05/12/2017 10:28AM

Bergman: All gamblers owe a debt of gratitude to the late Jack Cohen

Sports Eye and College & Pro Football Newsweekly were the brainchild of Jack Cohen.

Many people at racetracks today throughout North America know little of what Jack Cohen, the founder of Sports Eye, did for them. His impact on horse racing and for that matter gambling on football is hardly even a footnote in today’s world.

Cohen was a rebel, a renegade and a revolutionary, but mostly an innovator in the gambling world. What Jack Cohen, who passed away last Friday (5/5), had that many of his peers lacked was an appreciation for the gambler.

It was that appreciation that led Jack Cohen to produce a new level of past performances that forced and eventually changed what the product would look like in the 45 odd years since its inception.

That gamblers routinely played the races with misinformation was an affront to Jack Cohen. That he fought so hard to provide something better, more complete, is something unknown to most players.

What was so impressive about Mr. Cohen to me was his ability to get around obstacles in his way. At the forefront of his effort to put out past performances in Sports Eye, his publication that had only given entries, results and selections, was an obstacle called the track program. The program printed for the tracks at Roosevelt and Yonkers was a product of Doc Robbins. That product was a monopoly of sorts and Mr. Cohen had to figure out how to get access to information in advance of race day in order to provide “his version” of past performances in a timely fashion. Ultimately what he did was pay off Robbins’ employees to provide him a minimal amount of information that would allow for his staff to connect-the-dots and provide a competitive product.

At the core of Sports Eye’s advance in past performances was Mr. Cohen’s belief that increased and accurate information was something the public wanted and would pay for. That his past performances were the first to provide margins at every point of call that allowed players to properly decipher fractional times says much about Mr. Cohen and very little about those who tried to thwart his advance in this industry. While the track was providing the basics, Mr. Cohen was filling in as many blanks as possible, eventually providing written commentary for each horse and including a snippet of them in each past performance line.

Mr. Cohen won’t be given any credit by the National Football League for his assistance in bringing “gambling related” information to the public via his College & Pro Football Newsweekly publication. Here was a man light years ahead of his time and fully aware that there was a large and extraordinarily under-informed wagering public that bet on football, both legally and illegally. Mr. Cohen provided past performances for Football with betting lines included so that players would know which teams covered the spread and those that didn’t.

Perhaps to the surprise of those of a younger generation, at the time (the early 80’s) the NFL was not particularly happy with Mr. Cohen’s publication or the very thought that there was gambling being promoted by it. Their collective view of CPFN was that they did not want to be associated with it. As such the publication was denied access to information by the NFL.

Mr. Cohen, of course, as he had proven with racing, was not exactly deterred by the NFL’s snub and found many ways to “work around” the problem, hiring freelance writers that were permitted access to the NFL who in turn provided the publication with the necessary information.

It’s kind of hard to believe that Mr. Cohen was tapped in to the same public that the NFL was reaching and that it took the NFL nearly 40 years to figure out that gamblers were their market.

Some have suggested that the NFL is still not a fan of gambling, yet it’s hard to reach that same conclusion when you consider teams are fined for failing to issue proper “Injury Reports” in advance of the current week’s game. Nothing says past performances more clearly than an Injury Report.

On a more personal note, I worked for Jack Cohen for 27 years, starting as an editorial assistant and eventually landing in the lead chair as Editor-In-Chief.

During that time conflicts did arise and most of them had something to do with myself and the late Hall of Fame journalist Clyde Hirt. On the outside to readers of the publication there were simply two writers with differing opinions on specific subjects. Internally there was always a greater war going on, as Mr. Hirt would always make his opinion felt that my column was causing the paper undue harm. To Mr. Cohen’s credit, while he would tell me of Mr. Hirt’s complaints, he never once suggested that I change my opinion, or for that matter my tone going forward.

Ultimately neither myself or Mr. Hirt were as important as the publication itself and Mr. Cohen knew what mattered and did his best to placate two people with far differing views.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that along the way Mr. Cohen did provide gambling services to those willing to pay for horses ready to win or predicted results of sporting events. He was unique in understanding what gamblers wanted and was able to satisfy their collective thirst either with paid-for selections or more detailed past performances. Mr. Cohen provided information for all types of players.

In closing, it is fair to say that Mr. Cohen’s energy and enthusiasm for betting helped open a huge number of doors for gamblers. He wasn’t singularly responsible for enlightening the NFL, but eventually they embraced gambling. He pushed racing information in a direction that allowed gamblers to fill in the missing pieces.

 Yet to me what Jack Cohen represents is a person undaunted by huge monopolies. Most times during his business career Mr. Cohen battled against the odds and those with more political clout and finances, and prevailed. Monopolies have a way of stifling innovation. Mr. Cohen’s victories were good for business and even better for gamblers.

Rest In Peace.