The Real Deal: A Philly Bookie Speaks in Anonymous Interview

He talks thumb breaking, the Super Bowl, and what he'd do if he ever winds up in jail.

Our anonymous bookie shows off a wad of cash.

Our anonymous bookie shows off a wad of cash.

With the Super Bowl — the single biggest sporting event in the world — now upon us, there are vast amounts of money being wagered on every aspect of the game. According to the American Gaming Association, Americans are expected to bet $4.2 billion on the Super Bowl, with only $126 million of that going through legal channels. That leaves a whopping $4.1 billion in illegal bets, handled in the shadowy world of the neighborhood bookie. Here, a veteran Philadelphia-area bookie tells us all about his unique — and sometimes violent — line of work.

How did you become a bookie?

I used to work under a friend of mine’s father. I worked under him for a percentage, and then one day, I just decided to go out on my own. I’ve been in this business for about 30 years.

Where do you get your clients?

It’s all through people who’ve known me over the years. I’ve been in business for so freaking long. It’s word of mouth. And I’ve got two sons, and they’ve got friends. And I’ve got cousins.

So if I come up to you in a bar and you don’t know me and I want to place a bet, will you take it?

No way. And I don’t go into bars. I don’t really drink. I don’t have time for that. There ain’t nothing in bars but trouble.

Just how busy are you leading up to Super Bowl Sunday?

Well, I don’t start taking bets until Sunday. During the week, I’m doing basketball and hockey.

Is the Super Bowl the busiest time of year for a bookie?

Super Bowl is very busy, but so is March Madness. There’s nothing like March Madness, actually. People love that tournament. It’s very exciting.

Other than that, what do people like to bet?

The World Series and playoffs. But it really slows up after football season. You start getting slow. Everybody who bets football don’t bet basketball, and then it gets even slower during baseball. You know, the weather starts going nicer and people are going on vacation instead of betting.

So are they the only sports you take bets for?

I’ll take boxing, hockey, pro and college football, pro and college baseball, pro and college basketball, Kentucky Derby, Belmont, Preakness. It’s a year-round job but really busy from September. Once football hits, you’re good for 20 weeks.

Do people in Philly tend to bet the Eagles or against them?

They all bet the Birds, especially when they’re winning. Me, I’m not a big Eagles fan. And since they always bet the Eagles, I need the other side all the time, so I’m always betting against them.

Any thoughts on the new coach?

He’s not gonna be that good. But Chip Kelly — he was a bum. He didn’t know how to deal with NFL players.

Are there any teams that you love because they always seem to come through for you?

Nope. I love whoever I need. I have no allegiances. Well, I love the Steelers. Been a fan since 1972. But if the Steelers are playing somebody and I need the other team, then I need the other team. I like my money better than I like my team.

How has the bookie business changed over the years?

It ain’t like it used to be. I’ll tell you that much. The online stuff and this and that, people just aren’t into the betting like they used to be. People don’t even know about guys like me. They’re just not into the sports betting.

How do you set your odds?

I get lines from a guy in West Philly, and I check some websites, mostly Don Best. But for the most part, it’s just the guy in West Philly, because he’s real sharp.

What do you pay him for that service?

I don’t have to pay him nothin’. But if I get a big play, I give him a little.

I’ve read that some bookies have written their bets down on rice paper, so they can just throw them into water if the cops come in. Or flash paper, so they can just light them on fire real quick. How do you handle it?

I do it old school. I just use paper. Real paper. Nothing on the computer. All phone and paper. I’m not putting my business out there. I know what I’m doing. But you know what? Guess what. I ain’t nobody. They’d be wasting their time coming to my freaking house. They’re looking for the really big fish.

In Vegas, people tend to bet favorites. Is that true for you?

Yup. Once in a while, you get a couple of wise guys who think they know everything. But for the Super Bowl, I think everybody is going to bet Carolina, so I believe I’m gonna need Denver. I don’t put no line out ’til Sunday, but it will probably be 5-1/2 or 6.

Do you take “prop” bets?

I’ll take anything for the Super Bowl, that’s for sure. The coin toss. How many turnovers. Who’s gonna score more. Who’s gonna score first. There’s all kinds of crazy stuff.

There are all kinds of “systems” out there for betting. Have you ever actually seen one work?

Nobody knows shit. I mean, if you know, you could make a big living out of it. In 30 years of doing this, I can barely pick them either. Well, put it this way. Sometimes you do get a feel, like if you see a guy lose all the time, you know he’s probably going to lose the next bet. Or say it’s Dallas and Green Bay and everybody is betting Green Bay, you might just get a feel and think that Dallas is gonna come in because the whole world is betting Green Bay.

What about these websites that offer picks, like The Philly Godfather? Would you recommend buying picks from services like this?

Listen, Victor. Let’s say you call one of these places. Let’s say 20 people call. They’ll give 10 people Denver, and they’ll give 10 people Carolina. Well, you’ve automatically got 10 people who think you’re a genius, and they call you back and do it all over again. The 10 losers, they might get a little mad, or they might just give it a shot again. Them services ain’t shit. They’re about seeing what your credit card is and how to talk to you. You can make so much money! You think they know more than anybody else? They don’t.

Ever take a bet from Pete Rose?

Nah, man. Just regular people on the street. People who just get up and go to work every day.

Sometimes I wonder if a bartender feels any ethical responsibility for the guy who shows up day in and day out and sits there drinking all day. Do you feel anything like that for the people who are gambling, who might have a problem?

Not really. Listen, if they’re winning, they don’t give a shit about taking your money. If they win a dime, it’s not like they’re saying, Oh, I feel so sorry for the bookmaker.

Speaking of them taking your money, what’s your biggest loss as a bookie?

I’ve had bad weeks where I lost $15,000 or $20,000. But I had good weeks where I won $25,000 or $30,000.

Biggest win?

About $75,000 in one week, but that was back in the day when I had two phone lines in my house with call waiting, so four phone lines, and they’d be jumping off all day. One guy drops 15, another guy drops 18, another guy drops 12. There was some big money back then.

These days, what’s the high end of what people bet with you?

I have a few big players who bet dimes on games. Regularly. All during football season and basketball season.

So let’s say you win big at the Super Bowl. What do you do with that money?

I go away to Jamaica every year, and I go to Cancun, too. It’s great, man. It’s all tax free money.

At what point do you have to start laying off your action?

I really don’t lay nothin’ off. Very rarely. And if I do, it’s just a little bit.

Do you have to pay protection to the mob?

This doesn’t work like that. I’m not in South Philly. I’m out in the suburbs.

How much credit will you extend to your clients?

It depends on the player. And certain players have certain limits.

How do you mean?

I got some guys who go out and make $15 or $20 an hour. I’m not letting them bet over what they can afford to spend.

For someone like that, what’s the limit?

$100 a game. Tops.

Let’s say I bet $2,000 and lose. How long do I have to pay a bookie like you?

On football, the week starts on Thursday night and ends on Monday night, because of Monday Night Football, and I square up with you on Thursday or Friday, preferably before Thursday night’s game. Sometimes I don’t see people till Friday. I give them till Friday. And then I go get my money.

And what if I don’t have it?

If you come up lame, I give you a chance. If you owe me $2,000 and you want to pay me $200 every week, I’ll work with you. But you’re gonna have interest on that $200. If you miss a payment this week of $200, then there’s $50 interest on that.

But what if weeks go by and I just don’t pay you?

You don’t fuck me, or you gonna get hurt. That’s the bottom line. They want their money when they win, and I want my money when I win.

Are we talking about broken thumbs here?

Definitely. And more. I bring a couple of buddies from the club.

The club?

The biker club. Believe me: You’ll pay up.

How much longer will you be a bookie?

I’ve got my concrete company that I own, and I work pretty much 10 months out of the year doing that. But with the bookmaking, I’ll never retire. It’s an addiction. You need the action. And it ain’t like I lose. So I’m never gonna give it up. Even if I get locked up, I’ll run pools in the joint. They’ve got tickets in the joint, and I got a cousin doing life, so I know all about it.

Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.