Tough times for bookies
An illegal bookie operating in the Bronx, New York, told The Lines that his income has dropped by $100,000 since New Jersey legalized sports betting in June 2018. The bookie previously made about $250,000 annually but that has been cut to about $150,000.
Sports betting is legal in the four upstate casinos in New York and tribal casinos are likely to follow suit shortly, which could mean more trouble for bookies.
The bookie spoke of his concerns about more potential sports betting expansion in the Empire State. He said: “At least the state legislature did not legalize mobile sports betting in New York, but they’re probably going to do that a year from now … and I am worried that it will put me out of business.”
He has been operating as a bookie for 27 years. While he was previously affiliated with the mob, he has been working independently for many years now. His client list of only about 24 men has been developed over the years and each man has been carefully vetted. He will do business only with people he knows or those who are well trusted by his friends.
Black market not going away
Even though the federal ban on sports betting has been lifted, illegal bookies continue to operate. One main reason is that bookies extend credit to their clients, which doesn’t happen in the regulated sports betting market.
The bookie spoke about the disadvantages players have when moving from illegal bookies to legit operations. There is a paper trail of all their bets and transactions and they will not be able to avoid paying taxes. He also said that wives will be able to track betting activity much more closely.
To continue being competitive, the Bronx bookie gives clients discounts, 20% in this case. If a client loses a $1,000 bet, he owes the bookie only $800.
The bookie has spent time in prison in the past for his illegal operations, which has scared off clients, and it takes a long time to rebuild the client base. He spoke about the importance of not using violence when collecting debts. This would only lead to racketeering offenses, he said.
The Bronx bookie considers unpaid debts as a form of tax that you just have to deal with when operating in the space. His clients will place bets either through a call center phone number in Central America or online. There are no paper records and he will not accept bets over the phone himself.
For many years, underground bookies were making a great living across the United States. With a federal ban on sportsbooks everywhere in the country, except for Nevada, people had to get their sports betting fix somewhere.
According to figures from the American Gaming Association, about $150bn (£120bn) worth of illegal sports bets were placed annually while the ban was in effect. Therefore, significant sums were going through the hands of these bookies.
Those calling for sports betting legalization speak about how legalizing it will take money out of the hands of the criminals who operate in the sports betting black market. It will also bring in tax revenue that can be used for educational programs and fighting gambling addiction.
Naturally, these illegal bookies feared the worst when the ban came to an end last year. New Jersey is a standout example of how a state can do legal sports betting the right way. Billions of dollars have gone through the state’s sportsbooks since legalization in June 2018.
Over 80% of the bets come through mobile sportsbooks. People cross state lines into New Jersey just so they can place their sports bets legally on mobile apps. Some New Yorkers even use geolocation apps to place sports bets from parts of the Big Apple.