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On Not Being a Sucker, by My Dad, the Bookie

These tips might just save you from going broke

Football player with ball jumping over another player
Getty Images / The Arrow

I was driving my father home from jail. He lit a cigarillo and turned the car radio to the Cincinnati Reds game.

“Your mother’s not too happy with me,” he said. 

He was right about that. Dad was a former pro athlete, a minor league pitcher who once won 21 games in a season. Now he taught school and booked sports bets. I used to field some of his clients’ phone calls, jotting down “Larry — Cubs & over” or “Doc — Mets + Twins.” Bookmaking got him arrested during a vice raid by the Indianapolis police, but what upset my mother the most was that he’d used my student loan money to get through what he called a cash crunch. 

“I’ll pay you back,” he promised. He also shared a few betting tips that still hold true:

“The odds never heard of you.”

What he meant by that was, nobody is inherently lucky or unlucky. Still, millions of people rely on luck, prayer or hunches when they bet. Such people are called suckers.

“Bet what you can afford to lose.”

A good bet has to sting if you lose and brighten your day if you win — that’s why nobody bets a penny — but don’t go hog wild. The bookmaker doesn’t want to have to come after you with a muscle-bound friend. In other words, don't bet the house.

“There’s no such thing as a hot streak.”

Or a cold streak. If 10 straight coin flips come up heads, the odds on the next flip are still 50/50. The same holds true in every aspect of life. Each chance you take is independent, so forget momentum and outsmart the herd who believe in such things.

“Forget parlays and teasers — unless you’re the book.”

Wagers that ask you to pick two or three or more winners offer tempting payoffs, but they’re sucker bets. With each part of a parlay, the odds get longer at an exponential rate. That’s why they’re the most lucrative sports bets of all — for bookmakers, not bettors. In real life this boils down to a simple rule: The more complicated the terms you agree to, the more power you give away.

“Zig when they zag.”

Casual fans love to bet on popular teams like Notre Dame and Alabama in football and the Cubs and Yankees in baseball. Bookmakers factor that into the betting line, giving the smart money a chance to profit by betting against fan favorites. In other words, what you hope will happen is not an accurate reflection of what’s likely to happen.

After his night in jail, we stopped at a Waffle House. Dad lit another cigarillo and unfolded “The GoldSheet,” a tout’s guide to the latest betting lines. We talked about the Reds and Cubs, both underdogs that day, and how he was going to pay me back and apologize to my mother. Then he asked, “Do you want the best advice I’ve got?”

“Absolutely.” I was on the edge of my orange vinyl seat.

“Get the Sunrise Special,” he said. “A dollar ninety-nine for eggs, bacon, coffee and toast.”

He paid for our Sunrise Specials and left the waitress a $20 tip.

Follow Article Topics: Money-&-Career