A Biloxi bookie ex­am­ines how le­gal sports bet­ting is chang­ing his busi­ness

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY MARY PEREZ

Sports bet­ting isn’t new to the Mis­sis­sippi Coast. It’s been hap­pen­ing for gen­er­a­tions in back rooms, over the phone and now on­line.

But un­til Au­gust, it wasn’t ex­actly le­gal. The only way gen­er­a­tions of Bilox­i­ans and oth­ers were able to place bets was through a bookie.

Now that casi­nos have en­tered the sports bet­ting game, the Sun Her­ald sought out a lo­cal book­maker who’s still op­er­at­ing af­ter 25 years. He iden­ti­fied him­self only as “The Bookie.”

He said there are “hun­dreds” of book­ies on the Coast and even more cus­tomers.

Over­all he said he hasn’t lost any profit since sports bet­ting be­came le­gal — and he’s ac­tu­ally gained.

THE BOOKIE WAY

The Bookie said he has 200 clients in Biloxi and across South Mis­sis­sippi, most of whom have been with him for years. He picks up an­other 25 per­cent each year by word of mouth, he said.

“Ninety per­cent of your money is made on foot­ball,” he said. His busi­ness goes from 200-300 bets a week dur­ing foot­ball sea­son, he said, down to 50 a week af­ter the Su­per Bowl.

Most of the bets are on the Saints, he said, along with Mis­sis­sippi col­lege teams and LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Florida State.

The min­i­mum bet is about $25, he said. Peo­ple can bet on the out­come of the game, a propo­si­tion bet on an event like who will score first, on horse races and oc­ca­sion­ally on a po­lit­i­cal race, which is some­thing not al­lowed un­der Mis­sis­sippi law.

“(At) the casi­nos you have to put your money up front,” he said.

That’s not the case with him. Bet­ters work on a line of credit. The money can roll over from week to week, he said, or he will meet the client at a lo­cal spot on the Coast and set­tle up on Tues­days.

ALL ON­LINE

The old way of plac­ing a bet with a bookie by phone has gone away, and he doesn’t make the

odds. Now all wa­gers are made by cell­phone or com­puter over the in­ter­net, and all to off­shore web­sites.

He is the lo­cal face of an off­shore bet­ting site, and he has meet­ing spots in Gulf­port, Biloxi, Ocean Springs and other lo­ca­tions.

“It’s all about trust,” he said. “On both sides.”

Most of his clients are ca­sual bet­ters, but he said, “There are a few on the Coast that are big bet­ters. There are pro­fes­sional play­ers that do noth­ing but play with 10 dif­fer­ent book­ies, 10 dif­fer­ent casi­nos,” he said.

The fed­eral tax on win­nings for in­di­vid­u­als is 25 per­cent and casi­nos are re­quired to re­port pay­outs of $10,000 or more to the IRS. The book­ies are not.

BOOK­IES HAVE THE EDGE

In Au­gust, the first month Mis­sis­sippi had sports bet­ting, $9.8 mil­lion was wa­gered in the state. In Septem­ber, with col­lege and pro foot­ball games draw­ing sports bet­ters, wa­gers more than tripled to $31 mil­lion.

Ev­ery one of those bets in Mis­sis­sippi had to be made on a casino prop­erty.

As long as that’s the case, The Bookie said, then book­ies have the edge.

“At the end of the day you still have to go to the casino to place your bet,” he said.

Bet with him, he said, from any­where.

He said some of his cus­tomers want to try wa­ger­ing at the lo­cal casi­nos, sim­i­lar to how peo­ple want to go eat at ev­ery new restau­rant.

“Maybe some have not played as much,” he said, but le­gal­iza­tion has helped the over­all per­cep­tion of sports bet­ting.

“In peo­ple’s minds, it’s helped busi­ness,” he said.

APP FOR THAT

In Ne­vada, peo­ple place le­gal bets from any­where in the state once they’ve opened an ac­count, and casino op­er­a­tors are push­ing for com­pletely re­mote bet­ting apps.

In New Jersey, 57 per­cent of the $184 mil­lion in wa­gers in Septem­ber came from on­line and mo­bile bets.

In Biloxi, the for­mer di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can Gam­ing As­so­ci­a­tion warned leg­is­la­tors about the loop­hole in Mis­sis­sippi’s law that he said would limit state rev­enue and al­low book­ies to flour­ish.

“Hav­ing mo­bile gam­ing only here in­side the brickand-mor­tar casi­nos will en­sure the fu­ture suc­cess of the il­le­gal mar­ket,” Geoff Free­man said dur­ing the South­ern Gam­ing Sum­mit in Biloxi in May.

“If Mis­sis­sippi al­lowed bet­ting by phone us­ing an app, I do think that would hurt some,” The Bookie said. When peo­ple have to phys­i­cally go to a casino to bet, The Bookie said he and other book­ies in South Mis­sis­sippi have the edge in the game.

HE ISN’T ALONE

“There are tons of book­ies on the Gulf Coast. Hun­dreds of them,” he said.

“It’s not as lu­cra­tive as peo­ple make it out to be,” he said, but it is his only job. He takes “a small per­cent­age” off of each bet and that’s how he makes a liv­ing.

“I don’t gam­ble at all,” The Bookie says.

“I ac­tu­ally do pay taxes,” he said, although he jokes that he doesn’t file as “The Bookie.” He’s never been ar­rested for book­mak­ing and says pay­ing taxes keeps of­fi­cials who may know about his ac­tiv­i­ties off of him.

That doesn’t mean peo­ple are never ar­rested for book­mak­ing in Mis­sis­sippi. In 2017, three South Mis­sis­sippi book­mak­ers op­er­at­ing in Biloxi and Di­a­mond­head were fined be­tween $3,000 and $5,000 for send­ing bets to off­shore bet­ting sites in Costa Rica. They had faced max­i­mum penal­ties of two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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