High School Games


By Sam Garfield

Oct 28, 1958

(Chicago)-They’re all around us.

Go anywhere –gin joints and church picnics, fine restaurants and drive-ins, offices and newsrooms— and you can find them. And don’t forget about high schools and colleges.

They’re suckers.

There’s this kid I know. Let’s call him Danny, although that’s not his real name. Danny, a junior in high school, is smart, popular, and he comes from a good family. His story is important because he could be your child.

Danny is a gambler. And a thief.

Every week during the college football season, Danny meets up with a certain kid at his high school –maybe in the cafeteria or in the schoolyard– and buys a parlay card, or two. Or three. Each parlay card has about thirty football games listed and next to each game is a specific point spread. For example: Illinois -6 vs. Northwestern. This means if you want to bet the favorite, Illinois, you must give six points to Northwestern. But you’ve got to bet more than one game… a parlay. The minimum is a three-game parlay, which means you have to win all three games; you’ll get 6-1 odds. Very enticing. Then there’s a four team play, at 9-1 odds, a five-team parlay…all the way to the biggest sucker bet of all –a 10-game parlay, which pays off at 100-1.

High schools across Chicago are flooded with parlay card action. (So are many taverns, restaurants, barber shops; these cards are all over. It’s big business.) Kids like Danny are spending their allowance money betting on these parlay cards in the halls of their high schools. Big- time gamblers get ringleaders to find high school kids to distribute the cards for a fifteen percent take of the action.

“I started with just a $.25 card and a three-game parlay,” Danny told me. “But in a few weeks, I was playing several cards a week and even going in with friends to buy 10-game cards for a few dollars. I love football and I thought I was good at picking winners.”

Danny told me he even stole part of his sister’s communion money to finance one season of college football.

These kids hardly ever win. One Chicago police vice squad detective told me that the gamblers who run these football pools pay off on only one percent of the bets. Ninety-nine percent lose. Any high schooler, even the dumb ones, should realize those odds stink.

“It’s a huge problem, and has been for years,” one juvenile detective told me. “These cards are easy to get in high schools. They’re all over the place at lunchtime; they’re as available as cigarettes or Twinkies.”

If you don’t think this is a problem, that it’s just a novelty and the kids will “grow out of it,” take notice. Last Saturday, a Chicago kid named Tony Rio scored a big touchdown to lead the University of Michigan over Minnesota in the Little Brown Jug game. Two days later, Ann Arbor police arrested Rio and his roommate, Wolverine basketball star Jack Lewis, also from Chicago, for distributing parlay cards on campus. They were part of a gambling ring, according to police, that took in $10,000 a week.

I don’t know if Rio or Lewis gambled –or sold– parlay cards in high school. But I know Danny did. And if you have kids in high school, you know why Danny’s story is important.

Copyright © 2011. John Theodore — All Rights Reserved. Text may not be reproduced without permission.

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