case that people would argue with us about our opening lines because of something the Greek said. We would tell them to go find the Greek and place the bet with him. The point is, anyone can state an opinion about a line with great confidence and authority when it is accompanied with complete financial immunity. It takes a truly talented group of people to put up numbers day after day knowing that people would be trying to take all of the money away from that book. Truly a case of money talks and bullshit walks.

Aside from these minor annoyances associated with the Greek, he was pure gold to the betting business. As the insightful Art Manteris mentioned on the ESPN 30 for 30 episode on the Greek and betting: “He took it from backroom whispers to a prominent conversation in everyone’s living room on Sunday morning.” In short, he helped normalize and legitimize betting on sports. What was funny was that it is generally understood that the Greek was as wrong at least as often as he was right, leading the 30 for 30’s director, Fritz Mitchel to comment on the Greek’s prowess: “Like fishermen, gamblers are known for stretching the truth.”

So now, 31 years after losing Jimmy the Greek from the sports betting conversation, we will be gaining David the Hat, a much smarter and more refined version of a character who will further enhance the betting experience for many – especially the books.

Articles by Author: Richard Schuetz

Richard Schuetz started dealing blackjack for Bill Harrah 47 years ago, and has traveled the world as a casino executive, educator and regulator. He is sincerely appreciative of the help he received from his friends and colleagues throughout the gaming world in developing this article, understanding that any and all errors are his own.