Commentary: Hank Goldberg Legitimized Sports Gambling Information Before It Was Cool

Commentary: Hank Goldberg Legitimized Sports Gambling Information Before It Was Cool
By Bill Ordine
Fact Checked by Ron Fritz

Hank Goldberg was a truth talker.

In the decades when the sports establishment and sports journalism were largely in denial about the link between sports and gambling, Goldberg was one of the few voices who consistently discussed in streetwise detail the wagering angles that were integral to so many fans’ engagement with the games.

Goldberg died on July Fourth. It was his 82nd birthday.

Since then, many have remarked on his showmanship and his provocative commentary.

The bullet-points of his resume include talk show host in his adopted hometown of Miami (he was a Jersey guy who migrated to Florida in 1966); color commentator for Miami Dolphins broadcasts; and handicapping analyst at ESPN. Florida sports betting currently isn’t legal. That never stopped Goldberg from talking about it.

Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder used Goldberg as a ghost-writer when point-spread chatter on network TV was done obliquely. But Goldberg was still working when the crash-and-burn of PASPA loosened Big Media tongues and “Hammerin’ Hank” moved to Las Vegas in 2018 where, as an elder statesman, he remained relevant surrounded by Millennials on ESPN’s The Daily Wager, as well as being a contributor to CBS Sports platforms.

Goldberg Was An Entertainer

Increasingly these days, sports broadcasts dole out gambling information, sometimes thinly veiled, sometimes explicit, occasionally associated with a partner online gambling operator. But never is the information more authentic, or nearly as entertaining, as when Hank Goldberg parsed a betting proposition.

His mainstay fields were the NFL and horse racing. Frequently, he relied on informed primary sources, such as when he heeded the scouting reporting from a horse racing trainer about an unheralded colt, Birdstone, who was about to take on Smarty Jones in the 2004 Belmont Stakes. Few will forget how Birdstone, a 36-1 shot, upended Smarty’s Triple Crown bid in the Belmont stretch and won Goldberg a reported $24,000 in the process.

Goldberg certainly paid attention to numbers, what handicappers reverentially refer to as data and analytics these days. After all, how could Goldberg have been a horse handicapper without poring over past performances and Beyer Speed Figures. 

Goldberg Was a People Person

But Goldberg was also a people guy. Just as he used his conversation with the horse trainer to zero in on Birdstone, Goldberg also boasted about his contacts throughout NFL cities to analyze matchups that would eventually figure into the outcomes on Sundays. 

According to a CBS Sports report, Goldberg, for the 2019 NFL season, went 62-46-5 against the spread for CBS SportsLine.

From a historical sports wagering perspective, Goldberg’s contribution over the decades was in legitimizing sports gambling information as integral to the art of sports reporting when such explicit betting talk was often taboo. Like it or not, gambling has been and will continue to be essential to the appeal and success of spectator sports. 

That was the truth that Hank Goldberg told.

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Contributors

Bill Ordine
Expert Opinion Columnist

Bill Ordine was a reporter and editor in news and sports for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun for 25 years, and was a lead reporter on a team that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News. Bill started reporting on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for 10 years. He covered the World Series of Poker for a decade and his articles on gaming have appeared in many major U.S. newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald and others.

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