Feb 08, 2012 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
Super Bowl Sunday didn’t feel the same here this year.
Someone was missing. The city’s most prominent bookmaker – George Bedigian – died Jan. 28, exactly one week before the biggest betting day on the calendar. He had celebrated his 67th birthday on Dec. 6.
George was quite the Syracuse character!
In the mid-1950s, when he was an 11-year-old student at Prescott School, he performed a trumpet solo on television’s “Original Amateur Hour” with Ted Mack. George graduated from North High School in 1962, joined the Army Reserve and was attending college when a 1966 diving accident at Jamesville Reservoir left him paralyzed from the neck down… for life!
That didn’t stop George. He used his mathematical mind, photographic memory and passion for sports to forge a multi-million-dollar gambling business. Of course, that meant withstanding law enforcement’s constant efforts to shut him down or, worse, send him to the slammer.
That’s what happened in 2005 when George was one of three Syracuse men arrested and charged with running a $20.3 million regional gambling business. Then, in late-March 2009, the three were busted again for allegedly operating a $50 million Internet sports betting ring. In all, 12 men and one woman were arrested from Syracuse to Utica to Latham.
Bedigian was charged with enterprise corruption, New York state’s equivalent to the federal racketeering law. Bets had been accepted on college sports, NFL and NBA games, boxing, Ultimate Fighting Championships and NASCAR.
George conducted business by phone and computer from his home on Prospect Hill on the city’s North Side. In less than two years he personally earned between $3 million to $5 million, according to Albany County District Attorney David Soares.
Support at sentencing
In Albany on Oct. 28, 2008, Bedigian pleaded guilty to two counts of promoting gambling, both felonies. He was sentenced Feb. 3, 2009, to one to three years. More than a dozen of George’s friends and business associates, some from as far away as Boston and Las Vegas, turned out for his sentencing, according to the Albany Times-Union.
After serving about 11 months at Mohawk Correctional Facility in Rome, N.Y., George was released four days after Thanksgiving 2009. Because he was a quadriplegic, his incarceration in a prison hospital cost the state some $145,000 annually, about $100,000 more than the cost of housing general population inmates.
Over the years, George was arrested for gambling at least two dozen times, but Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick consistently declined to push for prison time. Prosecutors prefer to convict violent criminals rather than gamblers, Fitzpatrick said. The DA noted that George had no discernible ties to organized crime and imprisoning a quadriplegic is expensive.
Anyhow, you can put him in jail, but that wouldn’t stop people from making wagers.
Well known as a local philanthropist, George contributed many of his hard-earned dollars to charitable causes including the Ronald McDonald House. Plenty of individuals also benefited from his generosity, although such arrangements were conducted privately and discreetly
Last week, Bedigian’s lifelong pal – Champagne Lenny Bilotti – left a heartfelt condolence message on the Thomas J. Pirro Jr. Funeral Home website. Bilotto wrote that George always “did good for so many. This to the betters of the world.”
Addressing Bedigian himself, Bilotti began, “Georgie, Many will never know the man you were – the contagious smile, the attitude that kept you going all these years.”
George possessed a rare sense of humor that helped him deal with his otherwise overwhelming paralysis. In their last conversation in early-January, Bedigian told Bilotti: “Champagne, you know how much money I could have made on the over and under on how long I would live after the accident?”
“We got a big laugh out of that,” Bilotti remembered.
Turns out George lived for 46 years after that tragic dive.
End of an era
Despite his disability, he often got out of his McBride Street house to enjoy dinner at his favorite restaurants including Tumino’s Asti Caffe, Gentile’s and Atillio’s. He also traveled regularly to the Gambling Capital of the World in Nevada.
After his funeral mass at Our Lady of Pompei/St. Peter Church, George was laid to rest Feb. 1 at Woodlawn Cemetery Mausoleum.
With his roots in the 1960s, super-bookie George Bedigian followed in the footsteps of legendary Syracuse figures such as Sam Scro, Bill Estoff, Fitzy Gentile, Tops Mandarino and Blackie Vercillo. In that regard, George was the last of a kind, a throwback to an era when gambling thrived on the North Side in barber shops, billiard halls and coffee shops.
Ah, the good ol’ days!