Pegler Tells Why Gamblers Wear Those Gloomy Looks

Westbrook Pegler

Chicago Tribune/August 8, 1929

Saratoga Springs, New York. Aug. 7—It comes as something of a shock to realize here at the Saratoga races that professional gamblers are the most trustful and credulous class of financial operators in the entire community of money-changers, extending credit to the extent of $500,000 a day on certain days of the racing season on the five New York tracks, much of it on no more security than the verbal OK of a casual acquaintance.

Of course, easy money has no fixed place of abode, and the gambler’s conception of the value of a dollar is about three mills as compared to its value among people who work for wages or salaries and budget their expenditures with an idea of saving so much every week, barring emergencies, but find emergencies thrust upon them.

No Respect for $100,000

In the financial scheme of things a certain liberal amount of money seems to have been set aside as easy money, to be gambled from hand to hand between the professionals. If one goes broke, somewhere in the park another one makes a corresponding killing, and although there are always a few lucky customers hurrying off with profits, there are always others who have lost a compensating amount. So the bookmakers themselves seem merely to handle the money, allowing themselves a turn as custodian of the wandering bankroll.

To one with a decent respect for a large amount of money there is something blasphemous about the casual manner in which these financiers speak of $100,000 to $250,000.

Trusts Stranger for $10,000

I was riding with a middle-aged bookmaker the other evening and he was complaining of being more or less broke. Nevertheless when he spoke of losing $100,000 in the course of a few weeks two or three seasons ago, he mentioned the sum with no respect whatever. I thought he should have intoned it, because to my way of reckoning that is more money than a fairly competent working fellow with family responsibilities could earn in 33 years at $60 a week.

He spoke also, and somewhat bitterly, of losing $10,000 by accepting a rubber check from a client, and I could but reflect upon the long negotiation, the inquiries and the collateral that a bank would insist upon before advancing $10,000 to a man wishing to build a house or start a garage somewhere.

“You can’t tell a rubber check by the feel,” he said. “You have got to trust a man’s honor. Another fellow OK’d him to me I didn’t know the other fellow very well,, but I had booked some of his business, so when he brought this zebra around and said he was OK I took his business. When he settled  he gave me this check and it bounced back so hard it almost knocked me down. Naturally his credit is no good any more at any of the books, because a man like that is branded. But is that any way to do when you rely on a man’s honor?”

Memories Depress Them

Judging by the subdued and generally doleful manner of the gamblers around the hotels in the evening one might leap to the conclusion that they all have been losing money, but I am advised that this is no index to their fortunes, as they are always subdued and depressed, owing to memories of past experiences with rubber checks.

There is no way of estimating the amount of these uncollectible debts that have been written off the books of the professionals operating in Saratoga at the present time, but it is nott uncommon for a bookmaker to come to the end of the season just about square in the matter of cash but with his profit outstanding in the form of accounts due. An uncertain proportion of this may be collected, as most of the customers set some store by their credit and will make good wholly or in part, given enough time. They have merely overestimated their luck and this is regarded as a venal sin upon the adjustment of the account.

Tosses Coin for $160,000

I observe that by unspoken consent the professional gamblers accept Col. E. R. Bradley as their model and ideal. He does a credit business with people who wish to gamble against him, but he never sues at IOUs left at his tables in Palm Beach and he has never accepted less than 100 cents on the dollar in settlement of any debt of this kind. Some years ago a millionaire engaged in the moving picture business indulged in some speculation at his white clapboard cottage which stands so prim on the beach, suggesting a crossroads meeting house in Vermont. An authority tells me that when the evening’s play came to an end the customer wished to continue, but that the colonel refused.

“It is arule of the club to close at a certain time,” he said, “but if you want to change to get even I will toss a coin. You can pay me double or nothing.”

The customer lost. He owed $320,000. He never paid, but he hasn’t gone to Florida since.

(Source: Chicago Tribune Archives,