Gold Sheet remains the gold standard

Gold Sheet remains the gold standard

LAS VEGAS — In the late 1970s, cocky young prognosticator Danny Sheridan boasted of his magnificent acumen picking football winners to Mort Olshan, who brainstormed a test.

Give me the team that won and whether it had covered the spread, Olshan said, of two games that were played last weekend. Sheridan, who claimed to have a photographic memory, nodded.

TCU vs. Rice, Olshan said, Oregon vs. Oregon State. Sheridan failed both tests in both games. “Olshan,” wrote Sports Illustrated in December 1977, “showed him the door.”

The founder of The Gold Sheet, a sports-betting institution, Olshan railed against competition that made outlandish win-percentage claims. He challenged all services that trumpeted outrageous success rates.

For a $1,000 stake, hit at least 75 of 100 college or pro games, receive a 100-to-1 return from Olshan. One hundred grand. Unsurprisingly, nobody bit.

He shepherded The Gold Sheet into the great-granddaddy of all tout sheets, the progenitor to the reams of data that flood today’s sports-wagering landscape.

At 77, Olshan succumbed to lung cancer in September 2003. His son, Gary, and several writers kept it going. In May 2019, Rick Allec acquired it, eventually merging it with Johnny Detroit’s WagerTalk Media.

Allec fondly recalls the day 30 years ago when his father — who operated in sports betting’s “gray area,” Rick said, in Southern California — put The Gold Sheet before him, to study.

Rick worshiped it. “It made me sound very smart,” he said. He bought it to preserve his legacy.

“Also, to turn it around, to bring The Gold Sheet to all of today’s bettors, show what it is and what it’s about, how to utilize it and really bring it back into prominence. I feel super lucky that I was able to buy it.”

PERFECT FORMULA

Born in Buffalo in 1926, Olshan grew up a sports nut, clipping articles in local papers, building scrapbooks. They’re all in the few dozen plastic tubs, along with every edition of The Gold Sheet, that came with Allec’s purchase.

He keeps them in the garage of his Summerlin home. A random perusal of one scrapbook reveals yellow-brown Gehrig and Ruth headlines. There are decades of meticulous notebooks, magazines and black binders.

Olshan dreamed of broadcasting sports, then came WWII. After serving in the marines in Okinawa, Olshan — “handsome, wavy-haired and able to execute a spot-on imitation of the Duke,” wrote the LA Weekly — landed in Minneapolis.

In the late 1940s, that was the country’s sports-betting hub, where Leo “Wizard of Odds” Hirschfield distributed the line to the nation’s bookmakers.

Olshan had read about the Wizard, and his Athletic Publications, in Necklaces. Hirschfield hired Olshan to record stats, transmit odds to bookies and contribute to The Green Sheet, his weekly info pamphlet.

“I read the sports sections from 40 papers [from across the country] each day,” Olshan wrote in his unpublished memoirs. “I look back on that period as a good time in my life.”

Within a few years, he left Hirschfield and got married, relocating to Los Angeles and a series of unrewarding gigs. He finally decided to publish his own sports-information guide.

“A version,” his widow Sylvia told the Weekly, “of what he had been doing with Hirschfield.”

The Gold Sheet, however, would cater to bettors, not bookies.

The idea, wrote the Weekly, was to take all of the information and stats and interpretations that gamblers either can’t get or can’t grasp, and make it available and accessible. “A perfect formula for success.”

The late, legendary bettor Lem Banker had great disdain for all services. With rare exception, he wrote in his 1986 betting book, was Olshan.

“Classy and honorable,” Banker wrote of Olshan, “never [making] false claims about his record on picks which, by the way, is usually good.”

Olshan partnered with fellow sports fanatic Phil Giordano, rented an office on La Brea and published the first issue of The Gold Sheet at the start of the 1956 football season.

THE FIRST ONE

That might have been the official launch, but I hold Olshan’s very first attempt at such a pamphlet, from one of Allec’s plastic tubs, dated Sept. 18, 1954. It is dull gold, titled The Football Guide and cost a dollar.

Bold central lettering calls it Handy Data. . . in Convenient Form for Pocket, and, AMERICA’S MOST INFORMATIVE FOOTBALL PUBLICATION.

New York-based pro bettor Tom Barton says this item in particular, and The Gold Sheet in general, belongs in a physical Sports Bettors Hall of Fame in Vegas, which doesn’t exist.

I should be wearing white gloves. This artifact advertises an office at 7260½ Beverly Boulevard. It can fit inside a business envelope, opening into a three-page spread; a title page and five pages of information.

The paper is of thick, cardboard-like stock. Olshan would refine it into a thin laminated sheet. In the ’60s, it unfolded vertically into 12 pages.

He crammed schedules, stats, standings, pro and college picks, special-ticker notes, angles, projected final scores, national key releases, potential upsets and more unto it.

By the ’80s, it unfolded into five pages, 10 counting both sides, flipping vertically to create a gilded 20-page resource with which to tackle the weekend’s games.

Unopened, it could be folded in half and conveniently stored in a back pocket or clutch purse, easy storage for someone about to tee off at a golf course or dip inside a house of worship.

This premiere issue includes Arn Newman’s Pigskin Prophecy, 18 picks that would go 14-4. Each final score is penciled in, next to projections, ostensibly in Olshan’s writing.

On all six pages, there is a single tiny-font typo—enough circled in pencil, missing its t. Above the front page is an encircled “1,” in pencil. Volume 1, Issue 1.

WHAT IS THIS?

I first saw The Gold Sheet 30 years ago, in Manhattan Beach, California. Mailman Phil, my postal carrier of whom I recently wrote, unveiled it at a bar. Unfolding it was akin to John Travolta opening that briefcase in “Pulp Fiction.”

The Holy Grail.

Phil first saw one in the 1970s, when veteran oddsman and media maven Dave Sharapan first beheld his glory at a newsstand near Fifth and Smithfield in Pittsburgh. With his father, he sought comic books.

Someone asked for “The Sheet.”

“The first time I asked for The Gold Sheet and touched it,” Sharapan said, “I thought, ‘What is this?!’ After that, I’d get it every Wednesday night because by Thursday afternoon it was gone.”

Florida pro bettor John Murges was born and raised in Chicago, and he’d get one at the Kaage Newsstand on North Oliphant.

A thousand, in pre-addressed stamped envelopes, would be overnighted from LA to a Honolulu newsstand, whose proprietor would open the bundle and slip them in a local mailbox to quench Hawaiian punters.

Its main authors are Giordano, Olshan’s original partner, and Bruce Marshall, who joined The Gold Sheet in 1981. Marshall orchestrated its sale to Allec, telling him, “It’s an aging ownership group.” It required modernization.

A few assistants — like Jeff Michaels, son of veteran WagerTalk stats guru Ralph Michaels — help Giordano and Marshall with the writing and statistics.

The last physical Gold Sheet issue was printed at the end of the 2019 football season, the end of a venerable era.

NOT FADING AWAY

The 56-year-old Allec, WagerTalk’s CEO since January 2020, met Olshan when he managed the Don Best sports service. His bid then for The Gold Sheet wasn’t successful, but he relished meeting the icon.

“He was in between the old-school gambler and a businessman,” Allec said. “He loved talking about The Gold Sheet and their process. His loyalty, dedication and knowledge were unbelievable.”

Allec believes Olshan would approve of how The Gold Sheet, now a 100-page download, has been melded into WagerTalk’s operations and recent website refurbishments.

“I love how the industry used to be, and I love that The Gold Sheet is such an integral part of that,” Allec said. “I’m not interested in changing that up.”

Last month, it documented Green Bay’s all-time-low scoring output in a six-game stretch under quarterback Aaron Rodgers. We’re a bit reluctant to lay points with the Pack until further notice. Play Washington.

A 4-point road favorite, Green Bay lost 23-21 at Washington.

After games of the first weekend in October, handicapper Brad Powers, as he usually does in his weekly newsletter, compared his selections to The Gold Sheet’s and six other competitors.

At 16-6-1, Powers topped college football, The Gold Sheet (14-8) showed. In the NFL, The Gold Sheet (9-3-1) led, Powers (10-4) placed. Overall, Powers (26-10-1) had a slim lead over The Gold Sheet (23-11-1).

Allec is certain about The Gold Sheet’s fate had he not acquired it.

“For sure, it would have faded away. It’s going to take some work to reintroduce The Gold Sheet, and the value of The Gold Sheet, to people. There isn’t another product out there that’s quite like it.

“For sure, not one with the history.”

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