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As I See It

8 November 2002

by Jimmy Vaccaro

Scams have been around since the beginning of time and as long as money and power are involved, just like Monday follows Sunday, do not look for it to ever end.

I am sure that everyone that reads this article was either a scammee or a scammer. At some point in our lives we have crossed the line. It comes with the territory and with the learning curve when you come in and out of money. I am not advocating cheating, but do not look yourself in the mirror when shaving in the morning and say "not me." I would never do that because you might take a chunk out of your cheek.

The first time I was separated from my bankroll, which at the time was Bill Gates' money, was in a "juice joint" in New Kensington, PA. I was there with my best friend, who was a couple years older than me, and he was starting to make connections with some of the local spots where you shoot dice, play 21, and play sports. Well, we started shooting craps and I was just changing money until the joint got real busy at 2 a.m. A lot of local bookmakers and numbers people started playing and, since it was a bank game, when the big money started to show on the do nobody could make a pass.

On the long cold ride home on empty my friend informed me about how we got taken. I was not so much glad we blew our money, but I was more intrigued on how. Ever since I have learned to at least take it when you're beaten, but learn from it so you can gain some insight if the spot ever shows again.

It was not the first time and I have seen some that were concocted on nerve and some on brain. The only ones that have a chance to go undetected have to deal with the combination of both. The perfect balance in most cases comes from a street savvy person coupled with someone with ingenuity and some technical sense.

I am not passing judgment on what happened during Breeders Cup weekend, but it looks like too many brains and not enough savvy. Singling some of the early horses was probably their biggest downfall. I have seen some good ones in the sports industry (and could go on for a while), but I will mention just a few and maybe somewhere down the line revisit the topic. Some of them were just amazing ideas and, even if I was the victim, I must tip my hat to the creativity. By the way "greed" caused the eventual misstep to the guilty parties.

Long before computers and time pieces being burnt into central hard drives you did a lot of stuff manually. The old timers know the exercise:

1. Tell the clerk the bet.

2. Clerk handwrites the ticket.

3. Three copies come out of the machine.

4. Let the fun begin...

The ticket is then time stamped in what was simply called a simplex clock in those days. Clerks who had idle time on their hands sometimes made for mischievous ideas. A clerk figured out that when all the windows were not opened, because it was not that busy, it gave him an out card that worked for sometime.

It went something like this. At that time things, including time clocks, were not plugged into a main frame so you could simply unplug the clock and move to another window and continue to write tickets. That window where you just opened up was not going to be used so, in effect, you were writing out of two windows but one had the time "frozen" because you had reached over and pulled out the plug. Baseball season has two semi-busy hits during the day. The 4:30 west coast starts and the late games that went at 7:30 pacific time. So, I think you get the picture.

You had all these games that would be completed in three hours or simply pick the team that was winning 8-2 in the 8th and conveniently move over to the unoccupied window, plug the clock back where now that clock was still at 4:27, and write a ticket on a game that was over or 1 way out in front and your cousin Vinny happened to be first in line at your old window. Anyone could have ground it out for all season long but, all of a sudden, Vinny (who was a $20 4-team parlay player) was betting nickels and dimes. They were caught after a month but, without their stupidity, could have lasted until computers were introduced the early 80's.

My all-time favorite when I was in the box was at the old Royal Inn Casino in 1978. If you have read my columns in the past I have talked on numerous occasions on the "bringing back to life of the parlay card" business and coming up with new ways to attract business. Well we were the first casino to offer the 15 out of 15 payout of $100,000 on a $5 dollar bet. It was an immediate hit and we got a tremendous amount of play on the ticket. Still, I remember we were not the most benevolent as you were getting 20,000 to 1 on your bet but it still figured out to be 32,000 to 1 with true odds. But who was counting? It was the closest thing to a lottery hit in the sports gambling world.

Well we got caught with our pants down and this deal caused 18 months of aggravation and the guy wound-up being stubborn in the end and ended up with nothing. His name was Gilbert Tauzier and he was from New Orleans. Once again the thought process was good and I will try to explain it so you understand:

The parlay business was jumping and people used to come in and bet 5, 10, 15 cards at a time and so the clerks became very mechanical in the way they took the cards. In the days before card readers you would actually get the top part of the card back after it was time stamped. So the card had to be time stamped at the bottom, for our records, and the top was returned to the customer.

You taught a clerk to look to see if the card was filled out properly, but the easiest way was to stamp the card first and look second. That was our biggest mistake. What Tauzier did was give a stack of 15 teamers to the clerk and the clerk stamped all the front of the tickets and then, when he turned them over, discovered that one of the tickets did not have the blocks blacked out which were your picks. So mistake number two was again on our side of the ledger: never give nothing back that has been time stamped. A street guy like Tauzier, however, might have been doing this for weeks as long as the clerk handed him back the ticket.

Well once he did, old Gil had a free roll. He already had another bottom stub filled out and pretended that he gave back the one just handed to him. He kept the card that had been time stamped with none of the blanks filled in. He thanks the clerk for helping him out and he retreats with the tickets he purchased and the blank card that is time stamped. It was like staring into the lottery numbers for Wednesday while it was still Tuesday night.

Friday night was a monster night for cards and, naturally, Saturday because of the pro schedule the following day. Now in those days, even though we were the first to have a 24-hour sports book, it was not instituted until the following year so we closed at midnight.

So Gil knew he could not use the card until Saturday night after the completion of the college games on Saturday. So, he returned on Saturday night, played some cards, and waited until we closed. Between midnight and the next morning he came with the stub of 15 college winners and strategically placed the stub behind the writers station (where you could argue that the writer had dropped the stub while he was taking in all those cards and it simply got under the machine). We open up on Sunday morning with a hectic pace and he again shows some cards, pretends he drops one, and tells the clerk that one fell behind the machine, so it is retrieved and put with the rest of the bunch. It was really not a bad move.

First mistake is that he shows up on Monday morning with a broken down Vegas attorney named Al Becker and he is demanding his money. He only brought his barrister because he felt the giant casino people were going to welch on his bet. After a little work we were still not 100% sure but, because the ticket was in the Sunday morning batch as opposed to the Saturday take, it did raise some flags. Michael Gaughan said at the time that not only would he not pay but wanted some time to investigate a little further.

The strength of the casinos are that you can stretch this thing out for a long time and the little guy can make mistakes if he has too much time on his hands. Gaming control gave Gaughan all the time he wanted because of his stature.

In the meantime we moved from the little digs at the Royal Inn to the strip and the Barbary Coast, which opened in March of 1979. Now this ticket was written during the football season the previous year and there was no resolution in the near future.

Mistake number two, which was a huge one by Tauzier, was that he draped a sandwich board around his body and paraded on the strip in front of the brand new Barbary Coast and his sign said words to this effect: "Michael Gaughan is a welcher and no one should enter his casino because he does not pay." He had all the games listed and, naturally, caused a spectacle and even managed to get the local news to film it.

Now you have to understand that just a few days earlier, even though we knew we got "taken off," Michael was going to give him $30,000 just to go away but they refused. When he showed up on the street Michael Gaughan now had a new mindset: he told me that if it were to cost him $10,000,000 he was not going to pay. So he got the wheels in motion and got people involved, including those who would never be involved in this low of a fraudulent event, but when you're Michael Gaughan you can get things done.

They found out about the shady deals that went back 30 odd years and, once it started to unravel, gaming ruled against the payout. So, even if you come up with something good you have to know when to bail out and also grab what you can.

All of this leaves us back to the frat brothers back east. If you had been doing it before, and did not get caught, then you should always opt for the smaller payouts or the low profile event in order to avoid being exposed. You could have done your selections a little different and, I suppose if Tauzier went for a few 7 or 8 teamers, he might have gotten paid also.

So remember: no one is immune to the sting and the thing is that, as you read this, someone somewhere is thinking up something new. It is simply the checks and balance of everything we do, but the doer's always get too greedy.

All responses are always welcomed. Take care and keep in touch,

Jimmy V

This article is courtesy of Don Best Sports.

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