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When journalist Michael Konik landed an interview with Rick "Big Daddy" Matthews, the largest bet he'd placed on a sporting event was $200. Konik, an expert blackjack and poker player, was no stranger to Vegas. But Matthews was in a different league: the man was rumored to be the ...
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When journalist Michael Konik landed an interview with Rick "Big Daddy" Matthews, the largest bet he'd placed on a sporting event was $200. Konik, an expert blackjack and poker player, was no stranger to Vegas. But Matthews was in a different league: the man was rumored to be the world's smartest sports bettor, the mastermind behind "the Brain Trust," a shadowy group of gamblers known for their expertise in beating the Vegas line. Konik had heard the word on the street -- that Matthews was a snake, a conniver who would do anything to gain an edge. But he was also brilliant, cunning, and charming. And when he asked Konik if he'd like to "make a little money" during the football season, the writer found himself seduced . . .
So began Michael Konik's wild ride as an operative of the elite Brain Trust. In The Smart Money, Konik takes readers behind the veil of secrecy shrouding the most successful sports betting operation in America, bypassing the myths and the rumors, going all the way to its innermost sanctum. He reveals how they -- and he -- got rich by beating the Vegas lines and, ultimately, the multimillion-dollar offshore betting circuit. He details the excesses and the betrayals, the horse-trading and the paranoia, that are the perks and perils of a lifestyle in which staking inordinate sums of money on the outcome of a single event -- sometimes as much as $1 million on a football game -- is a normal part of doing business.
Gambling is America's second-favorite indoor pastime. Casinos, home poker games, bingo halls, state lotteries -- wherever Lady Luck can be courted, we're eager to stake our money on the turn of a card or the bounce of a ball.
Particularly the bounce of a ball.
Betting on sports is an American obsession. If you yourself don't participate in an office pool, or have a local bookmaker, or maintain an offshore Internet account, you probably know someone who does. Betting on football and baseball, hockey and basketball -- even NASCAR auto racing and PGA Tour golf -- makes the most banal athletic competition exciting. It imbues the ordinary with drama. It gives viewers a personal stake in the outcome of the contest, no matter how inconsequential the final score might be in the course of world events.
Since almost all sports betting in America occurs in the shadows, hidden from the scrutiny of actuaries, putting a definitive number on the size of the sports betting industry is impossible. But most reliable estimates, based on data from the highly regulated Las Vegas sportsbooks, extrapolate stunning figures that would be the envy of anyone in the entertainment business. Most experts estimate that the bookmakers who take the bets gross billions of dollars a year.
Thereason the bookies win so much money is that, in the long run, almost nobody can beat "the line." Also known as "the point spread," the line expresses the imbalance between two unevenly matched teams, thereby reducing every contest to the mathematical equivalent of a coin flip. For example, if the Los Angeles Lakers played against the Hollywood High School basketball team, no one but the mentally ill would bet on the high school squad. But if gamblers who wanted to wager on the mighty Lakers had to give the adolescents an 83-point head start -- well, even fans of Kobe Bryant would have to think twice. In the real world, when the Lakers play the Chicago Bulls, the Lakers are usually forced to give the weaker team an 11- to 12-point handicap. About half the time the Lakers win by more than 11, and half the time they don't.
Every NFL football game, every NCAA basketball game, every NHL hockey match has appended to it a point spread -- indeed, many newspapers, including USA Today, publish the daily lines. Though the TV announcers aren't supposed to make reference to the point spread (which the NCAA likes to pretend doesn't exist), sly innuendo -- "With one minute to go, Duke is up by twenty-two, but there's still some business to be decided!" -- suggests that the television networks understand that gambling on sports keeps viewers fixated on otherwise meaningless contests.
Except for the illegal drug trade, sports betting is probably America's biggest, most lucrative unregulated business.
The bookies count on the line to be accurate -- or at least accurate enough that half the people in America will like the favorite and the other half will go for the underdog. Traditionally, bookmakers act as brokers, a human clearinghouse for their customers' compulsions. The standard bet requires gamblers to lay $11 to win $10. If you bet $10 with a bookie you don't win $10; you win $9.10. In the classical bookie business model, winners are paid with the losers' money and the house keeps the "juice," or "vig." Ideally, when the Patriots play the Panthers, Joe Bookmaker's clients collectively bet $550,000 to win $500,000 on New England and $550,000 to win $500,000 on Carolina. Unless the game ends in a point-spread tie, or "push" -- for example, the line is 3 and the final score is 20-17, a 3-point differential -- Joe Bookmaker collects $550,000 from the losers, pays $500,000 to the winners, and keeps $50,000 for his trouble.
It's a very nice business -- particularly because the combination of an accurate line (a point spread that accurately expresses the disparity between two teams) and the 11-10 juice is almost impossible to overcome. Common wisdom says that over the course of a long football season the average American man -- or his girlfriend, dartboard, or pet monkey -- will pick approximately 50 percent winners. Thanks to the juice, the only one who profits in this scenario is Joe Bookmaker. In fact, sports bettors must pick 52.4 percent winners just to break even.
The line is generated by highly paid consultants in Las Vegas and the Caribbean who weigh the relative strengths of the teams and, more important, the public's perception of those strengths. Because of regional prejudices -- people in Chicago, for example, think more highly of the Cubs than do people in New York -- the line can vary slightly from shop to shop. Furthermore, on games where the bettors are disproportionately betting on one team, bookies will incrementally adjust the line to make the underbet side more attractive. Thanks to the general brilliance and accuracy of the point spreads, gamblers who can consistently beat Joe Bookmaker are as rare as honest politicians.
But it can be done.
The bookies fear (and despise) a tiny coterie of professional bettors known as "wiseguys," or "the sharps." Fewer than 0.0001 percent of gamblers, the proverbial "one in a million," are able to consistently pick point-spread winners. But there are betting syndicates privy to the most up-to-date information on injuries, weather, game plans, and, most important, the real power of the teams involved. These wiseguys are often able to derive a more precise, more accurate, more valuable point-spread line than the oddsmakers. Essentially, they create their own theoretical line on the same slate of games offered by the bookmakers. Then they compare their numbers against the bookies'. When the sharp players spot a discrepancy between their line and the one the bookies are offering, they bet.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sometimes as much as $1 million on a single game.
The avalanche of money that cascades down upon the bookmakers is what moves the line. When you see that the Jets have gone from a 3-point favorite to a 4-point favorite, it's often because the smart money (and the hordes of followers who try to track their bets) likes the boys from the Meadowlands.
The members of the MIT blackjack team made famous in Bringing Down the House are small-timers compared with the biggest sports bettors.
In some ways, the gulf between the big betting syndicates and recreational gamblers is as wide as that between Wall Street's institutional investors and an unemployed speculator sitting in his underwear at home dabbling at day trading. But the professional bettors have something in common with the millions of people who gamble on the weekends: They desperately want their team to win, to cover the point spread. The big difference is that instead of sweating a hundred-dollar wager, the smart money sweats millions every weekend.
Gamblers whisper about a legendary -- some think apocryphal -- syndicate known as the Brain Trust, a sobriquet earned because its members seem to understand more about sports betting than anyone else. Though they operate in secret, the Brains are the most influential force in the world of sports betting. They're to gambling markets what Warren Buffett is to the New York Stock Exchange. Everyone involved in sports gambling wants to know what the Brains are doing -- which matchups they favor, which teams they're investing in on any given weekend. Everyone who bets on sports -- from the degenerate action junkie to the half-sharp sports fiend who watches ESPN sixteen hours a day, from small-time professionals to big-time bookies -- they all try to figure out how the Brains do what they do. And, especially, what they'll do next.
I'm one of the few people in the world who can tell you. Because for several years I was one of them.
Copyright 2006 by Michael Konik
Excerpted from The Smart Money by Michael Konik Copyright © 2006 by Michael Konik. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
One A Proposition
AUTUMN 1997 -- SPRING 1998
Two High Roller
Three Built In
Four Close Calls
Five A Mule or a Man?
Six Super Bowl
Seven March Madness
SUMMER 1998 -- SPRING 1999
Eight Persona Non Grata
Nine The Wild Frontier
Ten Ripped Off
Eleven Milking the Cow
Twelve Deputy 44
SUMMER 1999 -- SPRING 2000
Thirteen A Little Knowledge Is Dangerous
Fourteen Bringing Home Baby
Fifteen Good-bye and Hello
SUMMER 2000 -- WINTER 2001
Seventeen The Smart Money
Posted October 31, 2008
an engaging look at life as part of a professional gambling syndicate. you don't get the really inside secrets of the "Brain Trust", only that they've got some kind of super computer that can beat the pointspread 57% of the time. what's really most interesting is to see the emotional wear and tear and erosion of personal life the full time gambler experiences.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 12, 2007
This is without a doubt the best gambling story told. Even if you don't like Vegas or gambling , the story is riveting. I want to see a sequel to continue the exploits of the gambling industry with some new characters. Even though Ol' 44 has the role done to a science , great read !!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 17, 2007
This book rocks. If you like great gambling stories with plenty of intrigue and interesting characters....this is the read. Best gambling story since 'Bringing Down The House'. It's that good.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 15, 2006
I've enjoyed Michael Konik's previous books. This one is my favorite. I've recommended it to dozens of people, even those who say they have no interest in gambling or sports, and every one has told me how glad they were that I told them about this book. It reads like a mystery thriller. Very fast-paced and exciting. Living in Las Vegas, I know that what Konik describes here certainly happens. I just didn't know to what extent -- how much is bet on football games and other sports. (I also know who 'Big Daddy' is in real life, and it's pretty cool to learn so much about a man that we locals read about in the newspaper but don't really know too much about.) Konik applies his exceptionally smooth style to this world and the result is informative, entertaining, and often times astonishing. 'The Smart Money' is my new favorite book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 15, 2006
The critic's call Michael Konik the dean of the world's gambling writers. Once again he shows why in this true story of gambling's biggest winners. Rick 'Big Daddy Matthews' is the kingpin of an organization that makes millions betting on football games and Konik becomes part of that organization and lives to tell about it in a gripping tale of insider knowledge which rings true because of the incredible detail the author includes. He really paints a picture. It's been 4 years since Mr. Konik delivered his last gambling book. Let's hope we don't have to wait as long for his next masterpiece.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 12, 2006
If you want to learn about the real money, the 'sharps' in the world of sports betting, then this is the book for you. In a very honest, unpretentious way, Michael Konik lets his reader join him on this roller coaster adventure into the high stakes world of big sports betting money, but told by a true writer. If you ever placed a bet on a game, then you can appreciate this memoir.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 18, 2006
What a story is told in 'The Smart Money.' You thought nobody wins at gambling think again. As the gambling expert Michael Konik tells it this is an amazing true story about The Brain Trust of sports bettors who beat the bookies out of millions of dollars. They are The Smart Money. I found this book to be a really fast read even though it's almost 400 pages. It flies by. I could see it as a movie with George Clooney and Brad Pitt and Robert DeNiro as the Big Daddy character. The Smart Money left me shaking my head, I was quite amazed. I predict you will be also.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 28, 2006
Posted December 4, 2006
As a professional gambler, it's refreshing to read a book by someone who really has an insider's perspective on how 'the smart money' gets an edge on a proposition (sports betting) that seems to have an inherent advantage for the house that no body can beat. I'm no literary critic, but Michael Konik's writing is smooth, entertaining, and very informative. What I do feel qualified to comment on is his reporting accuracy, which, from my experiences in both Las Vegas and the offshore betting world, is dead-on accurate. This book tells it like it is. I would say it's an 'incredible' story, but that's not really true. It's a credible story, an adventurous expose that is all too real. I can't think of a better book about big time professional gambling -- except maybe Konik's other books!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 6, 2006
Possibly the best book ever written about gambling. This is the inside story everyone has been waiting for, told by an insider. Now we know how The Smart Money does their thing with the pointspreads. Literally could not put it down once I started reading it. What a story!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 27, 2006
If you can get past the nagging suspicion that everything in this nonfiction book can't possibly be true (did the author make some of this up, I wonder?), you've got yourself here one of the most compulsively readable casino adventure stories ever published. The author Michael Konik is known as a respected gambling author (Man With $100,000 Breasts) and a TV talking head (Poker), but apparently he lived a secret life as a big time sports bettor working with The Brain Trust group of gamblers out of Las Vegas. Now he's letting the secret out. The book is almost 400 pages long but I read it in a little over five hours. I literally couldn't put it down. The leader of The Brain Trust group is a larger than life character named Big Daddy, and I could see a Jack Nicholson or a Robert Duvall playing him on the silver screen. The story here is so juicy (bags of money, sex, intrigue) that you keep asking yourself if it's all true. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. 'The Smart Money' is fascinating. It goes to the top of my list of the best books ever written about gambling and the people who beat the odds.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 1, 2006
Michael Konik has outdone himself this time. I liked his other gambling books, especially about his World Series of Poker playing. I LOVED this one. Read it on one cross country flight and couldn't put it down. Reads like a spy novel set in Las Vegas. Most of us are never going to bet $110,000 on a college football game yet apparently this goes on all the time with the big sports betting groups known as 'The Smart Money' and it's an amazing story told by a writer with an excellent style.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 26, 2006
I would probably be the last person to be amazed by 'The Smart Money' as I have absolutely no interest in football and have never made a sports bet in my life. But I've greatly enjoyed Michael Konik's books in the past, such as 'Ella in Europe' and have been moved by his eloquent writing, so I decided to give his latest release a try. Let me tell you: it is a thrilling page turner! This book should be made into a movie. I enjoyed being drawn into the world of high-stakes sports betting, where losing (and winning!) money in the six figures in a matter of minutes is a common occurence. I am fascinated by the Brain Trust Group led by the enigmatic Big Daddy Matthews. What a character! I cannot believe the sensitive author of 'Ella in Europe' and 'In Search of Burningbush' is the same guy who was the naive author seduced into this fascinating world of sports gambling, who started out betting only with the Brain Trust's orders to being the leader of a little sports betting cartel of his own called the Hollywood Boys. Konik teases us about the real identities of the Hollywood Boys -- who are actual famous and huge movie stars. Of course, I am still figuring out who these stars are. Maybe they'll be in the movie playing themselves! 'The Smart Money' is highly recommended, even for girls who think they wouldn't be interested in the subject. It's the most exciting book I've read in a long time.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.