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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

In big cities, bookmakers are almost as common as barbers. Their "offices" range from the top floors of sleek office buildings to kitchen tables or even telephone booths. The best of the bookies build clientele strictly through personal "referrals," without the benefit of advertising, marketing or promotion.

Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado, recently sat down with a highly regarded bookie to learn the inside story about bookmaking. We have chosen the name "Pete" to protect his true identity. Pete has been handling sports wagers for 25 years.

CA: Pete, I don't recall in my college--or in any other school I went to, for that matter--that there was a course offered in bookmaking. How did you get into this specialized occupation, and how do other people get into this field?

Pete: Years ago, people like myself were more or less grandfathered in. Today, you have some college kids doing it because they started in the dormitory or something. You see, gaming and bookmaking is more or less about odds; it's not about winning or losing, it's about the right price; that's all it is.

CA: What does it mean, "grandfathered in"?

Pete: Either you come from a family background in the business, or you meet somebody when you are very young and they sort of take you under their wing, train you, teach you. It's like any other business; it's a service business.

CA: How long have you been a bookie?

Pete: Twenty-five years.

CA: When you started out, was there one sport in particular that was more popular than others with gamblers? Has it changed in recent years?

Pete: Absolutely. It used to be a horse business. That was where the big business was: two dollars, four dollars, four-dollar reverses, back to back--those kinds of bets were the backbone of the business. I only caught the tail end of it, but horse racing was a big book-making sport. Later on, as professional teams got stronger and stronger and the line-making operations got stronger, professional sports [betting] became very popular. People like to sit down and watch games on TV that they've bet on.


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