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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 5)

CA: What did you do when you got the bet?
Pete: First of all, let me interrupt; I apologize. In order to take that type of bet, I won't take it close to post time. Because I want the time to do what I want with it, and if you come in that close to post, I'll refuse it. But if you tell me a couple of days ahead of time, whatever you want you can have.

CA: So you spread it out?
Pete: Well, maybe, maybe not.

CA: Maybe you move the line, so you can move money to the other side.
Pete: Absolutely, it's all about money.

CA: Are there times when either the line has moved so much or you have so much on one side and so much on this side, that it doesn't matter who wins? You win the commission plus something significant?
Pete: That's correct.

CA: Are there many times when there's a push, when you're giving seven and the game is seven, and nobody wins?
Pete: It may be a push for certain customers, but if we raised the line, certain customers tie and certain customers lose or win.

CA: I always wondered why you don't just move the line up or down a half a point, so somebody has to win and somebody has to lose?
Pete: Well, because there are certain numbers that you don't want to fool around with, because we could get something we call middled or sided. The numbers 3, 7 or 10 are very dominant in football the way the scoring works. So, if the game opens up at where 7 or 3 is the top number, you don't want to fool around with it, because usually a lot of games come down to the field goal. And you don't want to fool with that number because if you use a 3 and they laid the 3 and then you move it to 3 1/2 and then they take the 3 1/2, if the spread falls on 3, we don't collect from the push. And we pay. That's called siding. You could also go higher and get middled. Middled is when you pay both parties. You move your line so high, that you have people laying it and people taking it. They don't care. But I care, I care very much, because we're not in business to lose on both sides.

CA: Is there one oddsmaker in Vegas or elsewhere that is considered the top guy in the field?
Pete: There used to be a fellow called Bob Martin, and everybody respected him. Today there's Roxy Roxburough.

CA: What happened to Bob Martin?
Pete: You know I really don't know. He either retired or died, or...

CA: Or he gave a bad line. [Laughter]
Pete: No. When he made a bet, that line moved two points when he bet on the game.

CA: He was a bookmaker?
Pete: He was an oddsmaker, but he also played, and when he bet, two points automatic.

CA: Do you know who the major players are every weekend and how much they are betting?
Pete: Absolutely. There are certain crews that go around. But I don't want to mention their names.

CA: How much does a major hitter bet on a weekend?
Pete: Well, there are certain crews that bet $200,000 a game.

CA: What do you mean, "crews"?
Pete: They call them crews; they are groups of guys. I don't know if they have computerized material, which I think everybody does today, and they have an insight that the public doesn't have.

CA: You mentioned the Dominican Republic. It's become a major gambling center, hasn't it?
Pete: Absolutely, and it's completely legitimate. But it's a mask also for doing business outside the United States. It's legal. You can call from the United States, and the legal system can't do anything about it. But I've heard--now this is hearsay--that they've complained to the authorities, and the authorities went to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court said, "Listen, we have enough problems."

CA: In Cigar Aficionado we have ads periodically from guys who are overseas who allow you to use credit cards to bet, and they'll give you odds in football, basketball or whatever?
Pete: That's correct. The odds are coming out of Las Vegas; they use the same odds, same structure as Las Vegas. It's completely legal, completely legitimate.

CA: So wouldn't it pay for you to go offshore and do it legally?
Pete: I've been offered; however, I have a family, you know.

CA: You'd have to move?
Pete: Yeah.

CA: In every city is there one major book-making opera-tion from which all others take the lead?
Pete: I would imagine so, although I don't know.

CA: Do the casinos in Vegas get a much larger piece of the sports betting action or attract larger bets?
Pete: Nobody wants the big bettor, even in Las Vegas. They don't take that big of a bet. It's just difficult. They would much rather handle the little player and do the volume like anything else.

CA: What about college basketball?
Pete: Popular.

CA: What about high school football?
Pete: No, absolutely not.

CA: Nothing in high school?
Pete: Nothing lower than college. Although, I know some people who'd like to bet on cockroaches running, but there's just no prices.

CA: Are there any sports other than basketball, football and baseball that...
Pete: Hockey.

CA: Hockey--is hockey popular?
Pete: No. It has its peaks and valleys; sometimes it's popular, sometimes you do nothing. I'll give you a little anecdote. There was a fellow who played for maybe two months on football. He lost. Every week he lost. One day there wasn't any football and he came up and said, "Gee, what am I going to do?" The bookmaker said, "Well, we have hockey," and he said, "What do I know about hockey?"

CA: Did he bet?
Pete: Yeah.

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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