Let's shake on it

Two centuries after congressional lawmakers began placing their bets in a cigar box in the sergeant at arms’s office, members are still making friendly wagers on the outcome of sporting events — minus the box.

“It transcends everything — the pride you have in that team. It unites people,” Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas) said.

On the table this week: Sens. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) are betting on the outcome of the Rockies-Red Sox World Series match-up. The best-of-seven tilt starts Wednesday.

As with many friendly wagers, food is what’s at stake for the winner. If the Red Sox win, Salazar and Allard will donate Colorado-raised beef to a Massachusetts charity. If the Rockies win, Kennedy and Kerry will give New England clam chowder and lobster rolls to a Colorado charity.

“It’s Rocktober!” Allard said. “I certainly hope to do some good-natured ribbing of my friends from Massachusetts when the Rox bring home the World Series trophy.”

Kerry was just as optimistic.

“The only thing I love more than watching the Sox beat the Yankees will be watching them beat the Rockies to win their second World Series in four years,” Kerry said. “The Sox are the comeback kids. We still believe!”

The practice of making “friendly wagers” is an enduring tradition for many members. In an effort to lighten up the serious business of lawmaking, they make bets and don’t mind paying up — whether it means embarrassing themselves, volunteering for a good cause or gathering up district-inspired food to give their opponents.

“Up here, there are all sorts of little deals like that,” Rep. Henry Brown Jr. (R-S.C.) explains.

With the baseball playoffs in full swing, Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) recently bet Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) about the outcome of the Rockies’ National League Division Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. Colorado swept the best-of-five series, and Schwartz wore a Rockies jersey on the steps of the Capitol on Oct. 4.

“Thank you. You’re a good sport,” Musgrave said as Schwartz handed her a box of Pennsylvania goodies, including pretzels and peanut chews. The pretzels, a local favorite, were brought in fresh on the morning train into D.C.

“We’re hopeful for next year,” Schwartz said, prompting laughter from surrounding staff.

Last year, Gonzalez bet Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) that the San Antonio Spurs would beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA finals. After the Spurs won, Tubbs Jones was forced to pose for photos in front of the Capitol wearing a Spurs uniform.

Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) doesn’t remember the details of all his bets over the years. “I’ve won a couple, lost a couple,” he said, though he does recall his desire to win.

“It’s not an escape, it’s serious,” Capuano said.

Some bets are still outstanding, like the wager between Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) over the outcome of a Yankees-Mets game.

“Has he paid me yet? No. I’m still waiting,” Serrano said.

Ackerman said he’s ready to treat Serrano to a meal at Ben’s Deli in Queens. “I’ve got him covered,” he said. “He’s got to be willing to get his shots and come over the bridge into Queens.”

Although he couldn’t remember the details of the wager, Serrano can’t forget what he did when he lost a bet with Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) after the Florida Marlins upset the Yankees in the 2003 World Series.

“I went over and paid my respects. I groveled, I cried, I accepted it,” Serrano said, expressing his disappointment in Ackerman for not doing the same after the Yankees-Mets match.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) said Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) still owes him a steak dinner after the Cleveland Indians beat the Yankees in the first round of this year’s American League playoffs.

“I’m going to get the most expensive steak,” Ryan joked. “Normally I’m a Ruth’s Chris guy, but I’ll look into Charlie Palmer. I’m going to do my research to get the most expensive one.”

Allard made a wager with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) over the outcome of a college football game. Allard won the bet, and Nelson gave him steaks “raised in Colorado and died and processed in Nebraska.”

“He’d like me to bet again, but I don’t want to ruin my winning streak,” Allard said with a laugh.

Losing a friendly wager can also inspire humanitarian work.

When football’s Chicago Bears won the NFC championship last season, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) “gleefully welcomed” Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.) to Illinois, where the two men helped build a Habitat for Humanity house. “We didn’t want to do a standard bet,” Kirk said.

The house was built for a Louisiana family that was evacuated after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast.

“It was a good outcome, and now we know how to do aluminum siding,” Kirk said.

In the same spirit, when the Carolina Panthers lost the Super Bowl XXXVIII against the New England Patriots, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) called it “the most fun I’ve ever had with a sporting event” even though he lost his wager.

Why? As part of the wager with Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), Burr wrote a $1,000 check to a breast cancer charity.

“I find little value to exchanging home-state products — and I’ve done it — but I’d rather do this because that’s something we can do for others,” Burr said.

Gonzalez said friendly wagers are a way to ease tension during stressful times.

“I do believe that this is a kind of departure from the heaviness of our business and at the same time show[s] our pride in the district,” Gonzalez said.

Ego. That’s the one word Ryan used when asked why he bets with other members.

“At the deepest levels of our DNA we are all part of a tribe, so we root for our local team,” Ryan said.

Bets are also a way to brag about the specialty food made in each member’s district, since they often exchange foods as payment for lost bets.

Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), for example, lost a bet when the Seattle Seahawks were defeated in the Super Bowl XL by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had to give Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.) a case of Seattle-based Starbucks Coffee.

“I don’t bet, but this is one of those deals where you get to share your culture with the other members and to give them something you’re proud of,” Reichert said.

Betting on sporting events knows no party lines or politics, lawmakers said.

“It’s probably friendship at its best,” Serrano said.