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Will Sun-Times Sports legend Bill Gleason be proven right about parlay cards — 43 years later?

Back in 1976, Sun-Times Sports columnist Bill Gleason predicted “The parlay card lottery is inevitable because the concerned public wants it.” More than four decades later, the Illinois Lottery might be taking his advice.

Sun-Times sports columnist Bill Gleason drops into Cardinal dugout Busch Stadium for a chat with Roger Maris in 1967.
Sun-Times sports columnist Bill Gleason drops into Cardinal dugout Busch Stadium for a chat with Roger Maris in 1967. File Photo.
Chicago Sun-Times archives.

“If you want to wager on a sure thing, bet anybody that Illinois will have a lottery based on football parlay cards.

“Look for the ‘football game’ no later than the start of the 1977 season.”

Legendary Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist Bill Gleason wrote those words in September of 1976.

Gleason died in 2010 at the age of 87.

But less than ten years after his death — and 43 years after he called it a “sure thing” — the Illinois Lottery is taking a look at creating its own version of legal parlay cards.

Below is Gleason’s Sept. 7, 1976 column.

BILL GLEASON

If you want to wager on a sure thing, bet anybody that Illinois will have a lottery based on football parlay cards.

Look for the “football game” no later than the start of the 1977 season.

You may not have to wait that long for what the “players (bettors) refer to as “sports action.” We could have a baseball-oriented lottery next spring if Ralph Batch, superintendent of the Illinois lottery, is as smart as we think he is.

The parlay card lottery is inevitable because the concerned public wants it.

Who are the members of the “concerned public?” The bettors.

A week ago a column supporting Delaware’s National Football League lottery appeared here. Accompanying the column was a box which provided readers with the opportunity to tell of their football betting tendencies and to let us know whether they favor or oppose legal parlay cards.

Returns came in from all over the Sun-Times circulation area. Many voters were suburbanites. A few were women. One was from Wisconsin rapids.

NINETY-THREE PER CENT of the respondent are in favor of legal parlay cards. Two readers who “never bet on football” voted for legal cards. One commented, “Better than giving money to the Syndicate.” Two readers who bet regularly on football games are opposed to legal parlay cards. Neither explained why.

As you probably anticipated, there were almost no ballots from persons who do not wager on football or other sports events. That is as it should be. The readers who don’t bet aren’t giving money to the crime syndicate now and won’t be giving money to the State of Illinois if sports betting is legalized.

Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist Bill Gleason in 1977.
Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist Bill Gleason in 1977. File Photo.
From Sun-Times archives.

Sports fans who make life more interesting by wagering on parlay cards, in office pools and with bookies have a stake in legal gambling.

Because there is hypocrisy involved in the social stigma attached to gambling — “if the state legalizes it, men and women will gamble their salaries away” — readers were told that they did not have to write in names and addresses. Eighty-two per cent of the respondents gave their names. Some who did not signh the ballot sent along accompanying notes or letters which were signed.

ALMOST NOBODY was reluctant about revealing the amount that he or she bets each week in the autumn and early winter. Some of the figures will be staggering to those unaware that betting on sports events other than horse racing is one of our most lucrative illegal “industries.”

Eight per cent of the ballots were marked by readers who bet $200 to $500 a week. One of them signed “Unlucky.” Another billed himself as “an optometrist in Chicago.” All bet with bookies.

Twenty-eight per cent of the ballots were filled out by “little” bettors, those who wager between $1 and $5 a week. Most of them play in office pools.

There is a large source of revenue for the state. Almost none of the money bet can be described as “untapped.”

Those who play office pools, which now include parlay cards reproduced on duplicating machines, merely circulate the cash among themselves.

Monies bet on “official” parlay cards and with bookmakers is “tapped” by the syndicate.

THERE WERE SOME humorous comments. A reader who lives on N. Clark in Chicago wrote a comment after each line of the ballot. Parlay cards, he wrote, are a “sucker bet but you better know who you are giving your action to.” Office pools he described as “innocent fun.” As for bookies he said, “Gotta get him but never do.” He refused to consider the probability that some citizens never bet o football. “Crazies like that haven’t been created,” he declared.

He added that he bets $10 to $250 or $300 a week depending on a past winner.”

This interesting note accompanied another ballot: “Will you send me the address of the Delaware lottery? I can go over on weekends and place my bets. Action is hard to find here on line and alo on cards.”

Few readers mentioned the National Football League’s opposition to the Delaware lottery.

The ballot is reproduced for those who meant to vote last week but let the newspaper get away from you.

Bill Gleason and the Sportswriters
The Sportswriters in 1998 (left to right: Bill Gleason-then of the Southtown; Rick Telander of the-Sun-Times; Joe Mooshill, sports editor-AP; Ben Bentley; Mike Mulligan of the-Sun-Times, Lester Munson of the Tribune, and Bill Jauss of the Tribune
Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times