Jimmy the Greek’s First Big Winning Bet Was on Politics, Not Sports
Phyllis George is credited with helping break down the gender barrier for women in sports, but one of her colleagues on The NFL Today was also ahead of the pack. The man known as Jimmy the Greek brought sports gambling to the mainstream decades before sportsbooks became legal in states other than Nevada or the media started disseminating betting information.
Interestingly, however, the man so closely associated with gambling on NFL games, made his big breakthrough with a winning wager on a presidential election.
‘The NFL Today’ was groundbreaking stuff
CBS has used The NFL Today brand to package its football telecasts for decades, but the edition hosted by Brent Musburger from 1975-89 was its most memorable. Retired player Irv Cross provided analysis, Phyllis George produced features, and Jimmy Snyder – better known as Jimmy the Greek – supplied betting information in subtle fashion because the NFL insisted that its broadcast partners could not discuss point spreads and over/under numbers.
The NFL Today roared out of the gate with 13 Emmy Awards in 1975 and routinely won the ratings battle in its time slot until the network lost its rights to NFC games in 1994.
George would leave the show twice, replaced by Jayne Kennedy and then Charlsie Cantey as the network remained committed to putting women in sports programming. Jimmy the Greek was fired in January 1988 after making controversial comments about racial differences.
Jimmy the Greek’s reputation didn’t match reality
Although he was widely known as an oddsmaker and professional bettor, Jimmy the Greek derived his steadiest income from a public relations firm he founded in 1965 in Las Vegas. He had moved to Nevada in 1956, selling his betting tips to gamblers and working with some of the sportsbooks in setting lines on games.
Snyder designated the Baltimore Colts as 12-to-1 favorites over the New York Jets in Super Bowl III and made the Colts 17-point favorites. Though the purpose of setting a line is to try to attract equal amounts of betting on both teams, which is how sportsbooks make their money, the less-informed public derided Jimmy the Greek when Joe Namath led the Jets to a stunning victory.
Snyder also had some forgettable moments with his CBS colleagues. He and Brent Musburger, who was the managing editor for The NFL Today, engaged in a fistfight in a bar in1980 while arguing over how much airtime Snyder should be allotted each Sunday.
Snyder also had a falling out with Phyllis George over his dislike of her husband hi his former PR agency client, Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown. The tension became so great that the show’s executives ordered the Jimmy the Greek segments to be taped earlier in the day so that George did not have to be with him on the live set.
Jimmy the Greek picks a winner in 1948
Jimmy the Greek was already a veteran gambler by the age of 30 when he scored big on a contest that had nothing to do with sports. Flying in the face of polling data, he wagered $10,000 that Harry Truman would defeat Thomas Dewey in the 1948 presidential election. Truman’s victory at the ballot box netted Snyder a $170,000 profit, which equates to $1.8 million in 2020 when adjusted for inflation.
Snyder said he based his bet on the observation that a meaningful number of voters, particularly women, were distrustful of politicians with mustaches.