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 4)
CA: You're now at a bar, and you just ran into your best friend from high school, a guy from whom you have no secrets; you love him. He tells you a story that blows your mind about something that happened in his business, and now you want to share with him one or two things that happened in your business that are really unbelievable. What would you tell him?
CA: Why is that?
Pete You have to be very cautious today. You have to be very low-key and cautious to survive. I would tell him nothing, I mean unless we rekindled the friendship, and I talked to him over a certain period of time.
CA: I was really using that story as sort of a springboard to lead you into talking about your business. Let's say it was your brother.
Pete: Oh, then I would tell him everything.
CA: Tell me one or two stories like the one...
Pete: OK, OK. We were working in a certain county, and the door came down. Prior to that we sent a co-worker of ours out to get a big, big meal.
Pete: No, chicken scarpello, and as you can see most of the people are very healthy.
CA: Yeah [laughter], good eaters.
Pete: So, the door came down, we went out. But the detectives stayed in there, answering the phone and writing bets. They were giving customers all bad lines, which we were obligated to pay, by the way.
CA: They're answering the phone?
Pete: Yeah, taking bets and giving all the wrong lines. If Dallas was 10, they'd give 'em pick-em. People were betting, and we were obligated to pay. They had all the evidence, but just to be pricks or to have fun, they did it. So, we were all out of there and my associate comes back with the food delivery, and we're not there. He walks in on the police and they say, "Who are you?" He says, "I'm just a delivery guy." They took the meal and ate it themselves. We were in central booking and they brought us half the food back. I could tell you another story about a game, since most of the parties are dead now. It happened 20 years ago. We were told to bet on a certain game by a certain fellow.
CA: That means he had good inside information that this was a sure winner, maybe even an inside job?
Pete: Absolutely. And, at the time, I bet a couple hundred dollars, which was like a couple of thousand, because I was a young kid. We bet on the game, and the game's going off at 8. We got the call about 7:30, so we all bet like crazy. 7:55, the phone rings again, and it's the guy again. We think something is wrong.
CA: Was this tip on football or basketball?
Pete: Basketball, a game in the South. Now, he calls up at 7:55 again and says, "Can you bet more?"
CA: For him, or for you?
Pete: For him. But meanwhile, if he's going to bet more, we're going to pack on three times as much. So we're betting like crazy. I mean, my fingers hurt from dialing. So we bet, right, get the result of the score and we lose the bet. The guy comes up from the South on Monday, and we ask, "Hey, what happened?" Here's what happened. There was a blizzard, so the school couldn't get their officials to the game. My friend was an alumni of one of the schools. He called his brother-in-law to referee the game. His brother-in-law calls 56 fouls against the opposing team and 11 against our team. Our team could not put the ball in the basket. So nothing is a sure bet.
CA: In your 25 years of handling bets, have there been a lot of fixes?
Pete: Very few, although they do exist.
CA: In any particular sport?
Pete: Could be anything.
CA: When was the last fix or just maybe a case where the odds were not what they should be?
Pete: That's a very good point, because the linemakers can put out a bad line and bet themselves, which the public doesn't know about.
CA: Well, sometimes you see a line, and you say, I don't understand this line based on past games.
Pete: No, no, that's not accurate. If you look at a line, you have to be able to read it. I mean, if a very strong team is a very low favorite against a very weak team, that's an indication that the other team is in the game. But mostly, when there's a fix or something, it's very close. When something goes wrong, it just goes around to everybody. They usually take the game off the board, meaning no one can bet on it. So the smart people who have it first, they make the money, but nobody else.
CA: Are there games that you won't take bets on, or will you take bets on any game that Vegas does?
Pete: Everybody uses the same schedule.
CA: Does that mean you more or less have an obligation to service your customer if he wants to bet this, that and the other?
Pete: Yeah, that's true. But some people will help you out, others won't. For instance, trotters isn't a very reputable sport today, so I don't do a lot with that.
CA: What about Belmont and the big feature races?
Pete: We get nice action on that, but only the major races.
CA: How about when Cigar was winning? Did many people bet on the races that Cigar was in?
Pete: No, because the prices are not going to pay very much. Some people don't want to put up two dollars to win 20 cents.
CA: In your 25 years, did you ever have a sure bet?
CA: Tell me about that.
Pete: I don't really know why, I don't know what it was about. I got a call one night, to go to a certain raceway, trotters, and bet four races. I went down there and bet every race. It looked like the parting of the Red Sea. I mean, you know it's incredible. It's just that the Red Sea parted and here comes Moses, right down the middle, and that happened for four races. They didn't pay very much, four twenty, five sixty, nothing more than six dollars.
CA: Because there was a lot of money bet on it?
Pete: Yeah, but you can't believe it. Not many people knew about it, but those who did bet very heavy. That's what brought the price down, a select few. Of course, the public can see the odds board.
CA: Do you ever get action or have you ever bet on jai alai?
Pete: We don't take business on jai alai. But me personally, that is one of the only sports that I really like to go watch and bet. It's the worst sport to bet, because of the human element, but I find the game very exciting.
CA: Do you make your own personal bets, or do you feel you are already in the game by handling the bets? It can be addictive, and you could throw away all your profits. Are you a player as well as bookie, or strictly a bookie?
Pete: I am a player.
CA: What do you like to play?
CA: College? Professional?
Pete: Both. I, like everybody else, like to make a bet. For me, however, if I have enough money on one team, it's the same thing as betting. It's the same thing as betting, without paying the commission.
CA: Right, if you got 10 grand on one side, 15 grand on the other, there's a five thousand spread.
Pete: That's good enough for me.
CA: When that happens to be the team you like anyway?
Pete: Yes, yes, it's good enough for me.
CA: So you make the 10 percent plus the five grand.
Pete: Actually, if you're going to do that, you shouldn't let one business dictate to another. However, if you have any intelligence, you'll say, "Well, I have enough going for me. That's good enough."
CA: What's the biggest bet you ever handled?
Pete: Fifty thousand.
CA: Tell me about that. Was this a regular customer or somebody that came out of the blue?
Pete: A regular customer. He wanted to bet on the Super Bowl.
CA: How much would this guy normally bet on a game?
Pete: A few thousand a game.
CA: So, he comes in and he says, "Pete, I want to bet the Super Bowl."
Pete: I think it was Cincinnati and San Francisco, in '82.
CA: San Francisco was the favorite?
Pete: Yes, a point and a half.
CA: And he took?
Pete: He took plus one and a half with Cincinnati.
CA: And who won?
Pete: I did.
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