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The Secret Life Of A Bookie

Not All the Big Bets Are on Wall Street
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
James Woods, May/Jun 97

(continued from page 1)

Pete: They are all usually very, very close. You start with a reputable line that you've done business with for years. You let your money dictate the price. If you start getting money on team A, you just move the price up, you encourage people to take side B.

CA: Is your goal as a bookmaker to have even money on both sides?

Pete: Absolutely.

CA: What happens when you're operating out of, let's say for argument's sake, Dallas. So you have a lot more fans that are rooting for and betting on Dallas. They are playing the Giants in New Jersey, and your book is, you have $50,000 on one side and $10,000 on the other side? What do you do? How do you even your book so that you don't have great exposure if Dallas wins?

Pete: I don't know of anybody who really gives anything away anymore to balance off. Everybody just holds what they have. In your scenario, it might be possible that this could happen in Dallas, because they are pretty educated bettors there. And they follow the services of some experts, the 800-telephone services. There's so much information available to the betting public, which is pretty accurate, so even if you are in Dallas, it doesn't mean that they are all going to bet on Dallas. The price dictates if they're going to bet on the home team. It's the same in California, New York, Atlanta.

CA: Are there certain cities that dominate the NFL football gambling market and thus have an impact nationally on the lines?

Pete: I would say the East Coast.

CA: In the case of the New York region, where the home NFL teams have been so bad in recent years, do the oddsmakers try to give more points to balance the books, because they know they are going to lose anyway?

Pete: Yes.

CA: So you're saying that setting the spread is not just a matter of determining who has a better team by what point total, but may also involve trying to direct an equal amount of betting to each side of the spread?

Pete: Yes, it's already built into the price. The oddsmakers build public opinion into their price. If a game is worth seven, they may start at eight, because they take the public's opinion into account.

CA: Do most New Yorkers bet on the Giants and the Jets when they get the points, because they are the hometown teams, or are they unemotional about it, betting on whoever they think is going to win the game, and cover the spread?

Pete: Most people today are unemotional. They go by the price. They will bet on or against their team. It really doesn't matter.

CA: What about college football?

Pete: You get a lot more fans who root for their college and bet no matter what. But again, you see, the whole thing of the line is not who's better; it doesn't really matter which team, A or B, is better, because the line means one thing. The oddsmakers are trying to put the line out where you get equal action on both sides. It doesn't mean that the team is that much better. They are just trying to encourage a two-sided business. I'm going to make my money on the commission.

CA: And I guess it's standard that the bookie's take...

Pete: We don't use "take" anymore, we use "commission."

CA: ...that the commission is 10 percent commission.

Pete: Yes.

CA: So if your handle on a given weekend is a quarter of a million, and your books are balanced, then you're going to gross $25,000?

Pete: That's correct. However, you really don't get that much balance anymore.

CA: Really? Does that mean that some years you could be proportionally a big winner or a big loser?

Pete: That's correct. The past few have been very good. This past year has been a little rough, believe it or not.

CA: And why is it rough this year?

Pete: Just the way it falls.

CA: Have there been certain teams that have consistently not covered their spread?

Pete: Yes, you read the newspaper, watch the TV, you know who they are.

CA: Are you an independent businessman?

Pete: Yes.

CA: So you are not part of a group or a syndicate around the country, where you basically lay off on a regular basis, to help each other balance the books?

Pete: Absolutely not. We are very independent, and like I say, we don't always balance the book.

CA: Outside of Vegas, where obviously it's legal, how big is gambling? How many bookmakers are there in America? Is there any way of knowing how many bookmakers there are in a city like Boston, or New York, or Chicago?

Pete: Hundreds.

CA: What is a typical bet? How much do people normally bet on a game or on a weekend?

Pete: A normal bet can range from twenty-five dollars to maybe ten thousand.


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