For WCBM's Stan 'The Fan,' all bets are offThe call came...


October 30, 1992|By RAY FRAGER

For WCBM's Stan 'The Fan,' all bets are off

The call came late at night. The caller to Stan "The Fan" Charles' radio talk show, phoning from work, wanted Charles to tell him that the Atlanta Braves, one loss away from World Series elimination, still could win the title.

This wasn't some hard-core National League fan or America-first baseball backer. There was a hint of desperation over the phone. The caller seemed to be seeking reassurance from a voice on the radio. He wanted to hear that he wasn't going to lose his $500 bet.

Just remember, Charles told him, don't bet more than you can afford to lose. From the man's voice, you got the feeling that $500 was a lot more than he could afford to lose.

I've heard that voice before. It belongs to the guy who calls the newspaper's sports department at 2 a.m. because he must have those West Coast scores now. Or to the fellow who really needs to know when something is going to appear in the Daily Racing Form, but can't afford to make a long-distance call to the Form's offices in New Jersey.

Charles, host of the "Baltimore Sports Exchange" on WCBM (680 AM), should be familiar with those voices, too. It wasn't so long ago that he was one of them.

Before he began his radio career, Charles, 40, went through several stages of a gambling career.

"I never lost big money," Charles said this week. "I was never threatened with getting my hands broken. But I lost money, and it was all I was doing and all that I was thinking about."

Charles started young.

"I was about 13 years old when I started going to the racetrack on Saturdays," he said. "I started looking forward to Saturdays an awful lot."

Saturdays were such a kick that Charles expanded into weekdays. Never mind that those also were school days.

"I was cutting school to go to the racetrack," said Charles, who recalled missing classes about once a week at Northwestern High for trips to Pimlico.

"When you were 15, you'd dress up in a sport coat and smoke Tiparillos. You never had a problem betting. It was when you'd win that you'd light up the Tiparillos to look older."

Was he betting much?

"Whatever it was, it was more than I could afford to lose, because I was never a hard-working, industrious kid."

And for a kid who didn't want to work hard, the attractions of gambling crystallized one day on the tote board.

"I used to work for my Uncle Will at his chicken stall at Broadway Market," Charles said. "I would work for him on Saturdays for $3 or $4 an hour. . . . Immediately, I'd be out at Pimlico trying to turn that $10 or $12 into $50 or $60.

"One day, I hit a quinella for $770. Suddenly, I looked at $12 for eight hours of work vs. $770 for two minutes."

That Charles turned around and lost about $500 of his quinella-gotten gains within a week or two didn't matter so much. He was hooked.

Several years later, Charles expanded his horizons. While working as a parking attendant at the Pimlico Hotel, he met a guy who sounds as if he were straight out of "Diner" -- Nookie the Bookie.

"It was the first time I really met a bookmaker," Charles said. "I startedbetting baseball every day."

Charles started off pretty hot -- "I won 18 of my first 20 games" -- and was beginning to get quite full of himself.

"I said, 'This is a real piece of cake. This is how I'm going to make my living.' "

But Nookie did make his living through gambling, and he began steering Charles toward bets on games he was less likely to win.

"The next thing I know, I'm on a losing streak that never did stop," Charles said.

The bad streak didn't cure him, though. A few years later, when Charles was about 26, he found himself fired from a bartending job but suddenly in possession of about $1,500 from a prosperous Preakness Day.

"I'm out of work. . . . That's when I said, 'This is it. I'm really going to try to make a living betting baseball. I spent two months betting baseball, and I got killed.

"I felt like I didn't have much power over my life or an ability to make money. It's pretty mundane to make $3 or $4 an hour plus tips at a bar when you can go to the track or play blackjack."

It might have been mundane to hold a job, but Charles came to realize that maybe mundane isn't so bad.

"It took a toll on me," he said. "I never felt clean, relaxed. It was always running through my veins. It was like a drug. It charges you up.

"I remember going to movies and taking a transistor radio and trying to watch a movie while I'm living and dying by these plays."

Still, Charles wasn't done. About three years before he began his broadcasting career in 1983, there was an initial flash of success at an Atlantic City blackjack table that led to a series of casino trips -- and $5,000 contributed to the New Jersey gaming industry.

That was that, Charles decided.

"I was working harder. I wanted to hold on to my money. Gambling gives you a rush, then it makes you feel like dirt."

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