Michael LaPointe’s monthly column, Dice Roll, focuses on the art of the gamble, one famous gambler at a time.
In April 1995, traders on the floor of the Pacific Exchange were in a frenzy. The jury in the O. J. Simpson trial had refused to come to court that morning. In the Washington Post, a law professor said that the probability of a hung jury had increased. And so at the exchange, if traders had shares in guilty or not-guilty verdicts, they wanted to dump them; a hung-jury share was looking a lot sharper today. Everyone was looking for Steve.
This had nothing to do with the stocks on the ticker, and everything to do with an elaborate, parallel marketplace operated by Steve Schillinger, an independent broker, who sold futures on the side for countless things you couldn’t find at the exchange: Who would win baseball’s MVP award? Who would make the Final Four? Would O. J. go to prison? Although Schillinger was a decent enough stockbroker, his real talent was in figuring the odds for nebulous outcomes like that of the O. J. verdict and revising them as events unfolded. His colleagues placed bets with him, and he’d pay out on the basis of whatever the odds had been at the time of the wager. He was, in short, a bookie.
“People were leaving their stocks to come bet on the NCAA,” Schillinger said, explaining why he was quietly asked to leave the exchange. But by then, he had a dream. In his covert marketplace, he’d glimpsed not just his own future, but the future of gambling. That vision would lead him to become the pioneer of a multibillion-dollar industry, and then a fugitive from justice who would die in exile.