The Secret Life Of A Bookie
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.
CA: Today, which sport attracts the largest number of people that gamble or the largest amount of money that's wagered? Is it basketball? Is it pro football, college ball, boxing? Where is the action today?
Pete: Without a doubt, football.
CA: College or professional?
CA: The college football season is what, a four-month period, and the same thing more or less with the National Football League. Does that mean you have a busy season and the rest of the year is vacation?
Pete: Football is by far the busiest season with the most volume. After football tails off slightly, you pick up basketball, which has peaks during March Madness in college, and then you come into the [National Basketball Association] playoffs. When you get to baseball, it slows down tremendously.
CA: Do your customers bet all year round, or are there many who are just football bettors, or just basketball bettors, or just boxing bettors?
Pete: I have customers that play all year long. They play anything. They just like to gamble. But it does tail off. Football and basketball make up about 70 percent of the business.
CA: Between college and NFL football, which one represents more dollar volume?
Pete: I would say about 10 to 15 percent more on the pros.
CA: What about special events such as the Super Bowl, or the big college bowl games, or a big boxing match, like Tyson versus Holyfield?
Pete: There's little betting done on boxing today. First of all, the lines are just so inaccurate. They start out so high, 20- or 18-to-1. People like me don't like to put up that kind of money, and believe it or not, there is a bad stigma to boxing. People don't trust the sport now. So, there's very little wagering.
CA: Give us an example. For instance, the Holyfield-Tyson fight. What was that like?
Pete: It opened 25-to-1 and went to 6-to-1. Somebody made some money.
CA: OK. But Trump goes on the news saying that he bet a million bucks and made 20.
Pete: Not true.
CA: Not true? But is there any way of...
Pete: Absolutely. If any substantial wager is made in the country, we know about it. I don't care where the wager is made.
CA: You know this because of your contacts in each of the casinos, and so forth?
Pete: Because the fluctuation in money is the dictator for the lines. You see the money. Everybody in the business has become very close, let's call it a camaraderie, even though it's competitive. Everybody finds out.
CA: Where do you get your lines?
Pete: Well, they usually come out of Las Vegas. But they come out of the Dominican Republic, too. Today, everybody has about the same prices.
CA: OK. But do you have one specific source for your line? Newspapers, for instance, will say their line is Sheridan or some name.
Pete: We never use the newspaper. Never. We use reputable linemakers, people whose business it is to make lines. Does the newspaper take a bet?
CA: What happens if you're coming up on the Super Bowl and you check four primary sources and there's a disparity in the lines? What if one line is minus six and the other is minus nine?
Pete: They are all usually very, very close. You start with a reputable line that you've done business with for years. You let your money dictate the price. If you start getting money on team A, you just move the price up, you encourage people to take side B.
CA: Is your goal as a bookmaker to have even money on both sides?
CA: What happens when you're operating out of, let's say for argument's sake, Dallas. So you have a lot more fans that are rooting for and betting on Dallas. They are playing the Giants in New Jersey, and your book is, you have $50,000 on one side and $10,000 on the other side? What do you do? How do you even your book so that you don't have great exposure if Dallas wins?
Pete: I don't know of anybody who really gives anything away anymore to balance off. Everybody just holds what they have. In your scenario, it might be possible that this could happen in Dallas, because they are pretty educated bettors there. And they follow the services of some experts, the 800-telephone services. There's so much information available to the betting public, which is pretty accurate, so even if you are in Dallas, it doesn't mean that they are all going to bet on Dallas. The price dictates if they're going to bet on the home team. It's the same in California, New York, Atlanta.
CA: Are there certain cities that dominate the NFL football gambling market and thus have an impact nationally on the lines?
Pete: I would say the East Coast.
CA: In the case of the New York region, where the home NFL teams have been so bad in recent years, do the oddsmakers try to give more points to balance the books, because they know they are going to lose anyway?
CA: So you're saying that setting the spread is not just a matter of determining who has a better team by what point total, but may also involve trying to direct an equal amount of betting to each side of the spread?
Pete: Yes, it's already built into the price. The oddsmakers build public opinion into their price. If a game is worth seven, they may start at eight, because they take the public's opinion into account.
CA: Do most New Yorkers bet on the Giants and the Jets when they get the points, because they are the hometown teams, or are they unemotional about it, betting on whoever they think is going to win the game, and cover the spread?
Pete: Most people today are unemotional. They go by the price. They will bet on or against their team. It really doesn't matter.
CA: What about college football?
Pete: You get a lot more fans who root for their college and bet no matter what. But again, you see, the whole thing of the line is not who's better; it doesn't really matter which team, A or B, is better, because the line means one thing. The oddsmakers are trying to put the line out where you get equal action on both sides. It doesn't mean that the team is that much better. They are just trying to encourage a two-sided business. I'm going to make my money on the commission.
CA: And I guess it's standard that the bookie's take...
Pete: We don't use "take" anymore, we use "commission."
CA: ...that the commission is 10 percent commission.
CA: So if your handle on a given weekend is a quarter of a million, and your books are balanced, then you're going to gross $25,000?
Pete: That's correct. However, you really don't get that much balance anymore.
CA: Really? Does that mean that some years you could be proportionally a big winner or a big loser?
Pete: That's correct. The past few have been very good. This past year has been a little rough, believe it or not.
CA: And why is it rough this year?
Pete: Just the way it falls.
CA: Have there been certain teams that have consistently not covered their spread?
Pete: Yes, you read the newspaper, watch the TV, you know who they are.
CA: Are you an independent businessman?
CA: So you are not part of a group or a syndicate around the country, where you basically lay off on a regular basis, to help each other balance the books?
Pete: Absolutely not. We are very independent, and like I say, we don't always balance the book.
CA: Outside of Vegas, where obviously it's legal, how big is gambling? How many bookmakers are there in America? Is there any way of knowing how many bookmakers there are in a city like Boston, or New York, or Chicago?
CA: What is a typical bet? How much do people normally bet on a game or on a weekend?
Pete: A normal bet can range from twenty-five dollars to maybe ten thousand.
CA: What is the average bet of your customers?
Pete: A few thousand per game. We're very reputable. We've been in the business for a long time and we have a select clientele.
CA: Therefore, your average betting is substantially higher than a typical bookmaker?
Pete: Like the casinos, we discourage people who can't afford to bet or who have a betting problem. We don't associate with them. We turn away a lot of people, because we find that even though it means less business, it's more viable. We have less headaches. We run it like any other business. A, B and C, what you take in, what you pay out and what you have left. It's very simple business ethics.
CA: Is the Super Bowl a big payday for bookmakers?
Pete: It could be. It's a very popular sport. People come out of the woodwork to bet on it.
CA: On an average fall weekend of college and NFL football, what is your average handle?
Pete: About $300,000.
CA: So, if your average handle for a full weekend, for college and pro football, is three hundred thousand, what happens on the big days? Is the Super Bowl your biggest one-day handle?
Pete: No, New Year's Day is.
CA: You mean the college bowl games.
Pete: Yes. Although the Super Bowl is also very big.
CA: How big is New Year's Day?
Pete: About $200,000.
CA: But what about for the Super Bowl?
Pete: You may get that for the Super Bowl.
CA: One game.
Pete: Yeah, one game. You may get more on that particular game.
CA: Have you ever taken a bath on the Super Bowl, or vice versa, had a big winning day because the book was lopsided or a team won that shouldn't have?
Pete: Well, I had one that happened 20 years ago. Like I said, I was taught by a very, very smart person. And Pittsburgh was playing Dallas, and the line opened up Pittsburgh three and a half.
CA: The Steelers were the favorite?
Pete: They were the favorite. The early players took Dallas, they took plus three and a half. However, the smart money went on Pittsburgh. So we moved it to four and four and a half. All the late money came in on Pittsburgh, and they laid to four and a half. So now we have people taking plus three and a half and laying four and a half, and the game fell on four.
CA: So everybody lost?
CA: That must have been like Christmas.
Pete: Santa Claus came that year.
CA: What happens when a customer calls on Saturday and wants to bet also on Sunday's pro games. Sometimes, you don't have the lines yet, and you don't get them until Sunday morning. What's that all about? Why can't a person bet sometimes until the day of the game?
Pete: Maybe at the particular time you called they were very busy with one sport. They'll just say they're busy to put you off. They get the lines as early as Tuesday.
CA: So people can bet Tuesday for Sunday's game?
Pete: Absolutely. You can bet every day, just like Vegas.
CA: Why do bookies' phone numbers change so frequently?
Pete: Well, for obvious reasons, we don't have a license. We wish we did. We'd love to pay tax, but unfortunately, we can't.
CA: Have you ever been raided?
CA: How often does that happen? How do they find you?
Pete: A lot of people make very good money, they flash it around, high-roll it. It's kind of out in the open, and I guess it's obvious.
CA: How many times in your 25-year career have you been raided?
Pete: At least five times.
CA: When was the most recent time?
CA: So what happens? You're in your office or wherever you are, what happens?
Pete: You're in your office, you're taking business, and all of a sudden the door comes down.
CA: The door comes down? There's not a knock on the door?
Pete: Actually now, we leave the door open. We're tired of repairing them.
CA: They don't try to open the door first?
Pete: No, they smash it, they come with a battering ram and they smash everything down. They have the place surrounded, so you know, you really can't escape. I mean you try, you jump out the window, you try everything, because once you're outside the building, they have a tough case against you. Bookmaking is very, very tough to prove, if you don't actually have somebody giving you money to take a bet. And they know that. I think around the political years they make most of the arrests.
CA: And so they arrested you?
Pete: Oh, yes.
CA: And they arrested the people that worked for you.
CA: Do you go to jail, do you get fined, what happens?
Pete: You usually go to jail, and with the amount of the other crimes that they are involved in, you'll wait. You usually spend a day, and then you're bailed out. The bail is small and you get a court date. You go in, you plead guilty and you get a misdemeanor.
CA: That's it?
Pete: That's it.
CA: Then it's back to business as usual?
CA: When I was raised in New Haven, Connecticut--this goes back 40 years--I lived next door to a guy whose name was Kowalski. Does that name ring a bell?
CA: And about once every year, three or four police cars would race up the street and drive up on his lawn. They'd break down the door and charge into the house. His son used to tell me that the father would take all the betting slips when he heard the commotion and flush them down the toilet. And if he was able to get all of the paper into the toilet in time, they couldn't touch him.
Pete: That's right. Back then, they also used rice paper that they'd light up, and it was gone in a poof.
CA: How do your clerks validate a bet, and how do you protect yourself from people calling in saying, "I didn't bet Dallas, I bet Pittsburgh"?
Pete: Every conversation is recorded.
CA: So when a customer places a bet, the clerk will say a code name and give the amount he's betting and put it on a Dictaphone tape or something?
Pete: No, the whole call is taped, and the tape runs constantly. We use a hunt system, and whenever a phone is picked up, it's automatically recorded.
CA: Are there ever problems or mistakes where for whatever reason there is a misunderstanding? Is that a common thing or a rare thing?
Pete: A rare thing, but it does happen on both [sides]. Customers have made mistakes and so have we. The problems always seem to be rectified when you deal with reputable people.
CA: Do the clerks have certain customers, or do they just answer the phone?
Pete: No, they just answer the phone.
CA: When is the accounting done? Is it done on ledgers? How do you keep track of what may be many individual transactions?
Pete: We do tickets in triplicate. We don't use a computer, for the simple fact that that creates more evidence. Some people have gotten highly sophisticated, which I don't believe in, because the business is relatively simple. We use triplicates and we have two people doing it. We call it the knockdown. That means they do all the tickets, two people. They have to come up with the same answer.
CA: It's like a cross check?
CA: When do they do it?
Pete: They do it at night or early in the morning. They have to wait until all the results are in.
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.
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?
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?
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...
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?
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?
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.
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.