Saturday, November 6, 2010

The History of High Rolling

Lassiter & Fats: Big Bets in Today's Dollars

9-ball genius Luther Lassiter
This is what Luther Lassiter said about Norfolk, Virginia, back in the 1940s: "Greatest pool town that's ever been. You had five or six people there who were really gambling. People had lots of cash, and players from all over the country -- anybody that played for money at all -- came to Norfolk."

Lassiter was a prince among the Norfolk hustlers during his World War II Coast Guard years. During one particularly memorable  straight pool match-up Wimpy took $5,000 from a club owner. You can read all about it in Hustler Days.

The size of that $5,000 wager -- and the heart Lassiter needed to win it -- got me to thinking. That amount of money is a lot, even today.  After all, many of the regional tournaments even now pay less for first place. Shane Van Boening  also recently won $10,000 from Mika Immonen, but it took him three days to do it. But Lassiter won his money during a single game in the 1940s. During those years $5,000 was a king's ransom.

You can find various inflation calculators on the Internet. Here's a link to one. It's from the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics. So how much is $5,000, wagered in 1946, valued in today's dollars? According to the inflation calculator: $56,000! During a 100-point game of straight pool Lassiter's opponent was within just two balls of taking the cash. That's when Lassiter ran 92 and out. Talk about heart.

There are other references to historic wagers. For instance, Minnesota Fats won about $20,000 from Richie Florence and two others in Johnston City, back in 1971. You can read about that encounter in The Hustler & the Champ. How much would $20,000 be valued today? More than $107,000, according to the  inflation calculator. However, unlike Lassiter's score, it took Fats a couple of weeks to win all that money.

I've also came across a reference to a $250 wager between Alfredo De Oro and Charles Otis back in 1916. It was a private bet between the two players before their championship billiards match held in Havana, Cuba. In today's dollars, the wager would have amounted to $5,000. De Oro, then considered the greatest player ever, was said to have put up his own money. Otis was staked.

Have a story about a particularly memorable wager from yesteryear? Send me the details, and we'll plug it into the inflation calculator.


Fitz said...

my mother Christine Schaffer who was Christine Fitzpatrick in 1947 and soon to be married to my father John "Rags" Fitzpatrick told this story to me and many others. She was working for the phone company in Norfolk, VA in 1947 and was dating Rags at the time. She was walking to the hotel where she stayed when some associates of my father's stopped and said to her "I hear you are going to marry Rags Fitzpatrick" He had not yet proposed to her but that happened soon after this encounter. The men suggested that she would be smart to marry him since he had just won $24,000 over the weekend. Yes it has been said by many that Norfolk at that time was a great town for billiards. John Charles Fitzpatrick

Jake Dyer said...

Thanks John. I think I now remember you guys relating that great story to me earlier. I just plugged in those winnings into the inflation calculator. Get this: $24,000 in 1947 would be $235,000 today! Not a bad haul for one weekend. No wonder many folks remember your father as one of the greatest action players, ever.

SactownTom said...

I read this short story years ago.

Lassiter was matching up playing 9ball for hundreds of dollars. And the repeating line throughout the story was 'when a good weeks play was $45."

After winning thousands, at the end of this story Luther's victim had asked for $25 for gas and food money to get back home... Lassiter handed him a hundred dollar bill and said 'Here, eat steak son"

I have been told by those that saw him play, that he was the greatest 9 Ball player of his time.