If you’ve thought about placing a few bucks down on a college football game, or asking around for a good - ahem - reputable bookie, take time to read my two new pieces on sports gambling.
Centered around my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, known as the college sports capital of the world, I spent some time in college working for a sports handicapper, running the daily lines to clients as they would call in to the office.
As you can imagine, many of my family and friends weren’t sure what a handicapper did and were convinced I was working for a bookie. To be clear, I have never accepted a bet or placed a bet, but the job was part of the sports gaming industry that has a shady reputation - and for good reason.
About a decade after I left this job, got serious about my studies and graduated college, I began hearing stories about an uncle of mine who got ‘crossways’ with some underworld types in the city. As the story goes, it was around 1980 and when he ‘lost’ $15,000 or so in CASH, and was given two choices - get out of town or enjoy nice, long dirt nap. He joined the Army lickety split and not much was seen of him for at least 10 years.
I always thought this story was a tall tale, but I had a chance to ask him about it about 8 or 9 years ago while staying with some family as he attempted to deal with issues with alcohol. He said the story was completely true. I have my doubts.
Unfortunately, he lost his life a couple of years ago from those same demons. At the same time, I’ve put a greater emphasis on my Christian faith and even teach a Sunday School class for fourth grade boys. I think about this job I had in college and about my uncle’s situation often and, frankly, it all saddens me greatly. So I decided to take a look at the issue, writing two pieces on gambling for B-Metro magazine.
In the first, I talk in more detail about working for a handicapper and some of my family’s history with sports gambling. In the second, I interview a recovering gambler, a current gambler, a counselor who specializes in addictions, and a former bookie, giving readers some insight into the world of illegal sports gambling.
In addition, fellow B-Metro writer Jesse Chambers takes a look at the issue, interviewing the general manager of one of our local sports radio stations, the one place guaranteed to feature radio ads of the nation’s top sports handicappers. Jesse’s piece comes first, followed by my first-personal recollections and then my interview-based piece. Also, be sure to check out the photos by Birmingham-based photographer Liesa Cole.