Internet helped bettors catch up to bookies

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Making book the corporate way and how it all started:

W.C. Fields in the 1941 film “Never Give A Sucker An Even Break” fits right into the old time way of bookmaking. I knew this bookmaker back when and he kept a record of every bet his clients made. No computers then just a pencil and a notebook.

When a bettor would call him for a play he almost knew what side they wanted. Just say the guy calls and says, “What’s the line on the Steeler game?” Now this bookmaker knows for sure this guy isn’t going to bet against Pittsburgh so if the line is Steelers -7 he says -7½. The guy lays the extra half a point.

Before I even made my trek to Vegas we would bet with the bookmakers back home, and to say we were suckers was an understatement! If the game in Vegas was a pick ‘em our bookmaker had it -2 both ways and ties lose. If the total on a game was 45 we would go UNDER 43 and OVER 47. That is why the bookmakers all drove new caddies and most of the bettors worked in the steel mills.

I learned a lot from bookmakers back home, mostly how to take advantage of a player’s skills and ones who had none, just plenty of cash.

Before the Internet, big corporate bookmaking and players cards, a person running a book just had to be out front to see who was making the bets so as to move the number correctly. The big advantage we had when I was in front of the counter at the Stardust was our phone business. We had the smartest bettors in Vegas making wagers on the phone. We took big advantage of that.

We never wanted to go in needing a game that one of those guys bet, so we would move the line fast so as to get action on the other side and need the side they bet. This is not possible in today’s market and probably not necessary.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s we hung up lines to take bets and get action. We needed all those straight bets with the players laying the 11/10 as there was not the huge market of players in Vegas at that time. The bookmaker had no idea what the lines were across the street or in New York.

When we put up lines at the “Dust” the numbers came from Roxy (Michael Roxborough) and the great Jerry “The Hat,” who actually knew what they were back in New York. If Roxy gave us a -3.5 on a game and Jerry said it should be around -6 we would usually favor the “Hat” and put up, say, -5.

There were times when we knew from just everyday booking that all the money was going to come on one team or another. If they gave us a -6 on a Monday night game we would hang up -7 and get as much cushion as possible. Come Monday the game would be 7 or higher.

These things cannot be done in today’s corporate market and, for the most part, with all the action the books get now not only over the counter but also with apps, the handle itself will take care of things.

Making lines on parlay cards was an art also. A parlay card was only as good as the person making the numbers. Today the books just want mostly the same line that is on the board when they send the lines in. They almost never take into consideration what side will be getting the most action and make that line higher.

Say there’s a late game on Sunday, the line is -6 and the total 42. You know all the action will be on the -6 and OVER, so why not take a stand and make it higher? These things just don’t happen any longer as books simply try and stay away from being out of line.

Bookmaking has lost a lot mostly because of the huge growth and the Internet. Everyone knows what the bookmaker does, even the sucker. Everyone has a fair shot. It just seems to me the battle back then was much more interesting between the bettors and the books.

Bet takers had to be a lot smarter and quicker. Now, if you have computer skills just log on to the Net, get the lines from the Islands and you become a bookmaker. No bets necessary as the everyday bettors will take care of all of it.

As for parlay cards, one of the best holds for the books over the years, just put some lines on the cards and let us bet. The action will take care of everything. Keep an eye out for someone bringing in a stack of cards at 2 in the morning. You still need a watchful eye in front of the counter even in today’s corporate market.

Suckers like us will keep playing as most have jobs. We will get out and bet daily, believing the day will come when we will not need to know anything. We will be walking around lucky and not even know it. Bring on those parlay cards and 10 teamers.

We will be there to bet.

Richard Saber, a former director of race and sports at the famed Stardust book, is GamingToday’s horse racing and sports handicapper. Follow Richard on Twitter @SabesBet. Contact Richard at [email protected].

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