Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder: Sports Betting Legend
Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder is widely considered one of the all-time greatest sports bettors. Snyder’s picks as a prognosticator on the pregame show The NFL Today helped make sports betting more mainstream in America aside from online casino games.
To illustrate how popular he was, Snyder was parodied on TV shows, including Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons. Today, bettors, such as those from online sportsbooks, can still use Snyder’s sports betting strategies to improve their chances of successful bets.
Snyder became a famous sports commentator and Las Vegas bookmaker for in-person wagering. In the digital age, secure network services and appliances can now help improve sports fan engagement online. Some people can now safely bet on different sports betting platforms through their own devices like PCs and smartphones.
Starting Sports Betting in Steubenville
Snyder was born Dimetrios Georgios Synodinos in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1918. His moniker “The Greek” is based on his family’s connection to the Greek Island of Chios. He later changed his name to James George Snyder.
Snyder knew bookmakers while growing up in Steubenville. He reportedly made his first bet at a local candy store at the age of 13. During his sophomore year in high school, Snyder dropped out to become a professional gambler.
During the 1930s, Steubenville served as an excellent place for Jimmy the Greek to learn extensively about the gambling world. The town had several bookmaking establishments.
Snyder started working at a nightclub casino full of free penny slots machines. He learned about a wide range of betting, including cards, dice, horse racing, and sports games.
Snyder decided as a late teen to focus on one aspect of gambling. He selected team sports because he felt that he’d have a better chance of succeeding. Snyder believed bettors could make informed decisions by researching team sports.
Jimmy the Greek Relocates to Vegas
Snyder researched investments in the oil and coal industries. Instead, in 1956, he moved to Las Vegas, where gambling was legal. Snyder started selling odds on sports games to people throughout the United States.
An investigation of Snyder based on federal gambling laws was launched due to the Wire Act of 1961. This law made betting communication across state lines illegal.
Snyder then started writing a weekly column for the Las Vegas Sun. He shared odds on football, baseball, and even the political elections. Snyder became a local celebrity. Over time, his columns were published in about 200 newspapers across the U.S. Snyder became renowned nationwide as a sports betting handicapper.
CBS hired Jimmy the Greek as a prognosticator for The NFL Today pregame show. He’d share his NFL picks weekly. During the next 12 years, Snyder became a leading football analyst.
The pregame show’s ratings soared after adding Snyder. He hired several employees to help prepare him for the Sunday morning show.
CBS later dismissed Snyder after he made controversial statements about African-Americans, including black athletes. The incident happened during a 1988 interview about the legacy of civil rights advocate Dr. Martin Luther King.
Snyder was interviewed at a restaurant while in Washington, D.C. He was in the nation’s capital before the NFC Championship game between the then Washington Redskins and Vikings.
Fading the Public in the 1948 Presidential Election
Jimmy the Greek famously won a $10,000 wager in the 1948 U.S. presidential election. He took 17:1 odds to bet on the Democratic candidate Harry S. Truman.
Interestingly, Snyder bet against Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey after researching facial hair rather than political positions.
Dewey had a mustache. Snyder’s sister informed him that women generally didn’t like such facial hair. Snyder then conducted a poll. He discovered that nearly two-thirds of 500 women surveyed didn’t like facial hair.
Snyder’s enormous payout on the wager was $170,000 after Truman edged Dewey. His strategy of “fading the public” by betting against popular opinion was an effective betting strategy. It was also Snyder’s biggest win up to then.
Fading the public is a type of “contrarian betting.” It involves betting against the public, which is often biased towards teams such as popular teams or offensive powerhouses.
After the surprising victory against Dewey, Truman even held up a newspaper from the Chicago Daily Tribune with the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
Truman became an underdog in the 1948 election for various reasons. They included his sinking popularity and a potential three-way split of the Democrats’ votes that included Dixiecrat candidate Strom Thurmond.
Betting on the Underdog
Today, some sports bettors also use underdog strategies. These strategies can be quite effective due to factors like public bias on the favorite.
Snyder earned his first big sports betting payout in 1945 on a football game. He picked the Great Lakes Naval Training Center’s Bluejackets over Notre Dame at 10:1 odds.
The Bluejackets shocked the Fighting Irish in a 39-7 win.
In a 1980s interview, Snyder explained that he knew the Ohio team had some outstanding players.
In addition, Bluejackets Head Coach Paul Brown later became the coach of Ohio State and the Cleveland Browns. The Browns were even named after their first coach.
Meanwhile, some key players from Notre Dame were injured the week before. This other factor explained why Snyder backed the Bluejackets.
Another example of Snyder betting on the underdog was picking Truman over Dewey with 17-1 odds in the 1948 presidential election.
While political polls cited Dewey as the overwhelming favorite, Snyder conducted his poll after his sister Mary reportedly suggested that women don’t like mustaches.
After investing in oil wells and movie theaters, Snyder focused on handicapping betting lines. He studied odds and percentages to find “value bets” that could produce higher payouts on lower investments.
Snyder began betting compulsively, often investing a large percentage of his winnings into new bets. He then decided to quit gambling and instead sell betting lines.
Snyder was fined and put on parole after being caught sharing a betting tip over the phone on a Utah vs. Utah State game. It ended his bookmaker and professional gambling career but also opened new doors.
President Ford later pardoned Snyder in 1974.
Sports Betting Research
Snyder famously hired pollsters to learn whether women generally preferred clean-shaven men or those with facial hair.
Several factors resulted in Truman’s victory over Dewey. However, Snyder’s informal poll’s results may have indicated a surprising element.
For example, national leaders such as presidents and prime ministers tend to be taller than average. It’s possible some people voted against Dewey due to his mustache.
In addition, the “Wizard of Odds” carefully researched odds and percentages to find value bets. This process is contrary to the public, which tends to conduct limited research before placing bets.
The public often whimsically picks popular teams, home teams, and those with high-powered offenses, for example.
The Jimmy the Greek and Dean Martin Connection
Snyder’s neighbors and childhood friends in Steubenville, Ohio, included the famous singer, actor, and comedian Dean Martin.
Martin became one of the most popular American entertainers of the mid-1900s and was informally known as the King of Cool.
Snyder and Martin became acquaintances through their childhood town’s underground gambling world. After dropping out of high school, Martin’s jobs included working as a blackjack dealer and speakeasy (party game) dealer.
Jimmy the Greek and Martin both appeared in the comedy film The Cannonball Run (1981), in which Snyder made a cameo appearance.
In the film, he offers 50:1 odds against Formula One driver Jamie Blake (Dean Martin) and gambler Morris Fenderbaum (Sammy Davis Jr.) to win a coast-to-coast car race.
Jimmy the Greek, Howard Hughes, and Information Unlimited
Snyder later launched a public relationships company known as Information Unlimited that became connected to billionaire Howard Hughes.
Hughes used Information Unlimited for functions such as planting editorials and using news stories to affect stock prices.
For example, Hughes hoped to buy domestic airline Air West for $22 per share. Information Unlimited argued that Hughes’ offer was fair and Air West had severe financial problems.
Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder understandably became a controversial figure following his 1988 racially charged comments.
However, Snyder also succeeded in changing the public perception of sports betting being limited to backstreet bookies. He shared his betting knowledge and experience through newspapers and television.
Today, a new generation is discovering online sports betting, which is now legal in several states. This medium continues the legacy of Jimmy the Greek as a remarkable sports bettor.