How To Beat The Bookie

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How To Beat The Bookie
With my grandfather being a successful horse racing bookie in Queens, NY, for over 40 years, I always felt I had the bookmaking gene in my blood.

As a kid, I found his work to be extremely intriguing.

The entire concept of trying to win money from people who were trying to win money themselves seemed fascinating.

So when the local Off-Track Betting (OTB) parlors on Long Island announced they wouldn't be taking bets on the 1979 Kentucky Derby due to a contract dispute, I could hardly believe my good fortune. I would follow in my granddad's footsteps and take bets on the Deby and clean up.

The plan seemed well set up. There were countless bookies around who took sports bets but no one wanted to get involved with booking horse bets.  

Most of these Derby bettors were once-a-year players who didn't know squat about horses and played names, numbers, and saddle cloth colors.

Of course, the first person I told about my plan was my Grandfather and I sure had a few questions.

He seemed startled and dumbfounded at my idea at first and when he returned to reality he started to shake his head and moan. I waited for him to stop moaning so I could speak my piece but he never did, so I interrupted his minor seizure.

"It's only one race, Pop, and it's a big field. If OTB won't take their money, I sure will."

He continued to shake his head but at least he stopped moaning.

"I'm going to do it anyway, so you might as well help me," I pleaded.

"What do you need to know,?" he asked. 

I remembered the few bookies that dabbled in horseracing only took win bets but I also knew people like to bet their Derby horses across the board.

"Do I just take win bets? What about place and show? What about exactas?"

"That's easy," he said with a small smile. "Take em' ALL!"

"There's a million ways to lose a race but only one way to the winner's circle. If you're gonna take bets on the Derby, you gotta take them all." Having heard what I wanted to hear, I took his words as a blessing of sorts and went on my merry way. But I should've listened better to the last piece of advice on my way out: "Just keep the books straight and have enough loot under the mattress, just in case. And, don't touch ANY of the money till after the race."

At 19, I didn't know many horseplayers my age so I went to the local OTB to recruit some big players.

But no one took me seriously and I got laughed out of the building. I knew I needed another plan.

So, I took full advantage of being a very active social butterfly and pitched my new project at parties, concerts, sporting events, and bars.

I had a decent spiel where I'd tell people how cool it would be to have a ticket on the Kentucky Derby winner. It'd be something they could tell their children about and they would be a part of history in the process.

Surprisingly, it worked and it worked well.

I was beyond busy for a few days when the entries and post positions came out.

I'd write my customer's wagers on a purple pad with the amount circled and initial it. I'd then write the bet down on a separate pad for my records and give them the purple ticket.

I took in a bit over $1,100, mostly in across-the-board wagers and exacta boxes.

Spectacular Bid won the big race by a few lengths at odds of .60 cents on the dollar and besides a few small show bets that won, not one person had the horse to win, nor the exacta.

I netted a bit over $1,000 and declared myself a professional and successful NY bookmaker at 19 years old.

The following year, the OTB again announced they wouldn't be taking Derby bets.

I was another year deeper into the social and horse racing scenes and most of my customers from the previous year came back and brought their friends, as I was the only game in town. 

I took in about $2,000 but this time most of the wagers were $100 win tickets on various horses. 

A filly was running against the boys that year and a few ladies gave their husbands money to put down on the girl, Genuine Risk.

I went out on Derby Eve to celebrate my future payday, drank way too much, and bought way too many rounds for the bar.

I woke up with a severe and killer hangover and $200 less than I went out with.

I honestly didn't think I could feel any worse and still be alive but as I watched Genuine Risk win the 1980 Kentucky Derby by a length at odds of 13/1, I was even sicker.

I was sure there was a $100 win ticket on my pad somewhere and I also remembered other assorted place and show tickets on Genuine Risk.

As I scrolled down the wagers, I noticed there wasn't only one $100 win ticket but two!

As I wrote down the prices as they appeared on the TV screen, my basic figuring told me that I had to come up with $3,000 and I only had $1,800.

I really didn't have any backup plan. Most of my customers were friends and family, so I thought they'd understand if something like this happened. 

I assumed I could make payments, rake their leaves, or wash their cars or something.

But I didn't know the folks who had tickets on Genuine Risk.

I just sat there staring into space for 5 minutes afterward, trying to take it all in, and noticed through the curtains two unfamiliar cars pull up in my driveway.

Five people emerged from the cars; three were big tattooed biker-type guys and two squealing women clutching two purple tickets from my pad. 

It was one huge freakin' nightmare, except it was real.

I unplugged the phone, closed the curtains, and thought about going out the back door.

But after ignoring the police-type knocks for several minutes, I realized they weren't going away and opened the door to face the music.

I explained to them how it was quite common for shortages to occur in horse racing payoffs and most racing enthusiasts are used to it. I assured them they would eventually get all their money and thanked them for their patience and understanding.

I gave the two ladies $900 each, wrote out a few IOUs for the place and show bets, and set up dates for a payment plan.

I felt very lucky. They seemed like very nice people and were so understanding. We even laughed about the entire situation!

The ladies left first and I escorted the giant men toward the door when one of the men turned around quickly and asked if I ever participated in a threesome.

I laughed and said I had not.

"Well, Petey, this is your lucky day," he said. "You're about to have your first!:

Looking back now, I don't think that big biker guy could count for shit.

I'm pretty sure when two guys are holding you and one is hitting you, it's called a foursome.

I took a well-deserved beating less than 10 minutes after the 1980 Kentucky Derby was declared official and I learned a bunch that day.

I never told my grandfather about the loss or the beating but he wasn't a stupid man by any means and sometimes two black eyes and a bad limp can be a dead giveaway.

My stupid young self healed up just fine and I had everyone paid off in a few weeks but the embarrassment still lingers today.

And, I'm still not sure if you're supposed to count yourself in these things but I also found out I didn't like a threesome or a foursome.

Author: Peter Monaco 

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