Property Grunt

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

This is actually pretty cool.

Picking (Up) Winners Without Placing a Bet.

For the past 10 years, Jesus Leonardo has been cleaning up at an OTB parlor in Midtown Manhattan, cashing in, by his own count, nearly half a million dollars’ worth of winning tickets from wagers on thoroughbred races across the country.

During his glorious run, Mr. Leonardo, 57, has not placed a single bet.

“It is literally found money,” he said on a recent night from his private winner’s circle. He spends more than 10 hours a day there, feeding thousands of discarded betting slips through a ticket scanner in a never-ending search for someone else’s lost treasure.

“This has become my job, my life,” he said. “This is how I feed my family.”

Leonardo, who favors track suits and wears his graying hair and bushy beard in long ponytails, is what’s known in horse racing parlance as a stooper — a person who hangs around racetracks and betting parlors picking up tickets thrown away by others. Most tickets are losers, but enough are winners to make it worth his while.

When I hear these types of quirky stories about people making ends meet in New York City, it brings a smile to my face because it displays the ingenuity and drive of someone who figures out a loophole in a system and uses it to their advantage. However, they are proceeding in a honest fashion and are willing to put the hard work into achieving their goals.

Uncashed winnings at all off-track betting operations and all racetracks in New York totaled more than $8.5 million over the past two years, according to the New York State Racing and Wagering Board.

That is why Mr. Leonardo said he would not stop stooping anytime soon, not by a long shot.

“Look here,” he said to Mr. Peguero after pulling a credit voucher from the machine for $6. “Another winner.”

He is definitely not stopping anytime soon. And he shouldn't. He put a lot of effort in what he has created and he should enjoy the fruits of his labor.