When others lose, I win | VailDaily.com

When others lose, I win

Devon O'Neil
Summit Daily/Jeff Shane

BRECKENRIDGE ” A cold draft beer sits in the sun as Tony, a sports bookmaker, leans back in his chair and explains his profession.

“Once you’re established, you’re kinda the pied piper in a lot of ways: You just sit back, people know what you have to offer, people take your services, people lose, people pay you money, and you can kinda have fun and do what you want.”

Simple as that. Take your legal chances and let the odds do the work. That’s the bookie’s life

in a nutshell.

Tony, 28, who did not want his real name used in this story, spent three years as a full-time bookmaker while in college, at a small school in southwestern Colorado. Now he only takes bets occasionally, most of them coming during football season.

He says he made between $20,000 and $25,000 as a bookie in college. Among other things, he used the money to pay his tuition.

It’s been three years since those days. He has embarked upon a career now, leaving behind the fast-paced, party-it-up days for a slower style in Summit County. Hustling remains on his mind, however. It probably always will.

Being a bookie, you see, requires a commitment to thrill. It’s a rush having that much money roll into your hands on a daily basis. The lifestyle becomes almost addictive: You live between the lines, almost literally; part-criminal, part-celebrity, a numbers man with power.

Tony entered his future bookmaking domain as a 23-year-old college sophomore ” about four years older than an average sophomore. His gambling involvement began when he bet on an Atlanta Braves baseball game. The Braves were favored by one and a half runs. They won by one. Tony didn’t know whether he’d won or lost.

As a bookie, he covered the initial bets with $700 of his own money. The take was modest: $1,000 his sophomore fall, while accepting wagers from about 15 regular bettors. At its peak, in fact, Tony’s list of regulars never grew larger than about 30 people.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot,” he admits, “but it was.”

Because he operated in a small mountain town, Tony says he was rarely afraid of getting caught. But as a 5-foot-7, 160-pound table setter on his college baseball team, “I was scared I’d get beat up for the money I had in my house. I would always meet people out to do everything, and sometimes I was just scared that people knew the amount of money that somebody had just paid me, and that they would try to intercept it before I got to my house.”

They never did, which is still a relief for Tony. He was not about to play the “heavy” role, as he puts it. In fact, he estimates that if he hadn’t preferred settling debts rather than hunting them down with threats, he would have pocketed $3,000 more than he did.

That’s not to say he didn’t cover his butt. When taking wagers he would often record the details ” bettor’s name, line on the game, etc. ” as a voice note into his cell phone. If the bettor was drunk, Tony would make sure the person said his own name into the receiver to document the bet. When he got home, Tony would then input all the data into a black binder ” filled with chapters assigned to each individual bettor ” and erase the voice recording.

“All these guys loved to bet on the Broncos, and I’m like, that’s f—–‘ awesome,” he says, grinning. “So they bet on the Broncos, the Donkeys choke, and everybody’s got money on it. So say some guy owes me 200 (dollars). He goes to 600 because he bet 400 and lost, and he’s like, I didn’t say that, I said the other side of it. Well that’s usually where I bust out my cell phone and be like, ‘Dude, here it is. You know exactly what you bet.'”

Tony’s black binder looks like a student’s from the outside. Inside, however, there is a small, basic calculator and a pen in the front pocket, then a betting log filled with every imaginable sports wager: NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA, NCAA basketball. It reads like a handwritten spreadsheet, and includes the date, sport (“football was always the best”), team, wager type, line, amount of money, balance, possible payout, result and bankroll (the bettor’s account total).

One bettor, listed as Justin, filled four pages of the log in three months ” about 120 wagers over 90 days. The backstory here is simple, Tony explains.

“He went 2-1 on his first try, all $50 bets. I saw him skiing the next day, and walked up to hand him his $50. I’m like, ‘Great job on the games last night’ ” in front of all his buddies and two chicks. So he’s the f—–‘ man.

“The worst thing that can happen is these guys win right away. ‘Cuz it’s easy money ” it’s like, ‘Of course I’m 2-1, ‘cuz I know everything.’ And then before you know it, look at this guy.” Tony runs his pen down the log. “He’s down 335 after 14 days. And then eight days later he paid me 700 bucks.”

The bookie laughs, then continues.

“A lot of times guys’ heads get in the way. They’ve always known the most about sports in terms of teams winning and losing, but when it comes down to a science like this, they don’t have any idea what they’re doing. Everybody’s in way over their head to start with.”

Which begs the question: Did Tony’s conscience ever get involved? Did he ever feel like he was contributing to what has become America’s gambling epidemic?

“Yeah,” he says. “But the thing is ” and this is kinda bad ” but it’s kinda like alcoholics. You’re kinda like the liquor store. There’s gonna be a liquor store, a bar, that they’re gonna go to. … I did feel guilty, because you’d see kids going downhill. And the time that I would always know that they were going down the (crapper) was a time where, if it were a buddy of mine, I’d say, ‘Chill out.’ But you if see another kid doing it, you’re like, it’s the nature of the beast.”

A professional’s outlook, no doubt. And that was how Tony viewed his role: It was about the money, 100 percent. He bought booze for his baseball team all season long. He was the bookmaking ski bum, riding a top-of-the-line snowboard with top-of-the-line gear.

“I was very used to that lifestyle,” he says. “I spent money on everything. I always had money, I could always spend money. I usually had over a thousand dollars in my room at all times, in a little lock box.”

When bettors got behind, Tony says, they tendered desperate solutions to reduce their debt.

“One guy offered sexual services from his girlfriend, who was gorgeous and had huge cans,” he says, grinning again. “And I didn’t do it, because he was crazy and he did a lot of cocaine. But she was smokin’ hot and had huge cans.”

Sitting here on this summer afternoon, Tony says he is secure in his new career. The money is good enough to keep him living well. He is on the level now, and numbers are only a hobby.

But should anything ever change, he knows he’ll always have that fallback option. Bookies don’t forget what they know. And the demand ” Americans are estimated to gamble more than $100 billion per year on sports ” will always be there.

“It’s kinda like trolling,” Tony says. “You just put it out there, and eventually people will come. And sometimes, they swarm.”

Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-4633, or at doneil@summitdaily.com.

Vail, Colorado

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