Living by the Book

Illegal Gambling Operations Handle Millions of Dollars Every Month

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But not as good as Kelly.*
Except for the cellular phone that seems perpetually pinned to his ear, he appears to be an average citizen, a civic-minded pillar of his exclusive Southwestern community. And in many ways he is: the school playground boasts a shiny, red fire truck; the kiddie soccer league plays in stylish new uniforms and the library contains enough Macintoshes to start a small design firm--all thanks to Kelly's beneficence.
But the guy has his dark side. Whenever he goes to Vegas he regularly wins and loses six figures at the poker table. He bets $50,000 on one roll of the dice. And when he makes a sports bet, it's usually at the casino's highest limit. Granted, if he wins or loses $250,000 over a weekend, it's not going to have much effect on his lifestyle. Because Kelly, pillar of his community, is probably America's biggest bookie.
Working in a syndicate with four other well-financed partners, Kelly takes the bets nobody else will handle: when bookmakers around the country need to get a bet down, they call him. The minimum wager is $10,000--"anything else is too messy," he says, dead-pan--and the maximum is whatever Kelly feels comfortable with. "I generally don't like to take more than $200,000 on any one game, unless it's the Super Bowl, where all the information is totally out in the open. During the regular season, too many things can happen that I don't hear about in time. Maybe 10 minutes before the kickoff of a nothing game, the quarterback's wife has a miscarriage. Maybe the coach of a big favorite decides he's going to give his second-stringers a lot of playing time."
Though Kelly won't reveal how much action he typically handles over an NFL weekend, other bookies who bet with him estimate his volume at $6 million to $7 million. Multiply that by 16 regular season games, add in the playoffs, and you've got a bookie who can afford a few soccer uniforms. And that's not counting the baseball, basketball and hockey seasons. Because the numbers he deals with are so large, and, in practice, so unwieldy--carrying around $10,000 bucks in a suitcase is not easy--Kelly settles only two or three times a year, flying to Miami or Chicago or Seattle to rendezvous with clients. Or he'll sometimes use a "clearing man," a broker who arranges money transfers between two cities for a 5 percent commission. And other times he'll simply say, "give it to me when you see me." Which is a gentlemanly thing to do when sums equivalent to a congressional salary are involved.
"Honor," Kelly says, "is a big part of this business. So is trust. There are a lot of very fine people who make book, and a lot of decent people who bet with us. Very fine individuals. It's just too bad it's illegal."
Michael Konik is a writer based in Hollywood, California.
* All names and some identifying details have been changed.
Super Bowl Mania
There's no debate in the world of bookies about which day is the busiest of the year: Super Bowl Sunday. A prominent Texas bookie describes the 1993 event, the Super Bowl between the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills, which the Cowboys won 52-17.
"The phones start ringing early, even before the pregame show starts. On Super Bowl Sunday, everybody's a bettor. By this time of the football season, almost all of my customers are down for the year. The Super Bowl is the last chance they have to 'come back.' So volume is tremendous. We have a television going in the office, and everytime a so-called expert makes a prediction--boom!--in come the calls. People want to have somebody else to blame if they lose their bet, I guess. In a way, television's the best friend my office ever had.
"About an hour before kickoff, a lot of money starts to come in on Dallas. Now you got to understand, we already have our line adjusted up. We're in Texas, and people want to bet on the home team and all. So we make them pay a premium. We're probably a point over the Vegas number already. But now we start getting some serious action on the 'Boys: $3,000, $5,000, $10,000 bets. Now we got almost $600,000 on the 'Boys and only about $200,000 on the Bills. So we got to make a decision. Do we even up? Or do we gamble with the Bills?
"I personally think Dallas is going to win, but my associates decide that, hey, we're way up for the season already. We're gambling with the customers' money. We're going to let it go and root for Buffalo.
"Well, some money came in on the Bills right before the national anthem. But we ended up losing about $250,000, anyway. I guess that shows you should never gamble, right?"
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