Sports Betting – Past and Present, a Curious History

You Bet Your Life!Historical records revel that a team sport called Pok-A-Tok has been around since 3000 BC. Archeologists discovered a playing court in Central America that dates back to 1600 BC. The game was first played by the Mayans around 250 B.C. and then the Aztecs around 1200 A.D. The Spanish Conquistadors found evidence of this in 1590.The playing field was similar to the modern football field and was designed with arrangements for seating in elevated bleachers on either side of its 80 meter length. The goal posts were located along the length of the field rather than at each end. Goal posts originally consisted of 3 round “markers” or rings mounted high above the playing field. The object of the game was to pass a round rubber ball through the ring using only the player’s elbows, knees and hips.There is no direct evidence, but one theory that has persisted is that the game was played for both recreation and to settle disputes. In the later case, the captain of the losing team would be beheaded as part of the victor’s spoils and as a sacrifice to the Gods. Other theories exist portray warriors captured in battle sent into the ball courts for their final combat, as gladiators.The Computer Age and sports bettingPerhaps the most fascinating sports betting story involves a loose association formed in 1980 called the Computer Group. The Group had tentacles reaching out into the Mob, Computer Geekland, hi powered TV executives, a respected, orthopedic surgeon and a national network of over 1000 associates. To attempt to condense the mammoth story would do it injustice. Rather, it makes for more of a relative story to concentrate on the wagering and its origin.Between 1983 and 1985, this group had incredible influence over the American sports betting audience. Estimates on winnings in the 1983-84 sports season alone amounted to over $5,000,000. Records show that the group won and amazing 60.3%of its football game wagers in 1983. All in all, during a 5 year run, the group’s performance topped over $13.9 million.At the heart of this was a man who was one of the first to adopt the use of computers to calculate the odds of sports team match ups. Michael Kent, a mathematician who had helped develop nuclear submarines for Westinghouse, spent years studying game results starting with his own softball team. Based upon his study of different odds, point spreads and sports games, he developed algorithms that provided predictions as to the final scores and outcomes. At the heart of his theory was a book called “Theory of Gambling and Statistical Logic” by Richard A. Epstein. His formula encompassed many different components such as first downs, home field advantage, schedules, home court advantage and every other aspect of the game that could be quantified.The full story is much more robust including those who helped him place and collect the bets, bookies, family members, beards, obsessed FBI agents, and a cast of thousands on the bet-making side of the business. Full of deception, intrigue, mile high success and bottom of the basement failure, this group rode as high as it gets in the world of sports betting until 19 men and women faced 120 counts of conspiracy, gambling and racketeering in a Nevada court room.Quite a story. Look it up if you want to know the gritty details. Better yet, wait until it comes to a theater near you. I am sure that it will.Factoid-In 1925 a Scotsman named Arthur Ferguson sold Big Ben for 1,000 pounds and Buckingham Palace twice for 2,000 pounds to American tourists and nearly sold the White House to a Texan for $100,000/yr.