Some Behind the Scenes Detail of the Betting Scandal

Madison Square Garden III, the third version of the “Garden” was located on 50th Street and 8th Avenue. It also had a 49th Street exit. It was built in 1925 and torn down in 1968. The effort to rebuild MSG at the site of the old Pennsylvania Station was not without its controversy. Those who loved the architecture of New York City (and I am one of them) still mourn the demolition of Penn Station to put up an absolutely ugly monstrosity of a building where the new Garden was moved.

The picture of the Garden in this post is the place where Junius and his friend Bob Otten played. Yes, that is correct. Manhattan College’s home court was Madison Square Garden. They would frequently practice right before the NY Knicks practiced and they all knew one another. This is why the 1951 scandal was so dangerous. The same mobsters who tried to influence college athletes were undoubtedly trying to get to the pros.

A funny point or two about the parquet flooring. It was placed above the ice hockey rink. The players told me the playing surface could get quite cold, nearly frozen. In addition, the Manhattan College players knew where the dead-spots were on the floor. It provided a bit of a home field advantage.

The old Garden had a capacity of about 18,400. For major tournaments such as the NIT they could go over-capacity. That is how big basketball in NYC could be. Though you can see the main entrance in the picture, for most of the fans sitting in the upper decks, it was easier to take the fire-escapes that emptied out onto 49th Street. There was a “secret door” on the 49th Street side where the players could slip in and out.

Gambling

The picture I provide here is the best one I could find. Given the Marquee, and the mention of Harry Howell, it was probably taken around 1977. Nevertheless, in this picture an important element is intact: the Nedick’s hot dog stand. In the late 1940s and very early 1950s, mob connected gamblers stood in front of Nedick’s and took illegal wagers against the spread. There was undoubtedly plenty of action on the night (January 16, 1951) that Junius broke open the huge scandal.

As the games progressed, the gamblers and mobsters made their way into the upper decks to afford them a view of the action. The police knew who they were, but kept silent. As long as the gamblers bought a cheap ticket, no one much cared what they were doing there.

Though the game programs and the PA announcers warned fans that betting was illegal, it was largely window dressing. My research revealed that many cops and ushers were all too willing to take bets for the fans (for a tip, of course). Some of those crooks made a lot of money over the years. Though Junius was widely praised for his courageous stand, many of the crooked cops couldn’t stand him. When the scandal blew up, the cops lost a steady source of income. They undoubtedly made side bets themselves. It was dirty business all the way around.

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