It's easier to place a bet on a horse or number in Harvard Square than it is to get a shine, hair-cut, or newspaper.
The reason is simple: local barber shops, shoe-shine parlors, and newsstands operate as pick-up joints for a well-organized bookmaking syndicate. Bets are placed either with employees of these places, or with "walking agents" who make a point of being there at a certain time every day, to the tune of at least $1000 daily.
So openly are bets being taken and numbers slips "written," that a complete stranger can walk up to almost any cab driver and be directed to an "agent." If it is too early for the agent to make his rounds and pick up the cabbie's numbers, the driver will deliver it to him. He will in turn make the pay-off, if it isn't so large that it is worth his while to skip town and keep it for himself.
Cambridge police are not permitting this illegal betting to continue because they want it. They are, rather, exceedingly desirous of making this city one of Greater Boston's cleanest. But legal loopholes, lack of sufficient evidence, and public apathy cripple them almost fatally.
Police Chief John King organized a special Crime Prevention Bureau two years ago to deal specifically with the gambling problem. Consisting of three men under the captaincy of Thomas J. Stokes, this squad has made over a hundred arrests in the last 23 months, tracked down and removed six teletype machines from betting centers in Cambridge, and built up a master file of suspects worth investigating in case of "trouble."
Never Carry Evidence
In Harvard Square, as the result of some 20 arrests in the last year, the bookies have wised up. They seldom write down a number or horse's name, or keep any other scrap of evidence which might be used against them. To make an arrest the police need only find a slip of paper in a suspect's pocket bearing at least a dozen numbers. Depending on the judge and the number of previous arrests, the defendant may get probation, a suspended sentence, a stiff fine ($50-$1000), or a jail sentence--sometimes coupled with another fine.
While Harvard Square is one of Greater Boston's cleanest, it nevertheless sustains a handful of punks who make their living exclusively on bookmaking. Police assert that a certain "gentleman" operates openly from a table in a large cafeteria on Massachusetts Avenue. Plainclothesmen have kept an eye on him for a long time, but they can't touch this pimply-faced operator because he uses the prevalent "telephone" system. This means that he either stands outside or sits inside the cafeteria with a pocketfull of nickels, and phones in bets as soon as they are given to him. The mere passing of money from a student or cab driver to him is not sufficient evidence for arrest; since he phones in the bets immediately, he need take no written record of the wager.
This system makes it almost impossible for the police to pin anything on Square bookies. Nevertheless they go on making arrests on the chance that they can occasionally nab somebody carrying evidence. An investigation of city ordinances against loitering and sauntering is currently in progress. Application of such laws may soon make it easier for police to prevent this type of operator from contacting his clients.
A little over a year ago, Captain Stokes' special squad raided a fourth floor room in Fairfax Hall, at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Linden Street, and arrested Arthur Marcus for operating a "telephone room." After the last race was over at the local tracks, about 6:30 p.m., Marcus would go out and pay off to those who had phoned in bets to him during the day. Police placed several $100 bets with Marcus. That they were accepted without hesitation leads police to estimate that he was handling well over $1000 a day. But because this was his first offense, the stiffest fine that could be imposed on him was $500.
Marcus no longer operates here, so far as police know. However, since he grossed at least $1000 daily, police are sure local bookmaking can be no lower than that figure.
If you have never "invested," you know Harvard Square's bookies and pick-up men as "solid citizens" who work in or run certain shocshine parlors, liquor stores, dry-cleaning establishments, newsstands, and bars.
If you are one of the many College men, local citizens, or high school students who has a bet on the third race at Suffolk, you know them as the men who can give you something for nothing.
Bigshots Pay Well