Confessions of a New York Bookie
Twenty years ago, I darted down a Dublin hospital corridor.
I spotted three Irish nurses sharing a smoke. I glanced again at the paper with my cousin’s room number and asked for directions.
One green-eyed colleen exhaled smoke from her cig and pointed her finger toward a long hallway.
The trio stood under a “no smoking” sign. I laughed and said, “Wow, no smoking in hospitals any more, huh?”
Bridget took another drag and said, “Yeah, it’s awful really, a real nuisance. Next, they’ll be forbidding it in pubs.”
The curly-haired blonde nurse laughed and said, “Talk sense, Bridget, talk sense.”
Back then, most Irish shared her sentiment, including law enforcement, who often flouted and rarely enforced the smoking law.
A similar attitude toward gambling laws prevails in the United States. We must seem schizophrenic to foreigners.
Gambling is mostly illegal, but there’s a lotto in every state and all kinds of gambling in Las Vegas, Reno and Atlantic City. Most good-sized towns have off-track betting.
Churches decry gamblers as being of weak character yet sponsor raffles and weekly bingo.
Gambling is “bad,” but getting a box in a Super Bowl pool is an American tradition. Office workers, policemen, stockbrokers, doctors, teachers, priests — everyone wants a box.
Americans follow Super Bowl lines closer than presidential elections. Super Sunday creates a commercial payday for bars, beer distributors and supermarkets.
Bookies fear that miserable day.
All the action rests on one game. Volume can’t compensate for the edge bookmakers have when a full schedule overloads wagers on five games.
On Super Bowl Sunday, old-school bookies juggle the lines to balance money, but our biggest fear was getting busted. On Super Sunday, we wrote four times the number of our usual slips. One regular customer in a bar might call in bets for 12 friends.
No other day generates more action, and cops are hungry for the big bust ... and the big headlines.
Law enforcers crave publicity. District attorneys, police captains and others want the public to know the lengths they go to protect their citizens — nice on promotion or re-election résumés also.
So, on Super Sundays, cops love to break down doors and haul off the ticket writers who only give the public the action they crave.
After cops seize betting slips, they add up the amount of action then multiply the total by 365. Then they release statements such as the following:
“The district attorney’s office has just shut down an illegal $12 million gambling operation.”
Everybody takes a bow. Great story for the local paper, job well done by the D.A., citizens feel relief.
Meanwhile, the bookie is shell-shocked. He couldn’t write $12 million worth of action if he had 40 clerks, a printing press and operated out of a warehouse.
Here’s how our operation out-slicked the local gendarmes.
My partner “Blinky” was fierce smart, a master of organization. When we first set up shop, he insisted we rent an apartment in the most drug-ridden, crime-infested section of the Bronx — two blocks from where I lived.
We threw the superintendent $500, so no names were exchanged. The apartment’s rent was cheap, and the cops were busy with stabbings, shootings and drugs. No time for us.
The apartment was a five-floor walk-up in a dingy tenement. We “decorated” accordingly.
The living room had two old couches and a cheap television. In the bedroom, opposite the bed, sat two folding tables. Above those tables hung a wall-sized whiteboard and a clock. Sitting on the tables were four rollover phones and a tape recorder.
Rollover phones were necessary. We supplied our customers with an 800 number. The number was free, Blinky’s idea — anything to make access easier. If one phone was busy, the call rolled over to the next. Most Sundays, all four phones rang off the hook.
Each call was written on a different betting slip. The slips were 3-by-3 duplicate forms. Later, they were torn and given to my partner and I to take home to calculate. Separate locations insured “the work” was accurate. If mistakes were made in the player’s favor, the bettor wouldn’t say shit.
Any discrepancies my partner and I had were rechecked before Monday night’s action. Monday night, we’d tell the caller his weekly figure.
Any discrepancies the players brought up, we’d say, “Call back after the game starts and we’ll go over the work.”
Nine times out of 10, the players were wrong. If a bettor insisted he didn’t make the bet, we played him back the tape. Once the “figures” were correct, the hard part came — collecting.
As Super Bowl uneasiness approached, Blinky got a brainstorm. Let’s rent the apartment directly across the hall. Move our “furniture” there and leave one phone on the floor of the empty apartment. Then have the abandoned phone’s number call-forwarded to cell phones across the hall.
San Francisco played Denver. The action poured in. Two hours before game time, a loud pounding started. It sounded like an oil drill.
“Bam, bam, bam” rang throughout the building. “Red” sprang from his chair to the door’s peephole. He turned quick, holding his index finger to his lips. Blinky and I yanked the phones off the hook.
Red spied through the peephole at our old “office.” The twin locks gave way and six cops exploded into the empty apartment. Then, the expletives started.
The language the frustrated cops yelled was louder than the break-in. Stunned, I stared at Blinky the way a cow looks at a meadow: wide-eyed.
We won our battle two hours before kickoff. Shaking like the Olsen twins at a spelling bee, Red and I voted Blinky our MVP. We hoisted his trophy, a bottle of Rémy Martin, and continued to lift it again and again and again.
Denver lost the 1990 Super Bowl, 55 to 10.
Bill O’Connor is a Vietnam veteran, former Bronx firefighter and pub and restaurant owner. He is currently a journalism major and stand-up comic. The highly irreverent and acerbic O’Connor performs free stand-up comedy in various locations around Gainesville.This article was originally posted on www.Alligator.org
The Alligator was founded in 1906 as The University News, which was an independent, student-owned newspaper created to serve the University of Florida when it opened in Gainesville. In 1912, the newspaper became a part of the University of Florida administration, and was renamed the Florida Alligator.