The Insider

Sucker for a Bet
Question: What do accused River Oaks wife murderer Robert Angleton, tennis great Jimmy Connors, two professional baseball stars and the chairman of Houston Endowment have in common?

Answer: They're all players in the messy divorce of admitted compulsive gambler Eddy Scurlock Blanton from his wife, Roberta. The litigation, now taking place in Judge Annette Galik's Harris County courtroom, opens yet another vista onto the seamy gaming habits of Houston's rich, powerful and famous.

In the divorce papers, Roberta accuses her husband of having gambled away their community property; her accountant claims that Eddy racked up $3.1 million in losing bets. Responding to lawyers' questions, Eddy admits to playing at 18 casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Louisiana. He also admits to gambling with at least 29 persons. Blanton bet with Connors, Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell, and former Astros pitching ace Darryl Kile over tennis and golf matches played at River Oaks, Lochinvar and other area country clubs.

Eddy and "Robbie" Blanton were used to mingling with the high and mighty. Eddy, a private investor and former executive in Key Oil, inherited part of the fortune accrued by his grandfather, legendary wildcatter Eddy Scurlock. The grandson met and married Roberta while both were students at the University of Texas at Austin. The couple later became well known on Houston's society circuit. Eddy has been a board member of the Parks People and once chaired the Houston Zoological Society. Robbie, a veteran charity-ball organizer, has been named to the Houston Chronicle Best Dressed Hall of Fame -- the Valhalla to which the city's society women pray to ascend.

At UT, Eddy was a standout tennis player. He's also an avid golfer, "though he thinks he's a lot better than he is," according to an acquaintance. Attorney Tom Alexander, who represented Mrs. Blanton in the case until last month, says he's been aware for years that Blanton was a gambling joke around town. "He's been the victim of a number of Houston hustlers at golf, tennis, sports betting," says the lawyer, who chuckled when asked if Blanton was known as an easy mark. "Worse," replied Alexander. "Sucker."

In court papers, Blanton admits that he placed bets with Robert Angleton, the River Oaks bookie accused of hiring his own brother, Roger, to murder his wife, Doris McGown Angleton; Robert allegedly acted after Doris simultaneously initiated divorce proceedings and took legal action to freeze nearly $3 million he'd secreted in a half-dozen bank safety deposit boxes.

One legal source pegs the total bets Blanton placed with Angleton at over $300,000. For that reason, the jailed Angleton has been subpoenaed to testify in the Blantons' divorce trial, currently scheduled for early March. The subpoena requested that Angleton produce records detailing "illegal bets by Eddy Blanton and losses," as well as records of "illegal lists of other bookmakers received [by Angleton]" and lists of other bookmakers who took bets from Eddy.

Potentially, Angleton's involvement in the Blanton divorce could embarrass a number of parties. Besides associating Blanton with an accused murderer, Angleton's testimony could expose the groundwork of a big-money sports gambling scene in River Oaks. Angleton's subpoena could be seen as a ploy to compel Blanton to reach a settlement with his wife.

According to lawyer Alexander, Roberta changed counsel to speed the litigation toward a settlement. Her new divorce lawyer is Tom Conner -- the lawyer who represented Doris Angleton in the divorce case that ended with her murder, and who is said to possess extensive knowledge of Robert Angleton's finances. Conner says an effort is under way to settle the divorce suit.

Eddy Blanton's attorney, J.D. "Bucky" Allshouse, had little to say about the cast of characters in the suit, other than to contend that Eddy Blanton's situation "is private, and shouldn't be part of the article." Asked about the possibility that Angleton might testify if the case goes to trial, Allshouse replied, "I think there are a lot of things in dispute, and I really don't want to go into the evidence. I don't see where Mr. Angleton would add anything to this case."

Of course, divorces have a way of dragging private matters into the public arena -- often in humiliating ways. Last August, for example, Judge Galik drafted an order directing Eddy Blanton to stop gambling and enroll in counseling. The judge also ordered the creation of something similar to a wanted poster: "I want a letter attached with a photograph of Mr. Blanton sent to any and all gambling establishments or friends that he may gamble with, [stating] that he's under order with this court that he may not gamble or get any credit or anything else extended to him until further order of the court...." Even Blanton's golf partners were to be so notified.

"That was a very unusual, highly original order," understates Conner. After the divorce suit took a turn toward settlement talks, Galik's order was shelved and the notices were not sent out. Conner now says it's uncertain whether the notices will ever be used. Both sides now seem inclined to try to settle the case -- and minimize the extensive media coverage that would likely follow Angleton into the courtroom.

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