A Sure Bet

For this bookie duo, March Madness means three weeks of overtime pay

"We've got some pretty good players," Rob says, stubble already shadowing his face. "Lawyers and stockbrokers. Pretty high-class guys..."

Roy waves his hand dismissively, interrupting before Rob can finish: "Yeah, and they cheat just as much as the scumbags under the bridge."

Going up on paper and actually collecting what they're owed are two entirely different matters. Roy hands over a yellow legal pad. To the left is a column of "good players" distinguished by digits (all clients are identified by their account numbers). The list takes up a quarter of a page. Maybe. To the right of that is a group at least three times longer. They're listed under the headline, "creeps"--slow-pays or no-pays. They're not necessarily the same guys who call in bets from church or while their kids are in the room.

"It's not like what you'd think," Rob concedes. "It's not like what you see on The Sopranos. The mob doesn't really get into it because you have to be patient. If you threaten somebody, the cops come down on you. But if you go about your business and nurse the slow-pays, they pretty much leave you alone. We still have guys working off debts from football season. So it's not like what you see on TV. We don't collect as much as we're supposed to collect."

Theoretically speaking, then, they just made more money. Missouri was getting pounded, but the Tigers managed to cover, much to the delight of Rob and Roy, who exchange grins as the television, through bouncing lines, grudgingly reveals the final score.

Their delight is short-lived. The phones start howling with more bettors eager to get in a few afternoon games. As they spring into action, accommodating their patrons while bathed in the television's shaky blue glow, you realize it was never blinking in the first place--it was winking.

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