Small Town Bookies

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People have to love small town bookies. I grew up around them. They were often the most colorful people in town.

My mother played the numbers. I don't know if you could call her superstitious, but if she caught someone in the family sleepwalking, she would follow them and say, 'Give me a numbber...give me a number.'

Al Orsini was the numbers guy in my home town of Sutersville, PA. He was an Italian with a swarthy skin and he always seemed to be wearing a smile.

Al would take bets on numbers, horses and greyhound dogs racing at Wheeling Downs. He and my mother would exchange telephone calls daily and she would bet on the horses.

Each year at Christmas time, Al would make a big donation to the local Catholic Church which would use that money to help the local poor. Al drove a shiny new convertible and made every Sunday morning mass service.

When I worked as editor of the Brownsville Telegraph in Brownsville, PA., we had poker three nights a week and a bookie who worked in a bar. He would take bets on whatever you wished to wager on -- horses, dogs or sports. And he always had the latest Las Vegas odds at his disposal.

I took a job in Tucson, AZ. and met a bookie who operated out of a boarding house where I roomed. He carried a thick wad of bills and was known to pack a gun in his boot.

Once I had a hot date with a flight attendant that night and I was broke. I told my bookie that and asked him if I could make a bet on credit. He smiled and said, 'Sure.'

That day I bet on the Pittsburgh Pirates to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in a baseball game. They were playing at the old Forbes Field which was their home stadium for many years. The Pirates won, I was paid off, and I had a most enjoyable night with a blue-eyed stewardess from Flint, MI.

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If you wanat to bet on horses, dogs or sports events, put out the message. Talk to bar owners or cab drivers. They will know who to put you in touch with.

I know that Al Orsini was a joy in my mother's eye. He was the kind of small town bookie that brings out the adventurous side all of us have. I think all of us should pay homage to the small town bookies of the world.

When I worked as a reporter for the Tucumcari Daily News in Tucumcari, N.M., our receptionist was the daughter of the town's police chief. She was friends of the local bookie who would come into the newspaper office almost on a daily basis to pick up bets or make payments.

I had developed a system for picking horses at Santa Anita, Del Mar or Hollywood Park race tracks. I'd bet $5 to win, $20 to place and $20 to show on my choice. That way if my horse finished in the money, I would collect.

It worked. I was collecting far more money from the town bookie than I was paying out. The bookie had a grumpy admiration of my play.

I have never had a problem with being paid by a bookie. The ones who are good stay in business. Good luck with your selection.

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