Golf shirt, flip-flops, a cell phone, and “Fat” Jack Ross is ready for work.
A quick meeting at the casino, then off to Vegas in the afternoon before heading to Florida next week to meet with some clients and then finalize more syndication for a radio show in the fall.
But for now, just a tall glass of iced tea will do as he easily summarizes everything about himself.
“I’m very blessed,” he said. “I guess you could say I’m just lucky on all fronts.”
Is that what you call it when your life is a man-cation of card-playing, sports-betting, golf-swinging fun? Two parts Vegas high roller and equal parts shaken and stirred.
Ross does what most men would do if only they could only just convince their wives and fatten their wallets ” presumably in that order. But Fat Jack isn’t anything like most men. In between regular jaunts to Vegas and Florida, he smiles wide and bets big. He also has all the answers.
About 52 percent of the time.
In this business, that’s pretty good. And luck has nothing to do with it.
LUCK BE A NORMAN LANDLORD
Fat Jack is Jack Ross, a Norman resident, landlord, World Series of Poker card player, part-time radio personality, boat owner, traveler, dad of two, husband of one and a self-proclaimed stockbroker for sports gamblers.
If you’ve ever listened to sports or sports talk on the radio ” and in Oklahoma, that’s not a rarity ” or if you’ve ever searched for that small type buried in the corner of the sports page labeled “Today’s Line,” you’ve heard of Ross.
That’s because he sells himself as a winner ” or at least a guy who can pick them. While around Norman, he may be known as Jackie ” the 1988 Norman High graduate and the waiter who used to race patrons (and win) in the parking lot of the old Interurban Restaurant right on the railroad tracks ” he’s now more famous for his sports handicapping. In other words, for a fee, he’ll tell you what’s going to happen in the upcoming game. From there, you take his knowledge and do with it what you want.
Not illegal, because he’s just supplying the information. Not against the law, because Ross is just making predictions. While sports betting is illegal in Oklahoma, it’s not illegal to take money for passing on such wisdom. Ross isn’t the guy who goes Tony Soprano and breaks your finger if you don’t pay off your bets, because Ross doesn’t take the bets.
Instead, he sells his picks nationally and thrives locally. And for $475, you can get all of his picks for 30 days. Or you can choose any number of pick-packages, including the all-you-can-eat version that gets you everything from football season all the way through basketball season. Cost: $3,495. You also get his guarantee that if you sign up early and follow his system, you will have a winning season. If you don’t, you get a trip for two to Las Vegas, “absolutely free.”
“It’s a shady business,” Ross said. “And I’m part of it. I guess you could say I’m a stockbroker for sports bettors. But I do want to be honest and upfront. The difference between me and the rest of the guys in this business is that I’m around and I can win. If you don’t win in this business, you won’t last.”
Ross has lasted (his business is going into its eighth season) and the numbers back him up, but they aren’t the kind of statistics you want with your bankroll on the line. However, they are the kind of picks that stand up well among others in the biz. For the 2008-2009 sports season, according to the Web site estimates, which documents sports handicappers throughout the country, Ross made 91 selections on National Football League games that he gave to his clients. He got 48 of them correct, good for 52.75 percent. For college football, a sport Ross considers his expertise, he went 83-56, good for 59.7 percent.
Overall, according to the site’s estimates, Ross went 323-297 (52 percent), including picks on the National Basketball Association and college basketball.
“I would tell you there’s probably about 25 guys who handicap at an elite level,” said longtime friend and WWLS-FM sports show host Jim Traber. “He’s one of them. I don’t know his system. I don’t know how he does it, but it’s worked out. He’s not a fake and he’s not one of those dudes you hear shouting on the radio that disappear by the end of the season.”
That’s because Ross says he’s different than most.
“Just a guy who’s grounded and normal,” said Brandon Rush, who used to produce “The Fat Jack Sports Hour,” Ross’ radio show on WWLS. “But then you see those pictures on his Web site where they are fishing for barracudas or something, or those pictures of him holding that money, and it looks crazy. But really, he’s a guy who I have gotten to know and a guy I like.”
Ross has been married to his wife, Caryn, for 16 years. He has a 10-year-old son, Jack, and a 7-year-old daughter, Caytie. Ross might tell you Wisconsin is 6.5 points better than Iowa in next Saturday’s game, but he isn’t going to miss Jack’s next ball game or Caytie’s next dance recital to jet off to a card tournament in Belize.
“He lives the way he wants to and does it well,” Traber said. “He’s a great family guy. He’s there for his kids, and he’s not just there to be there. He never lets the gambling and the work get in the way of missing something his kids are doing.”
Dad of the Year? Well, he tries, and that’s taken something away from the sexiness of gambling, Vegas and smoky poker rooms. Ross does admit to not being as good at golf as he once was, and not nearly good enough at poker to compete at the elite level he’d like to be.
“Cards are just a hobby to me. I’m a big eater and an average golfer,” he said. But picking football and basketball games? “That’s what I’m good at.”
Oh, it’s good to be Fat Jack these days. His Web site, http://www.thefatjack.com, features a svelte Ross in a white suit and pink shirt fanning out a fistful of Ben Franklins. His lifestyle features a 5,000-square-foot Norman home and a business where he owns 20 rental units in Norman and 30 more in Oklahoma City. He offices in another Norman home.
Ross said he goes to Vegas at least a “month’s worth of days per year,” and plays card tournaments and meets with his clients often ” all the while, grinding out why it is the Minnesota Vikings will lose by less than 5.5 points to the New England Patriots next week before passing it on to his subscribers.
Life’s good for Fat Jack as long as he stays above that heads-or-tails 50-percent mark. Dip below and it means angry calls from big bettors.
“As long as he’s winning, it’s a great life,” said Randy Clark, another longtime friend, who runs a real estate appraisal business and also is a sports wagering consultant. “You’re probably miserable if you’re on a losing streak. It would be real similar to being a trader on Wall Street. You’re going to have good weeks or years and you’re going to have some lean weeks or years. When that happens, it’s stressful and difficult.”
For Ross, there’s been some of that stress. He admitted to realizing that he can’t win every year. He also dealt with the fact his house ” one that he hadn’t even moved into yet ” burned a few years ago.
“And I can tell you for sure, that wasn’t a good thing for him,” Clark said. “He in no way profited from that deal.”
“I just try to do the right thing,” Ross said. “The reality is, I try not to be a hypocrite about things. My gambling and golf and cards will never affect my family’s stability. I just tell the truth. If people are really upset with my picks, I offer their money back.”
Ross said he’s had seven winning seasons in the past 10 years. He’s had one losing season and another two where he’s broken even. He said he’s good at his job and doesn’t have any conflicts about supporting gambling.
“He sits with me at church every Sunday,” said Brooks Hull, a Norman school board member and community volunteer. “I don’t find anything odd about the way he chooses to make a living. I know there’s a stigma surrounding gambling, but there’s more to Jack than just that. He’s a good father, a Little League coach and a very generous person.
“Oh, and he’s also a hell of a lot of fun to be with.”
Yeah, it’s good to be Fat Jack.
“All I’m trying to do is win more than I lose,” Ross said. “This is what I’m good at. Yeah, it’s good to be me, but don’t ask me that after a bad week.” “Andrew Gilman