Bob Costas’ dad ended his venture as a high-school bookie

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Bob Costas revealed that he had a stint as a bookie in high school.

Appearing on the “Straight Fire with Jason McIntyre,” Costas talked about gambling being newly normalized in the mainstream, and wound up telling a doozy of a story about getting caught in the operation by his father.

“As you may know, I grew up around gambling,” Costas said. “My father, way before any legalized gambling, when you had to pick up a phone and call a bookie and had a code for your name — my dad had thousands of dollars riding in a given day. Especially on weekends, when there were multiple games you could watch.

“This was before the internet, ESPN and scores, so mostly he bet on the games we could see in the New York area. So I’m very familiar with it and I have a sort of Runyon-esque view of the glamorous, roguish side of it. But inevitably, when you have this kind of encouragement of gambling, and it’s so easily accessible — just pick up your phone and do it — a lot of people are going to do it for enjoyment and that’s just fine.”

Costas said that eventually it is a certainty stories will come out about the down side for some who lose fortunes.

Bob Costas in 1982.
Bob Costas
Focus On Sport

“But inevitably, and I’m sure there will be studies and data out there eventually, there will be casualties in the form of people becoming addicted to gambling because it’s so easily accessible,” he said. “You used to have to go out of your way. Go to Vegas or Atlantic City, or hook up with bookies like my dad did. It involved some peril because if you didn’t pay on time, these guys weren’t amused. They weren’t playing Monopoly and rolling dice. They were serious.”

Costas said that, right now, he does not plan his life around football games, but will tune in while channel surfing and due to his lifelong knowledge of sports can drop right in if they are close at the end. Due in part to watching games with his father and in part to what neighborhood dynamics were like at the time, he was super into sports at an early age.

“I was like a bunch of other kids in the neighborhood. We all liked sports. You played in the schoolyard, in a vacant lot, whatever sport was in season. But I guess my father’s gambling further connected me to it, because there were always games on, and he always had a specific rooting interest because the mortgage was riding on it. And he was knowledgeable about sports, and so some of that was transmitted to me.

“I can never remember a time, though, that I wasn’t interested in sports — and even that the announcers weren’t important to me. Even when I was 7-8 years old, I knew the difference between when Mel Allen or Red Barber was calling a game, or when we briefly lived in California, Vin Scully or Marty Glickman or the young Marv Albert. All of those voices were inseparable from the games themselves. The first time I thought about wanting to be an announcer, I was 9-10 years old.”

Asked if he understood the gambling implications at the time, the answer was definitely.

Marv Albert in 1963
Marv Albert in 1963
CBS via Getty Images

“I couldn’t help but understand because it was a defining aspect of our home life,” Costas said.

He said that, a week in advance, he had “internalized” the betting lines and knew what they would be within a point. That was when he got to the part about being a young bookie.

“When I was 15-16 years old, I ran a bookie operation of my own in my high school,” he said. “The way I was successful was I knew who rooted for the Giants, Jets, Mets, and Yankees. And so, if their team was favored, I’d create a line that was way higher than it should’ve been, but they bet with their hearts — so they’d be giving more points than they should have been given. And if their team was the underdog, I’d set the line too low, so they’d be getting too few points compared to the line. But they bet based on what teams they rooted for, so I was coming out way ahead. And a lot of times on the same game, I would hit a middle, and both sides would have to pay me.

“So now I have like $120, in 1968, in my dresser bedroom — along with some sheets ‘Joey bet on the Jets, Sam bet on the Browns‘, and my Dad found out.”

According to the US inflation calculator, $120 in 1968 is nearly $1,000 today.

Costas said that he avoided physical punishment, but got a “very stern talking to” from his father, who called him “Robert” — which meant trouble to any kid who went by Bob or Bobby — and told him, “Robert, I can’t stop. Don’t start.”

“I knew by the tone of his voice, and the look in his eye, that there would be an ass-kicking the next time,” Costas said.

He gave up his book that day.

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