Around 2005, the Kentucky Racing Commission re-formed after several years of inactivity under governor Ernie Fletcher. It was determined that unclaimed tickets in Kentucky would go to a fund for insurance and benefits for jockeys and other industry personnel. The new commission had a vested interest in making sure there were a lot of unclaimed winnings in the state. This put them at direct odds with the stoopers. While they couldn’t stomp out the art of stooping on the sly during track hours, stoopers who worked after hours under the protection of the track were out of the question. After all, the track was getting some cleaning services in exchange for the state’s money.
One day, Jerry got a call from the track manager. He and Peggy were no longer welcome, effective immediately. Just like that, it was over.
Many small-time entrepreneurs work in a gray area between legal and illegal, and have the potential to be harassed by various officials. Besides stoopers, street peddlers and ticket scalpers are in that boat. For whatever reason, a hostility develops between hustler and official. The hustler does whatever he can to annoy the authority figure and not help him out. Anything else would be “kissing ass.” Jerry and Peggy bucked that trend. Not only were they polite to the track patrons, they actually offered to do something of value for the track. This was such a change of pace that it took the track by surprise and made their lives a lot easier. This friendly attitude also made them friends at the ticket window who would redeem tickets that were obviously stooped. Another employer printed out race results out of friendship.
Other stoopers drew heat by bragging about big finds. Everyone in earshot immediately resented them. Jerry and Peggy kept their best finds to themselves, and only bragged about a few moderately large ones so as not to appear unfriendly.
They came up with a good system that divided up the labor and used each person’s abilities. Jerry had trouble stooping due to his arthritis, but he was very good at going through them quickly looking for winners.
Finally, they didn’t waste their efforts by blowing a large portion of it on horse betting. That is probably the most important thing.
What They Did Wrong
I wasn’t there when they got the call from Turfway, but if I was in their shoes, I would have tried to figure out a way to keep stooping after that rather than giving up. They lacked some ambition in that they really wouldn’t leave the Cincinnati area. Had they been willing to brave unfamiliar surroundings, they might have made a lot more.
Also, like many people dealing in a gray market, they spent money like it would last forever. Whenever you have a racket where there’s potential heat, you have to assume the heat will come down heavily eventually. When the inevitable happened, they had no “plan B” for something else to do, and no money stash from all their years of success. Nowadays, they live off meager fixed incomes and don’t have much to show from stooping, except for the memories.
This article written by Henry Grimmelsman in early 2007 based on discussions with the “Jerry” mentioned in the article. All rights reserved.
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