When Charles Hynes was a boy he liked to play a game with his friends. They were baseball fans growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940s and '50s. Brooklyn, in those days, was awash with bookies. That meant Hynes and his boys knew as much about the numbers games being run in their Flatbush neighborhood as they did about Jackie Robinson's or Joe DiMaggio's batting average.
Naturally, the game they liked to play involved a combination of the two most popular local pastimes -- gambling and baseball -- and it amounted to an early version of fantasy. "Every day," Hynes told me on Wednesday afternoon, "we had to pick three players who would get at least six hits total. That's just two hits per guy. And we were picking from guys like Ted Williams, DiMaggio and Stan Musial. You'd think we would win more than we lost. But no, the odds didn't work in our favor."
Hynes grew up to be a lawyer, an important one who, after two years as an assistant district attorney for Kings County, which includes Brooklyn, was named the county's chief of the Rackets Bureau. This was in the early 1970s, before Brooklyn was trending and full of locavores and the kind of place in which they set overhyped premium-cable shows (sorry, girls). Much of it was nasty, gritty, scary and just a lit fuse away from being torched. By this time, Hynes wasn't gambling anymore with his buddies, he was tracking down gamblers with his investigators. "That's when I first became aware of the enormity of it and how it benefits organized crime," he says. "At the time, I think the total estimate gambled in NYC was $3 billion a year. A couple years later, it was up to $7 billion."
One afternoon in the 1980s, after Mario Cuomo had become governor and appointed Hynes as a special prosecutor, the two men were at a New York Mets game. Walking around Shea, the governor happened to say, "You know, if we legalized gambling we could put a dome over this stadium." Hynes responded, "Governor, if we legalized gambling we could put a dome over the state."