Jones Was Target of Complaint : Two Other Groups Not Raided in Crackdown on Handicapping Seminars

Times Staff Writer

The operator of a daily horse race handicapping seminar near Santa Anita said that his group's betting method had been similar to the one used by Gordon Jones, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner turf reporter who was arrested Saturday and charged with bookmaking.

According to Lee Rousso, who has been conducting a seminar for fans at a restaurant in the Santa Anita Fashion Park, the group would make its selections, and then Rousso would take the money to Santa Anita to bet.

"That is, we were pooling our money," Rousso said. "Until what happened to Gordon. Now, everybody makes their own bets."

Jones was arrested at an Arcadia hotel about an hour before Santa Anita's first race last Saturday with more than $1,500 in his possession. The money allegedly represented the bets of about 35 people who had attended a meeting of his Pick 6 Club.

Rousso and Bill Michaels, who also conducts a seminar for bettors in the Santa Anita area, were not visited by police, although the Arcadia Police Dept. has on file a letter complaining about all three groups.

"We only have so many operatives," said Charles Mitchell, Arcadia's police chief, explaining why the other seminars were not raided.

The complaint against the three handicappers was filed by Sam Johnson, a representative of a West Covina group called Citizens Against Illegal Gambling.

Mitchell quoted from the letter, which said that "several bettors were short-changed in their winnings at these seminars."

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept. vice officers also participated in the raid on Jones' seminar. Mitchell said that the raid was prompted by the complaint from Johnson.

Jones, who has been conducting his seminars on races at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park for six years--including on-track premises at Hollywood--said he thought his practice was legal.

Mitchell said: "We don't have off-track betting in California. Transporting money from anywhere off track to the track and betting it is against the bookmaking laws. It wouldn't make any difference if it was just two guys in a drug store splitting $100 in bets and one of them taking the money to the track. That's illegal, too."

A spokesman at Santa Anita said that the track is considering withdrawing Jones' press credentials. Jones, 49, has been covering and handicapping races for the Herald Examiner for 17 years. He has taken a leave of absence without pay until the case against him is resolved. Released on bail a few hours after his arrest, Jones has an arraignment on multiple felony bookmaking charges scheduled for March 12.

"What we do about Jones' credentials is in abeyance," the Santa Anita spokesman said. "But there has been talk at high levels at the track about pulling them."

According to Len Foote, secretary of the California Horse Racing Board, a track has a duty to exclude anyone convicted of bookmaking. "There was a wagering messenger service accepting bets off track and running them over a few years ago," he said. "The board went to court and obtained a writ prohibiting this activity."

Rousso, 26, said that attendance at his seminar dropped considerably the day after Jones was arrested.

"We had about 90 people the previous Sunday, then only 60 showed up," Rousso said. "That was the first time we had less people on a Sunday than we had on the previous Saturday. Bookmaking charges reflect on all of us in this business; it's bad publicity for us. Jones is one of my competitors, but I hope he wins if he takes this to court."

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