Finished Line

Federal indictments. Drugging. Lowbrow culture. Hollywood Greyhound Track is for the dogs.

Stefo moved to Miami in the late 1950s and was introduced to dog racing when he took a job as a driver for a wealthy European who had a penchant for the dogs. "He couldn't drive a car," he says. "I drove him to the track. Every time he'd win, he'd give me money. Sometimes if he didn't feel like going, he'd give me the money to be there for him. That was my job. We'd follow the tracks as they opened."

He had a series of petty run-ins with the law -- excess parking tickets, expired license plates, some bounced checks -- and usually gravitated to the seamy side of life. In the 1960s, he recruited actresses for the makers of hard-core stag films. "I was finding women, driving around, finding places to film. Partying every fucking night. The fucking girls came in, and we took measurements -- how big their tits, their ass, we measured." He pantomimes a tape measure around his chest and laughs.

He also supported himself by helping women become U.S. citizens. "I used to sponsor girls," he explains nonchalantly. "You know, they'd give me a hundred dollars. You keep the girl for a month, month and a half, get an apartment. After that, I'd find another woman."

Colby Katz
After 20 years of betting, Larry Milano still can't get ahead on the greyhounds.
Colby Katz
After 20 years of betting, Larry Milano still can't get ahead on the greyhounds.

And there was always money to be made from the dogs. "There was 10,000, 15,000 people here sometimes," he recalls of Hollywood. "They'd enjoy themselves. There was music, nice, soft classic music. No TV. They dressed up. Now people show up like that." He points to a guy in dirty shorts and a beat-up T-shirt.

Like every handicapper, his style is one part experience, one part hunch, and one part superstition. "I look at the kennel," he says. "Sometimes a kennel is hot; sometimes it's cold. It's like you are -- you're lucky or unlucky. If this kennel has been cold, I don't bet on the dogs. For the whole evening.

"Listen, if you bet every race, you're going to lose. If you don't bet every race, you're going to go home with something. It's like, if you go with every woman, you're going to have AIDS. You know?"

*******

Handicappers are pissed at the dogs, cursed by the dogs, blessed by the dogs. They just can't quite get ahead on the dogs.

"Nobody's gonna tell me nothin' about it," Larry Milano exclaims about the noble pursuit of greyhound betting. He's sitting beside one of his track buddies, the purblind Roberto, during a weekday evening of live racing. "I know the dogs like the back of my hand -- and I'm still losing! We're all losing, right?"

Then he turns to Roberto, who's poring over the program for the next race. Roberto grunts but not enough to signify a yea or nay. "And this guy's got the spyglass out! He's even got the spyglass on the dogs."

At 83 years old, Larry rarely misses a day or evening of racing. He's five feet tall ("I get into movies half price," he jokes.) His voice is high-pitched, and he laughs in machine-gun bursts through his steeply curved Roman nose. Today, like most days, he wears brown polyester pants, a baby-blue zippered coat, a plaid cotton shirt, and a "Hollywood Greyhound Track" hat. His yellowed white socks droop around his ankles. Everything he's wearing is overdue for laundering by a month or so. Exceedingly upbeat, Larry lives in a condo 12 blocks north of the track that he bought a decade ago for $26,000. Until last year, he pumped gas at a nearby Shell station. He repeats himself often.

"I got a thousand friends down here," he says. "When you're not a wise guy, you can make a lot of friends. I do mind my own business. I do this instead of staying home. I'm a single man. You can't stay home alone."

He points toward Roberto. "Dogs are tough. He'll tell you."

"Very tough," Roberto replies absently.

Larry laughs raucously. "You win today and lose the next five days," he says.

A rotund regular with long, messy gray hair walks up behind him. "I like the eight and seven in this race," the man touts. Then he walks away.

"Nobody's gonna tell me nothin'," Larry declares.

"I'm an old-timer here. Twenty years," he continues. "I'm from Jersey. Orange, Jersey. I was a union man for 20 years. Construction... More guys owe me money here: 'Give me 20.' 'Give me 30.' 'I've got nothin' to eat.' 'I need gas.' They'll bet their last dollar on the dogs!"

"Hey," he asks Roberto, "about 75, 80 percent are losers here, wouldn't you say?"

"More," Roberto grunts.

Maxine, a 60-something, full-figured woman standing nearby, listens to Larry talk to a New Times writer. Although she doesn't want her last name used, she seems concerned about the old man's opinion of the odds of winning on greyhounds. "If you're writing about the track," she interrupts, "you better make it really look good. That's all I can tell you. You better lie a lot. All right?" She adds later, "This stuff about losing, you can't say that. You have to write a nice story, you know? Embellish it."

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