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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 6)

CA: Did you have any deadbeats?
Pete: Yeah, but small. A few thousand. We always try to keep the work collectible. In my opinion, big figures bring big problems. So you try to narrow it down. When you see somebody getting out of hand, you sort of curtail it.

CA: Do you make more money on your own betting?
Pete: No, on the commission.

CA: Because that's guaranteed. If you have a balanced book all year, then you're ahead?
Pete: Absolutely, but you do make money when the customers are just unlucky.

CA: What sources do you read to stay up with things?
Pete: We don't read anything. We don't read the newspaper or who anybody likes. We read the line, that's the most important thing. I have one guy who's a major handicapper. He's bet about 50 bucks a game for eight years, and he hasn't won in six. He hasn't had a winning season with us.

CA: When I turn on cable television late at night near the weekend, there are more 800 numbers than you can count.
Pete: It's not free.

CA: But every week they come on and say, "I had 10 picks last Saturday, nine winners two weeks ago, for the year I'm 27 for 30. For $20 I'll give you a guaranteed winner, I've got a sure bet, it's my pick of the year."
Pete: They do have a sure bet, and I'll tell you what the sure bet is. The sure bet is when you lose, you can call them up and they give you another bet. So when you call the numbers, they give you the small pick. They say, "We like this game very much--93 percent rating. However, if you give us the $50, we'll give you the major release that nobody knows about." What are you going to do, take the small play or take the big, big guarantee? The guarantee only means that if it loses, they'll give you another game. They never refund the money.

CA: Do these guys get a lot of money?
Pete: Absolutely. And it's good for the business; they stimulate business.

CA: Is there anyone who audits their representations on TV? When the guy says, "Last week I had nine out of 10," all right, who's to know, except the guy that bet with him last week who lost his money?
Pete: There's certain handicappers who really document their performance. But most handicappers don't. There's a fellow in the South who's pretty authentic. He documents his thing.

CA: Are there any star pickers?
Pete: No, no. You have to have a 61 percent average to be a winner. That's just above the breaking point. I mean, they'll have their days.

CA: Pete, in closing, is there any advice that you would offer to a Cigar Aficionado reader, in terms of how to manage his betting strategy? Is there any advice in terms of how to minimize your risk and maximize your return?
Pete: Well, in my opinion, there's nothing like sitting back, having a great cigar, a nice Scotch or a nice brandy, turning on the TV, and betting modestly on your team. As far as money management, I can tell you, "Don't press your bets." If you're betting a few hundred, don't bet a few thousand. I mean, if you really like a game, go ahead, but be consistent in your wagering and you'll run into some good luck and some bad luck.

CA: I have personally experienced streaks, where sometimes you can't lose and often you can't win.
Pete: It's called a zone. It's what the players get into when they shoot the basketball. Everything goes right. You could flip a coin and call it 10 times. The flip side of it is sometimes you could never pick a winner. It's unpredictable. A lot of people don't believe in streaks, or zones, but they exist.

CA: Well, this Sunday, when I sit in front of my TV, I'm going to light up a cigar in your honor.
Pete: I would appreciate that, and I'll be doing the same, and I hope we have the same teams.


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