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There's more than sex to 1-900.

There's More Than Sex To 1-900

Sports Tip Lines Are Part Of $2-Billion Industry, Arkansas Entrepreneurs Are In The Game

Every few minutes, horses or dogs are running around a track somewhere.

And every few minutes, fortunes ride on the outcome.

There's more than one way to make money at the track. The scruffy men who hawk their tip sheets on Central Avenue outside Oaklawn Park at Hot Springs know it.

"The tout industry has been around since there was something to bet on," says Tom Murphy, president of Information Technologies Inc., a Little Rock-based voice processing service. "There was probably someone at the first Olympics selling tips."

Today, however, sports information, a euphemism for betting tips and results, is a new game -- a game often dependent on electronic wizardry.

No longer is business conducted on the streets or in smoke-filled rooms. Instead, it's conducted via satellite, computer modems and 1-900 numbers.

A few entrepreneurs in central Arkansas are combining those new technologies with the ancient of picking winners.

$5 Tip

It's not all about gambling.

Or is it?

"I know about gambling," says Bert Dark, owner of Sports Of All Sorts Inc.

He makes no excuses.

"I was a professional gambler for 20 years," he says.

Dark began his information business about nine months ago with several thousand dollars in start-up costs. The burly 50-year-old talks from a crowded office in his Maumelle home. The office is equipped with a descrambler for a small satellite outdoors, a fax machine, two computers, two printers and two telephones.

"Everybody's gambler to some extent," says Dark, as he watches a printer, linked via satellite to a wire service, tick out the latest race results from Chicago's Arlington Park.

Dark should know. In fact, he plans to write a book about his "professional" days, aptly titled "Wanna Bet?"

The old yellow rotary phone on the floor rings, and he gives a couple of scores to a lady from Monroe, La.

Dark offers recorded tips on a 1-900 number for $5 per minute. He gives scores and racing results on a second 1-900 number for $1 for the first minute and 75 cents for each additional minute. He gets calls from as far away as Florida and Wisconsin.

Dark uses his telephones to talk to everyone from bookies in Las Vegas to grandparents in Camden.

He can tell you who the Yankees are playing, who's pitching and what the track conditions at Louisville's Churchill Downs are.

Is he making any money?

"I'm having a harder time making a living honestly than I was dishonestly," he says.

Dark says he's probably breaking even these days.

During the racing season at Oaklawn, he would have as many as 2,000 calls per month. Business has slacked off some since then, but Dark says Oaklawn simulcasts help his business of touting Louisiana Downs.

Dark estimates he has spent $10,000 advertising in the Daily Racing Form and -- get this -- police association publications.

He laughs as he tells about once being released on bond. The cops asked him for some numbers for that day's races.

"Yeah, I've got some numbers for you all right," he told them.

Pickin' and Grinnin'

Sports Of All Sorts is not the only game in town.

Kim Brazzel, a former sportswriter at the Arkansas Gazette, began his "sports information" service, Kim Brazzel's Winners Club, about six months ago.

After leaving the Gazette in a dispute with Executive Sports Editor Don Collins, who has since departed for Gannett headquarters in Arlington, Va., Brazzel was approached about producing a tip sheet or newsletter. He decided to try 1-900 numbers instead.

Brazzel, who has spent considerably less than Dark in start-up costs, charges $5 per call. He says he received almost 200 calls on the first weekend in June when he had nine of 11 winners on Louisiana Downs' Sunday card.

"I'm strictly providing information," Brazzel says. "If people are going to gamble, let's provide them with good information."

Brazzel advertises in the Arkansas Democrat on a morning radio program he hosts on Little Rock station KGHT-AM, 880. When he started his business, Brazel distributed 1,000 fliers.

"I mailed one to anybody I had ever heard of," he says.

The contacts Brazzel established in sports journalism help keep him in the know.

It's not all play and no work. Picking winners is a full-time job, Brazzel says.

He spends three hours a day picking major league baseball games, charting trends and charting pitchers. There have been hundreds of games since the start of baseball season, and Brazzel says he has analyzed every one of them.

Predicting the outcome of NBA games took a couple of hours per day before the regular season ended. Brazzel spends an additional four or five hours daily picking horses.

Unlike Dark, Brazzel only offers the 1-900 tip line. He doesn't report results.

Brazzel has another idea in the works, a twist on the 1-900 numbers, which are billed on monthly telephone bills and collected by the telephone company. During the upcoming football season, Brazzel would like to set up a 1-800 number for which a subscriber could purchase a block of time in advance by charging it to a Visa or Mastercard.

Technology For Lease

Brazzel says that in addition to being able to pick winners, the servicing group that supports the special telephone numbers is integral to business success.

Brazzel uses a division of Heritage Publishing at Sherwood. Dark uses Information Technologies.

Information Technologies' Murphy explains that he runs a voice processing service that provides the telephone lines, equipment and support to those with information for sale.

Murphy's company opened in April and already has two sports-related 1-900 customers.

Murphy says since 1-900 numbers surfaced several years ago, sports information has become one of the largest revenue generators on the lines.

Of course, "heavy-breather" lines are the oldest of the 1-900 services.

By the end of the year, Murphy estimates 1-900 numbers will be a $2.1-billion industry. He says 60 percent of that will be entertainment related, a category that includes sexually-oriented lines, sports information lines, game lines and contest lines.

Across the country, people are using the numbers to get stock quotes, obtain nutritional information and help plan weddings.

There's even a service in California called Telelawyer. For $3 per minute, you can talk to an attorney.

In Arkansas, there are relatively few 1-900 information services. Observers believe some of the reluctance in the South is because the numbers are associated with sex messages. This is, after all, the Bible Belt. Most of the 1-900 action is on either the East Coast or the West Coast.

As the numbers become more widely accepted, Sports Of All Sorts and Kim Brazzel's Winners Club will face increased competition.

For now, Brazzel thinks there is probably not enough business to go around. But both he and Dark believe they'll finish the race.

Dark leans back in his small office chair, track results coming across the wire.

He says, "If I pick |em right, they come back. If I don't pick |em right, then sometime down the road they say, |I wonder how that guy's doing?' and they call."

PHOTO : A NEW KIND OF HOME BUSINESS: Sports Of All Sorts, a 1-900 sports tip and results service, is operated in this modest home.

PHOTO : GAMBLING MAN: The success of Bert Dark's 9-month-old business, Sports Of All Sorts, rides on his bet that "everybody's a gambler to some extent." Dark's 1-900 tip line received almost 2,000 calls per month during Oaklawn's season.

Kelly Ford Arkansas Business Staff
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:use of satellite technology in gambling information services
Author:Ford, Kelly
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jun 10, 1991
Previous Article:City in bloom; three decades of 30 percent growth, and Conway is poised for more in the '90s.
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