The Bookie Is a Luddite

You pick a name. “Call me Tony, Tommy, Timmy, I don’t give a—oh, what about Johnny Rocks?—it don’t matter, just promise me you ain’t gonna use my real name, ’cause then you’re gonna get me pinched, and then we’re gonna have problems, you and me,” he says. He is a bookie. He is a low-level associate in the Gambino crime family, and this week is always his busiest of the year because Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest gambling day on the planet. An estimated $7 billion is wagered, and the police are always watching. “It’s hot now,” he says, running his fingers through greased-back hair. “Oh, boy, is it hot now.”

He has about fifteen clients (“Wall Street guys, CEOs”), but being a mob bookie isn’t what it used to be. “This year wasn’t such a good year. Last year wasn’t so good neither.” He blames the Internet. Not so much because of all the offshore Websites the government wants to crack down on, but because of all the inside information on the Web. Cyberhandicappers are easy to find. “The players, they all pros now,” he says. “They got the statistics. They got the computers. It ain’t fair no more.”

He also blames his other job: driving a garbage truck for the Department of Sanitation. “I wake up in the dark and go home in the dark,” he says. He can’t hustle as hard. “It’s a lotta running around.”

He’s been taking bets for more than a decade. “I started when I was 10. I used to go pick up number slips and take ’em to the office. I was so young they thought nobody would suspect nothing.” The number is the underground street lottery. And if you win, no taxes. Lately, city D.A.’s have again mulled over legalizing sports gambling, like in London. It fuels whatever is left of the mob, the prosecutors argue, so why support organized crime when you can support New York by taxing a pick on the plus-seven Colts?

He doesn’t gamble. “You can only be on one side or the other,” he says. “Or else it gets too confusing.” It’s a business built on precision, and there’s a lot going on this time of year. “It’s hectic, a lot of pressure. You write the bets down. Maybe you mess it up. Customer says you’re wrong. Then you’re really fucking fucked. Oh, boy, you’re fucked.”

He has no plans to quit. He wants to settle down and doesn’t make what he used to. “When I was, like, 16, I was pulling down, like, $80,000, $90,000 a year. I’d go in the bar, buy the whole bar, like, $1,200 here, there. I wish I had that money now,” he says.

The Bookie Is a Luddite