Don’t Bet Against Mob, or Government

LOST $3 in a Super Bowl pool at the office. Very annoying, so much so that it was tempting to sic the cops on the organizer. That’ll teach him to run a betting operation, especially one that keeps me from winning.

But whoever came up with the cliché about revenge was right. It is not a dish best served hot, or even lukewarm. Turns out that the office pool was not illegal. “A pool is fine,” said Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney. “There’s no vigorish involved.”

For the uninitiated, vigorish is the built-in edge on the odds created by a bookmaker to assure himself a profit. Since the office pool’s organizer did not take a cut of the action, no law was broken.

Oh well. Can’t blame a fellow for trying. And it gets so complicated trying to figure out why some forms of gambling are illegal and others are perfectly fine.

Mr. Hynes strove to explain the distinctions as he teamed on Sunday with his Staten Island counterpart, Daniel M. Donovan Jr. Together, they announced the arrests of 12 New York men accused of unlawfully taking bets on sporting events.

You’ve seen variations of this story many times. Mr. Hynes’s announcements of gambling raids are as much a Super Bowl Sunday tradition as hyper halftime shows and silly dances after touchdowns.

The district attorneys noted that the arrested men included “Asian suspects” and “more traditional organized crime suspects.” What, you may ask, are “more traditional organized crime suspects”? The answer was left to the imagination. But if you go to Mulberry Street, you will find quite a few restaurants serving “more traditional” food.

Some might applaud this ethnic diversity as one more marvelous example of New York, the gorgeous mosaic. Not the district attorneys. They mentioned ethnicity to show the mob’s many tentacles.

If he had his druthers, Mr. Hynes said, government would legalize sports betting and reap billions for itself. Instead, he said, the gambling is “a cash cow for organized crime.” That’s terrible. Think of all this money pouring into the pockets of unsavory types who use it to finance drug dealing, hijacking, racketeering and inventing those catchy nicknames that newspapers like to wrap in parentheses.

But you have to wonder sometimes how frightened we should be. The mob has fallen far from its glory days of Mustache Petes and their rat-a-tat-tat successors.

Recent news reports say that the last Mafia don in New York, Joseph C. Massino, has thrown omertà overboard and is spilling his guts to the feds. (Apologies for the B-movie lingo; we get carried away.) If Francis Ford Coppola had to deal with this kind of material, he might be known today only as a California winemaker who makes occasional movies.

As for the gambling money’s destination, the Suffolk County authorities announced their own raid the other day. A share of the sports-betting profits, they said, went to open a rice-pudding shop on Spring Street in Manhattan. Rice pudding. Is nothing too ruthless for some people?

THE thing is, though, that people are being arrested for exactly what the state itself has long been doing: taking bets. Only government calls it the lottery, or off-track betting, or authorized casinos run by Indians.

State-sponsored gambling is particularly adept at prying money loose from poor people. Check out the line for lottery tickets at the grocery store. See many men and women dressed in Armani, do you? Few officials are more partial to this soak-the-poor technique than Gov. George E. Pataki, who would like to fill the state with video lottery terminals, souped-up slot machines that detractors refer to as video crack.

Like organized crime, government funnels its situs poker online terpercaya gambling income into operations that many find unacceptable. Ostensibly, the money goes for education. But that claim has been dismissed as “just a myth” by the former state comptroller H. Carl McCall. The money ends up being tossed into the treasury along with other revenue. You could just as easily say that it pays for welfare checks or the Sing Sing exercise yard or other pursuits that might lack universal appeal.

Of course, comparisons between the government and the mob stretch only so far. Don’t underestimate organized crime, Mr. Hynes cautioned, or gambling’s role in keeping it going.

He may be right. For all we know, some mobster at this very moment is turning to a henchman and saying: “Leave the gun. Take the rice pudding.”