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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 20)

CA: Any other good stories?
Pete: Well, there was a horse owner. We knew the owner, he's a lawyer. We get out there and he says, "You, bet my horse." At that time I think he bet $1,000 or something. So we all bet. We go by the rail, and the horse comes out. He's got four bandages on, so right away we get a little nervous, and we go up to [the owner]. His name was, we'll say Joe, for argument's sake. "Joe, what's wrong? The horse has bandages." He said, "Well, it's camouflage. Bet more." So we go back and we bet more. Well, obviously the horse is still running, which means that even the owners don't know sometimes.

CA: You mean the horse never finished?
Pete: Never, he's still running. But he told us it was camouflage, so how do you really know? There's two sides to every coin.

CA: Do you know most of your competitors?
Pete: Yeah.

CA: Do you guys ever share information to help stay on top of what's going on?
Pete: Oh yeah, yeah. Absolutely. It's professional courtesy. If you hear something, usually you try to bet and then you tell them.

CA: Are there many deadbeats in the business?
Pete: There're a few.

CA: Bookies or customers that don't pay up?
Pete: Yeah, both.

CA: Do you have many customers that don't pay?
Pete: No. But we've had a few problems.

CA: Did they need terms?
Pete: They needed terms. I'll tell you a funny story about one fellow, and I really was stunned when he told me this answer. He owed me. He called up and he wanted to bet on Texas. Right now, I know his figure was pretty high, and we usually tell people, we don't try to insult them, we say, "You know your figure's high. Do you know what you're doing?" "Absolutely," he says, and he decides to lay 2-to-1 on top of his high figure. Texas loses, so I have to go see him. He's a nice fellow, a businessman, and he's very, very shaky, very shaky. He tells me that he has the money, but that he wasn't liquid. I'd never heard that terminology in the business, several years ago: not liquid. I had to think for a minute, "Liquid, liquid?" Well, what he meant to say was: "I don't have the money at hand, I have it somewhere else." Of course he didn't have the money. You just say what's convenient. You pay me what you can afford. And we never charge interest. We don't shylock and we don't use violence.

CA: Last year, what was your handle for the whole year?
Pete: I'm hard of hearing. What did you say?

CA: A rough number, a million, two million, three million?
Pete: I still can't hear you.

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