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George Jansco's Land of Opportunity

The impresario of the famed hustler jamborees of the 1960s cut his teeth on pool and made some key connections as a bookie in the southern Indiana boomtown of Evansville.

By R.A. Dyer

Back before the newspaper men arrived, and before the TV cameras, and the big-smiling interviews for "CBS Sports Spectacular" - back before he helped recreate the world of big-time pool - Georgie Jansco held a simple job in Evansville, Ind. For a few happy years he scrawled down names and numbers on bits of paper and made phone calls. He booked bets. And this he did with great enthusiasm, for Jansco loved few things as much as he loved gambling.

Welcome back to Untold Stories. In this month's installment, I'll review the early life of George Jansco, the Southern Illinois tournament promoter who, during the 1960s, rewired the world of professional pocket billiards. Since pushing a few issues back for the induction of Sports Illustrated writer Tom Fox into the Billiard Congress of America's Hall of Fame, a few readers have gently suggested that I might have put the cart before the horse. It's true that Tom Fox helped bring the Johnston City tournaments to the attention of the world, they note, but it's also true that George Jansco actually created them. Likewise, Tom Fox may have helped create Rudolf "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone - but so too did George Jansco. All points well taken: Both Jansco and Fox deserve spots. I agree with Steve Booth, who, writing in a recent issue about George and brother Paulie, said: "Without the Jansco brothers themselves, there would have been no story for Tom Fox or the rest of the country to get excited about."

This month, I'd also like to highlight that odd crossroads of gambling culture that became Evansville, Ind., during the 1940s. By virtue of its oil deposits and its World War II shipbuilding, this southwestern Indiana town would join Norfolk, Va., Detroit and nearby towns like tiny DuQuoin, Ill., as a hub for glorious vice. It's in Evansville that Jansco made important connections that fueled his later pool tournaments.

Much of the material for this month's installment comes from my interviews with George's daughter JoAnn McNeal; her husband, Dave McNeal; and Bruce Beaumann, editor of the Evansville Courier and Press. I've also drawn details from previous research for my book "Hustler Days" (although I've tried to steer clear of material already covered in the book). I've reviewed the Marion Daily Republican, the Southern Illinoisan, and "Unsinkable Titanic Thompson," the biography of the golf hustler written by Carlton Stowers.

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Since 1978, Billiards Digest magazine has been the pool world's best source for news, tournament coverage, player profiles, bold editorials, and advice on how to play pool. Our instructors include superstars Nick Varner and Jeanette Lee. Every issue features the pool accessories and equipment you love - pool cues, pool tables, instruction aids and more. Columnists Mike Shamos and R.A. Dyer examine legends like Willie Mosconi and Minnesota Fats, and dig deep into the histories of pool games like 8-ball, 9-ball and straight pool.

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