Las Vegas is trying to woo the Chargers. Sports reporters say there could be a roadblock: major professional sports leagues claim they are reluctant to see teams relocate to Sin City. The gambling industry might be a negative influence on the purity of pro sports.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha.
Pro sports and the gambling industry have been living in sin since the leagues began. Back in the early 1950s, the Senate's Special Committee on Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, known as the Kefauver Committee, noted that gangster money poured into pro football, baseball, and basketball -- football in particular.
Verily, pro football was born as a vehicle for gambling, and its owners and players have long been connected with organized crime and gambling, according to the 1989 book Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football by investigative author Dan E. Moldea.
Hypocrisy reigns. The National Football League warns that "associating with gamblers or with gambling activities in a manner tending to bring discredit to the NFL" will lead to severe penalties, including a life suspension from the league.
Ho ho ho ho ho ho. "Betting has made football, and the NFL knows it," writes Moldea. "The underworld has infiltrated every level of the NFL."
You want some names? George Halas, founder of the Chicago Bears in the 1920s, received loans from an associate of Chicago's "Scarface" Al Capone family, says Moldea. Tim Mara, who paid $500 for the New York Giants in 1925, was a bookie. Charles W. Bidwill, "a bootlegger, gambler, racetrack owner, and an associate of the Capone mob," says Moldea, bought the Chicago Cardinals in 1933. The team is now in Arizona and still run by a Bidwill. Big-time gambler Art Rooney bought the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1933. His son still runs the team. Horse-racing enthusiast and gambler George Preston Marshall bought a team in Boston and moved it to Washington, D.C., in the 1930s, says Moldea.
After World War II, the All-American Football Conference was formed to rival the National Football League. Many of the owners were high rollers, says Moldea. Del E. Webb was a partner in a New York team in the new league. Webb was the contractor whom mobster Bugsy Siegel handpicked to build the Flamingo, the first major hotel-casino in Vegas. Webb had a 10 percent interest in that casino and later built and owned other gambling meccas in Nevada. Ben Lindheimer, whom Moldea labels "the overlord of Chicago's racetracks," bought into a team.
The classic owner was Mickey McBride, owner of a racing newswire, whom the Kefauver Committee called "public enemy number one," in part because he was paying the Capone family $4000 a week. McBride launched the Cleveland Browns. When things got too hot, other gamblers bought the team.
Finally, Art Modell purchased the Browns. Modell was a partner in a horse-racing stable with Mushy Wexler, whom the Kefauver Committee said was one of the "leading hoodlums" in McBride's racing wire service. Modell also got married in the home of the president of Las Vegas's Caesars Palace. I was living in Cleveland at the time. The story of the wedding ran on the Cleveland Plain Dealer's society page. Cleveland was so mobbed up that nobody thought anything about it.
San Diego's reputation is hardly spotless, either, and this book points it out. Barron Hilton purchased the Chargers and moved the team to San Diego in 1961, after a lot of arm-twisting by Jack Murphy, sports editor of the San Diego Union. "A long-time gambler, Hilton was a top executive of the Hilton Hotel chain," writes Moldea. Hilton was a close associate of Sidney Korshak, described by law enforcement agencies as "the link between the legitimate business world and organized crime." Hilton also had close ties to Gilbert Lee "the Brain" Beckley, whom Moldea describes as "the Mafia's onetime top layoff bookmaker." (Bookies lay off bets with other bookies to protect themselves from big losses, rather the way insurance companies spread risk around to other companies.)
Hilton's company also controlled two major casinos in Las Vegas. While he was in the process of selling the Chargers to Eugene Klein, Hilton ran into some trouble -- later smoothed over -- when trying to put a casino in Atlantic City, because of the Korshak ties.
Klein, who also had ties to Korshak, bought control of the Chargers in 1966. Although he was a big swinger in Los Angeles, he eventually moved to Teamsters-financed La Costa in Carlsbad to run the team. In March 1970, Klein was registered in the 21-room Acapulco Towers in Mexico, not knowing he was under surveillance of the Illinois Bureau of Investigation. Registered at the same time were notorious hoodlums Meyer Lansky and Morris (Moe) Dalitz. Klein told Copley newspapers it was a coincidence and he didn't know Lansky.
Allen R. Glick of La Jolla plays a major role in Moldea's book. In the early 1970s, several Charger players became involved with Glick enterprises, even though at the time he was the second-largest casino owner in Nevada. According to the book, Glick and his partner Dennis Wittman operated several partnerships with former Chargers Lance Alworth, Steve DeLong, Sam Gruneisen, John Hadl, Ron Mix, and Walt Sweeney.
According to the book, Mix later filed a fraud and breach of contract suit against Glick and his cronies, claiming that they reneged on an agreement to pay Mix a $105,000 finder's fee for introducing Al Davis, the controversial Oakland Raiders owner, to Glick and the boys. The case was eventually dismissed. Davis and Glick were involved in a major shopping center investment at the time Glick was being probed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Pete Rozelle, who was league commissioner (and later became a San Diegan), didn't like the partnership but didn't force Davis to get out of the deal, according to the book.
What about current Chargers owner Alex Spanos? He is described as "a horse-racing enthusiast."
Now Indian casinos are discussing ways that they might invest in a new Chargers stadium. They already have promotional relationships with both the Chargers and Padres.
This book has many details on questions that frequently enter into pro football discussions. For example, it delves into the suspensions of two stars, Paul Hornung and Alex Karras, for gambling. It tells about other players and their associations with professional gamblers and what the league did or didn't do. It talks about how players shave points to beat or not beat point spreads. It discusses whether Super Bowl III, in which the Jets upset the Colts, was or was not fixed. (Many say it was.)
The National Football League has always denounced Moldea's book. Critics will no doubt say that because it was published in 1989 it is no longer relevant. Oh? The book delves into the DeBartolo family of Youngstown, Ohio. Its company built shopping centers and operated racetracks; the centers were sold a decade ago. Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. was listed in the Justice Department's Organized Crime Principal Subjects List. Moldea says the senior DeBartolo had ties to such hoods as Lansky and was a big-time gambler.
After several unsuccessful attempts to purchase pro baseball teams, in 1977 he purchased 90 percent of the San Francisco 49ers and gave control to his son, Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. The senior DeBartolo helped finance the gift. The younger DeBartolo then launched gambling businesses in the Bay Area. In late 1997, he was caught giving $400,000 in cash to a former Louisiana governor as grease to get a casino license. The ex-governor went to prison, and young DeBartolo got two years of probation and a hefty fine. The National Football League banned young DeBartolo for life. So his sister and her husband took over the team. The league likes to keep things in the family.