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Old 10-25-2002, 11:24 PM
kiwi steve kiwi steve is offline
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Default Bob Martin story

For all times, he is The Man. Sonny Reizner once called him, the Bobby Jones-Babe Ruth-Man O'War of the oddsmaking business. THE BEST EVER. He exerted the single greatest influence on sports betting for a quarter of a century and provided the foundation for the industry today. He is the immediate linear descendant of Charles McNeil, Frank Erickson and Gil Beckley and figurative father to Roxy Roxborough. He paved the way for sportsbetting as we know it today.
Martin once said all it takes to be the nation's number one linesmaker is an opinion and the courage to back that opinion. His modesty and his great sense of humor merged well when he was once asked who set the pro football line each week. He responded that his wife did.

His legendary self-effacing humor aside, Martin did what he did best for years in Las Vegas: set the numbers, a service we all but take for granted in this computer age. It wasn't always so. This brilliant, modest, funny, funny man paved the way.


Martin first plied his trade by booking six-hit bets at Thomas Jefferson High School in East New York in Brooklyn, NY (pick three major league baseball players to get six hits cumulatively at 10-1 odds, later 6-1) graduating into football parlay cards like those issued by Gorham Press of Minneapolis fame. Martin remembers that, “I guess I was about 12 years old when I began making three-and four-team parlays, always dogs. I hit a few, running up a $600 bankroll. Sometimes I'd bet $5, a lot of money in the depression. I could have bought a whole block.

“It was a tough neighborhood. I had a bit of a reputation, because I had a knack for picking winning baseball teams. One day, Abe 'Kid Twist' Reles asked me to pick a few winners for him. I gave him five teams. Four won. The next day, Reles confronted me angrily: 'You had one loser,' he says to me. 'Don't give me no more bad bets.'”

Martin paid his way through New York University by selling parlay cards at a 25 percent commission while studying journalism and combined his knack for gambling by using out-of-town newspapers to get the inside “dope” on college basketball teams.

Realizing the value of edges, each morning Martin made his way to the Greyhound Bus terminal in Manhattan to purchase as many relevant out-of-town newspapers as he could. Each one contained important and hard-to-find information on the teams and players he could use on a daily basis, for more informed bets. It was sports betting research at its most basic level, and it worked.

Martin's career was interrupted by World War II and a stint in France, but he still managed to make book on the 1943 and 1944 World Series for his anti-aircraft company, and return to New York with enough of a bankroll to launch into bookmaking full-time.

Concerning his traumatic war-time experiences, Martin told Gold Sheet publisher Mort Olshan, in an interview, “I was in England, France, Germany Belgium, a little of Holland. It was the Second World War, not the Spanish-American. A lot of people think it was, but it wasn't.

“The St. Louis Cardinals were playing the Browns in the World Series in 1944, and we were in the fields of France. I was with an anti-aircraft division. On a dull afternoon, I booked the game. And I lost. I didn't have the money to pay off. That's really a harrowing experience. Shells might be bursting overhead, and the sergeant-corporals going around, 'Hey, where's that kid. Where's my money?' And I couldn't pay it off. “

“All I know is that I mustered out with about $50,000, which was a lot, but it didn't take me long to lose it betting on baseball and football. Then I got interested in betting fights. In New York, in those days, there were fights six nights a week at small clubs and out of town, so I started hanging around Stillman's Gym, getting to know the fighters and managers, and even made some of the matches. We'd go to places like Springfield, Holyoke, Scranton, and Binghamton and try to beat the local favorite and win some bets.

“I'd go to Stillman's during the day and at night would hang out on the corner of Broadway and Fiftieth, where all the big bettors hung out, and I'd just stand there listening to them bet thousands of dollars on different propositions. It was my education.

“So this one man who booked on the side at the racetrack took a liking to me and started asking about fights. Then one day he said, 'Let me show you something.' and he put some numbers on a piece of paper. He taught me about numbers and how to bet propositions and how to get value, and he opened my eyes.

“Next thing you know, I was betting $30,000 a game on baseball, and we'd sit in the Yankee Stadium bleachers and bet on every pitch. There might be seven hundred guys out there betting on balls and strikes. That was an education.”

Martin quickly developed a reputation as a man who knew things, a “wise guy.” He did this by combing his out-of-town papers for information, and collecting files on every player and sport. He made out all right until the 1951 college basketball point-shaving scandals, when he was wiped out by those in on the fixes.

He moved to Washington, D.C. in 1952, recalling, “A bookmaker there hired me to advise him on fighters...”The bookmaker was Julius Silverman and Martin was dead broke. He made his living in D.C., working out of a building near the old State Department, surviving there until 1959 when Martin, Silverman and Meyer “Nutsy” Schwartz were arrested in the Foggy Bottom row house. Their organization had become the number one boxing book in the country when Martin and his two partners were arrested. They were each given 2 1/2 to 5 years in prison. Martin notes, “I failed to procure diplomatic immunity.” His shop shut the doors in 1962 with Robert Kennedy's war on gambling in full swing.

Duke Ziebert, the famed Washington restaurateur came to Martin's aid. Ziebert hired Edward Bennett Williams, renowned trial lawyer and later owner of the Washington Redskins, to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court, using an invasion of privacy defense. Bennett bet Martin he'd sweep the judges, 9-0 in the Silverman vs. United States landmark case. Martin bet him 10-1 he wouldn't. Martin was quite happy to pay him the $1,000 when each man was forced to pay a $5,000 fine but he escaped jail time after surveillance used to gather evidence was ruled illegal and a violation of the defendants' Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

Martin left Washington and moved around the country, first to Miami, then back to Washington. He says, “I got into a little trouble in Houston back in the early 60s. They claimed I was bookmaking I thought I was just having fun. A difference of opinion, I guess.”

Seeking greener pastures, he eventually moved west in 1963 to become the official oddsmaker at Harry Gordon's Churchill Downs Race and Sports Book in Las Vegas in 1967. Located at 3655 Las Vegas Boulevard, South, Churchill became the center of the sports betting universe once Martin took over. Martin became the premier legal oddsmaker, and his legendary ability to create a line capable of generating action for both sides of a contest was solidified. He left Churchill Downs in 1972 and moved to the Union Plaza where he remained until the mid-1980s.

Martin became Las Vegas' “official” linesmaker at a time when each race and sportsbook was dependent on its own personnel to figure and move numbers. His odds were taken as gospel by contemporaries in the other books as well as the legions of illegal local bookmakers entrenched throughout the country. “We put up numbers which were used throughout the U.S.--illegally, of course--and we were featured on radio news reports. It was a mob scene in front of the book on Las Vegas Boulevard...it may not have been the best line, but it was honest. We never tried to put up say a 13 when it should have been 7, although the public wouldn't have known the difference.”

“Most sports nuts think they're so knowledgeable they can easily beat the house, And you can count me among those who tried it. That's how I went broke and, when I realized I couldn't beat the house, I became the house.” Martin used to joke his lines were so good, that he lost money betting into them himself.

He says, “I never had any limits. It's tough to turn down a guy who walks in with $50,000 cash. It's very hard to turn him down. You wonder, of course, because anybody betting that kind of money is confident. But I would and sell. Say he plays $50,000 at -6. I might make it -6.5 and draw some action the other way. You've always got some merchandise to sell if the price is right. I really don't remember turning anyone down for any amount of money in those days--oh, maybe with some triple wise guys betting on credit I might restrict them to $20,000, but I sure didn't turn down many I can remember.”

In devising a line, Martin's extraordinary sense of past performance and results mixed with innate intuitive sense of what the right number should be, was remarkable. He had a tremendous feel for the importance or lack thereof, of individual contests. Martin has said he reached a perfect number when he could easily make a case for betting either side of a game. It was this number that was invariably hung. This was the singular genius of Bob Martin.

As Martin posted his numbers, the daily crowd in the sportsbook, wrote furiously on clipboads, in notebooks, and when he was finished, they immediately steamed for thetelephones, trampling anyone unfortunate to be in the wrong place. It was a scene out of a rowdy western movie.

His choices were immediately devoured by professional Las Vegas sports bettors, while they were shipped simultaneously throughout the country to bookies in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Montreal, Toronto, Seattle--all points of the compass. They would eventually find their way to every poolroom, barbershop, and bar in America. These numbers were refined to the local betting interests, and this information was relayed back to representatives back in the Las Vegas books. Surely a precursor to the Internet, one might imagine Pentagon officials observed this rapid-delivery communications system with open envy.

It was this loosely-knit but superb system which proved to be Martin's undoing. Martin tells the story this way: “A guy (John Barbourian) from Providence (Rhode Island) called me a couple of times. I never asked him to call me but I knew him from Las Vegas. Anyhow, he asks my opinion on a game and mentions that his son wants to get down a bet. So I say, 'How much does he want to play? I'll place it for him.' That was the extent of it. Except that the guy was being wiretapped as the subject of an investigation and I fell into the web. I was insulted. I wasn't even the target.”

The government chose to prosecute him for the second time in 1977. Martin's attorneys filed the usual appeals. With typical humor, Martin noted, “I wouldn't call this a problem. More like a challenge. Let's say I'm in the fifth inning of a big game. I'm behind but it is a nine-inning game.” The trial was held at the point of the accusation, far from home, in Providence. Martin knew that, “In Las Vegas, It would have been a different matter.”

Martin signed a court document admitting that he gave Barbourian the sports betting line on three days in December 1977, and accepted $9,000 in bets on football games in one day from Barbourian's son Brian. William G. Hundley, Martin's lawyer told Judge Raymond J. Pettine that the bets were all “head-to-head” wagers between individuals and this type of bet was common and legal in Nevada where Martin lived and worked as a professional oddsmaker. But he did acknowledge the bets were not made in Nevada, instead, they were placed over the telephone from Rhode Island to Las Vegas.

Martin told Pettine he belonged to a large group of professional gamblers who co-mingle bets between themselves to avoid paying the extra charges imposed by the casinos. Another defendant in the case, one Lester “Lem” Banker got lucky. He got off with a suspended sentence and fine.

Martin was convicted of transmitting sports betting information across state line by telephone, charged with violating the Wire Act. This time he spent 13 month in prison and was handed a $10,000 fine, entering jail in 1982. Concerning his time in jail, Martin stated, “Prison was not an unpleasant experience. I did meet some interesting people there. Everyone should go through it. The sentence was light, but hey, whatever's fair.” Released in 1984 at the age of 65, he went into retirement

At one point in his career, Martin had actually reduced his role as Las Vegas' chief oddsmaker. He left the job to a rag-tag motley crew, none of whom was nearly as successful. He was forced to adjourn his early retirement, and return. But, with his duty to society paid in full, Martin left the public eye, leaving the job temporarily vacant. The 1982 football season was the first since 1966 that Martin was not The Man in charge of disseminating the official betting lines for America.

In semi-retirement since, Martin spent most of his time in the Manhattan Central Park South apartment he shared with his wife Carlotta. He passed away March 7, 2001 at home, diagnosed a short time before with lung cancer. For those of us who knew him and his wonderful ways, Bob Martin will always be The Man
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Old 10-26-2002, 01:51 AM
capt capt is offline
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well said
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