Movie Article

Not by the Bookie

Factual errors in ''The Grifters'' -- We asked a gambling expert to analyze the betting in the Oscar nominated film starring Anjelica Huston

In The Grifters, Academy Award nominee Anjelica Huston plays Lilly Dillon, a hard-hearted hustler who goes to racetracks and places big bets on long shots so that the bookie she works for won't lose his shirt if a long shot wins. Critics have raved about the movie, based on Jim Thompson's 1963 pulp classic, but real horseplayers like Philadelphia Daily News sports columnist Stan Hochman say The Grifters is guilty of a bit of grift of its own. Hochman, who at 62 has been hanging around tracks for 50 years, says, ''If they're trying to portray this as realistic, then they're conning the audience.'' Here's Hochman's line on betting bloopers:
· Lilly bets too much money on one horse. On an average weekday at Ruidoso Downs, N.M., a track slightly larger than the one the movie opens on, the total bet on a race is usually less than $17,000. Lilly starts with a $5,000 bet on one entry.
· Lilly changes the odds too much. She drops a total of $7,000 on a 70-to-1 long shot, which would in real life turn the long shot into the favorite.
· Lilly picks up discarded losing tickets, presumably to turn in to the bookie so she can be reimbursed for other peoples' bets. ''Remember,'' Hochman says, ''she was betting on a 70-to-1 shot. Hardly anyone would have been betting on that horse. And even if she did find a ticket she could use, it's probably going to be a $2 ticket. What good would that do her?''
· As if the off-the-wall gambling techniques aren't enough, Lilly stashes thousands of dollars in the trunk of her car in the middle of the day. ''Do you know any person in their right mind,'' Hochman asks, ''who would do that in broad daylight in a racetrack parking lot? Give me a break.''

Originally posted Mar 15, 1991 Published in issue #57 Mar 15, 1991 Order article reprints
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