Gambling as Business

All legal gambling operations in the U.S. had to compete against what had been organized crime's near-monopoly. Even Las Vegas, whose business is carefully regulated by the Nevada State Gaming Commission, has a history riddled with mob involvement.

But Nevada seems finally to have succeeded in fully legitimizing casinos and making gambling just another business, though a bit more exciting than the dry-cleaning game. For the serious bettor, however, as opposed to the tourist, or the playboy who gambles for amusement, there has never been a substitute for one's own personal bookmaker. A bookie can, and will, if you're a good customer, give you odds on anything. Unlike casinos, house odds percentages are not fixed.

Depending on who you are and how much you bet, you can get some very good odds with a bookie, and this makes him doubly attractive to the bettor who thinks of himself as knowledgeable and sophisticated. Besides, the range of possible bets is so much greater with a bookie.

One state may give an individual a chance to bet on Monday night football, and the casino will let anyone wager on the spin of the wheel and a little ball, but only a bookmaker will let one bet on the city council elections, or a high school basketball game, or even on such emphatically illegal and venerable events as cock/dog fights.

For sheer action, however, nothing beats the simple old numbers racket. Born in Harlem during Prohibition, numbers betting quickly became the most popular and widespread system of small-time gambling since taking a chance on love.

Some can afford to travel to Deauville to play at the big, mahogany chemin-de-fer tables; a few more can spend a week or a weekend in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, but nearly everyone, who ever thought of wanting to, can afford to bet on the numbers once in a while.

Whether the usual patrons of numbers runners wouldn't be better clothed and fed, if they stayed away from the game, is another question.

That the very poor should play the numbers is a premise almost nobody would claim is a good thing. That they do play the numbers is an established fact.

Las Vegas has always been protected from most of these criticisms, mostly by its remoteness. A certain amount of disposable income is needed for a gambler just to get to Vegas, and even more stay for very long, simply because of the effort it took to get there.

Nevada itself is one of the most sparsely populated states in the Union, and its near neighbors, with the obvious exception of California, are also sparsely settled.

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Gambling as Business

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