Anytime, anywhere around the University of Florida campus, J.P.
Browman might hear the whispers of admiration. He could be
sliding through the bustle of a Gainesville, Fla., bar or eating
dinner out with a date. He could be at the school's recreation
center, lifting weights or playing volleyball. There he is.
That's him. At first the adulation seemed strange to J.P., and
then it became something to savor. Now he basks in the power
that he achieved and the celebrity that accompanied it. ``It's
very flattering,'' he says. ``You could say I enjoy it.''
The quarterback, right? Wrong. The point guard? Nope. The coolest
computer hacker? Right generation, wrong skill. The local drug
dealer? You're getting warmer. . . .
A 23-year-old Florida senior who expects to graduate next month
with a degree in economics, J.P. Browman (a pseudonym) was until
very recently a bookmaker. He is a former star high school athlete
from South Florida and a member of a varsity team at Florida. At
first glance J.P. looks like the paradigm of a college kid,
earnest and squeaky clean. But if you were a student at Florida
and you wanted to place a bet on a football or basketball game,
J.P. was your man, a character out of a B movie. Think of him as
Bookie to the Students.
In his four years of taking bets in Gainesville, J.P. says he
earned about $42,000. He provided a service to a steady clientele
of more than 130 fellow Gator undergraduates, leaving some of them
as roadkill paupers. Along the way he taught his business to
roughly half a dozen bookie wannabes. Now as he prepares to enter
the outside world, he has escaped unscathed from a percolating
cash business that is, after all, illegal. ``It was nice,'' he
says, ``while it lasted.''
April 9, 1995
In this second installment of a three-part series on campus
gambling, SI profiles the one guy likely to make money from it:
the bookie. During two months of reporting, we found that it was
impossible to visit a campus -- and we surveyed a dozen or more --
in search of organized gambling and not find at least a handful of
sophisticated bookmaking operations run by students. In addition
we found nonstudent bookies, who either work campuses directly or
use students to collect bets for their off-campus operations.
At Florida, J.P. was not only the prototype of the student bookie
but also the most prolific of several student bookmakers who feast
off a sports-hungry undergraduate population. He ran an operation
out of a Gainesville house that took in a minimum of $25,000 a
week in bets from September 1991 to January '95.
In preparation for graduation and what he expects will be a
lucrative future in the business world, J.P. sold his book to a
fellow Florida student, who operated it during the NCAA basketball
tournament. J.P., semiretired undergrad wiseguy, received 40% of
the new bookie's winnings or paid 40% of his losses through last
weekend, and now, he says, he's out of bookmaking for good. J.P.
emerged buoyant from his venture, with little respect for the
bettors that he drubbed and often duped.
J.P. describes himself as coming from modest means and betrays
more than casual disdain for children born to wealth. He spent one
recent summer as a camp counselor and fairly recoils at
remembering the boys who were there. ``Oh, yeah, they were rich,''
says J.P. ``Their conversation was like, `My house is so cool.'
`No, my house is the coolest.' They were all just perfect.'' They
were also precisely the type of Richie Riches upon whom J.P. would
prey in Gainesville. Easy pickings with deep-pocketed parents.
J.P. has been in Gainesville for six years, including a leave
from school for the 1992-93 academic year, during which he still
lived in town and ran his book. With the profits from his
gambling business, he purchased his own version of affluence. He
says he bought a four-wheel-drive vehicle, a stereo, a
television, a VCR, an IBM-compatible computer and a king-sized
bed. He vacationed in Europe, Mexico and the Cayman Islands and
twice went to Atlantic City to gamble. Blackjack is his game.
``I know how to play,'' he says. ``Fifty dollars a hand, 100
dollars a hand. . . .'' But he admits to having lost as much as
$1,000 on a single trip. Moreover, he says he has paid all of
his college costs, including tuition, since 1993.
All of this was possible because in the winter of 1990 he bet $20
on the Washington Redskins, giving 16 points to the Indianapolis
Colts. Through a friend J.P. had become acquainted with a
small-time Gainesville bookmaker, and one Sunday he made that bet
on the Skins. ``I couldn't pick to save my life,'' he says. ``I
knew the Redskins were very good. Of course, they didn't cover.''
From that defeat J.P. began a common transformation: Bettor turns
bookie. ``Most bookies, maybe all bookies, started out as bettors
who become bookmakers to pay debts,'' says Arnie Wexler, a leading
consultant on compulsive gambling. The reason is simple enough. A
bettor gets beat, senses that economic life is more prosperous on
the other side of the action and makes the jump. J.P. admits to no
desperation, just a single moment of common sense after a loss.
``I've always been focused as faras what I want to accomplish
and how I want to accomplish it,'' he says. ``I thought this would
be a great opportunity for me.'' J.P.'s opportunity was an offer
from that local bookie to join his operation in the fall of 1991.
The problemwas that the bookie himself was barely more
experienced than J.P. For three weeks they took bets and --
handicapped by their own naivete and limited finan- cial resources
-- were driven out of business. But J.P. says he had seen enough
to sense that the bookie would win if he worked cautiously and
with enough backup money to withstand a rush by a fewhot
``I still saw it as a great opportunity for me,'' he says. ``I
just needed someone with a few more contacts.'' In short, what he
needed was a partner with experience, money, knowledge of how to
build a clientele and another book on which to lay off big bets.
Teddy Siever provided all of these. A 26- year-old Florida grad,
Teddy (who, like all the other students in this story, is
identified by a fictitious name) had bet with J.P. for those three
weeks. J.P. asked him to switch to the booking side and join him.
Teddy knew the betting business -- he had a friend in it -- and
together he and J.P. excavated a small gold mine.
``Remember, I had no knowledge at all,'' says J.P. ``I guess it
was all just intuition for me. Plus I learned a lot of things from
Teddy. I had really enjoyed placing a little $20 wager on a game,
but I was assuming too much risk by making that bet because I
didn't have faith in my sports knowledge. By becoming a bookie, I
would bank on other people's lack of sports knowledge, or what
they perceived to be their knowledge. It has worked out for the
During the remainder of the 1991 football season, J.P. says, he
and Teddy cleared $7,000 each despite laying off bets that would
have won them another $15,000. (A bookmaker lays off a bet to
another book, in this case someone Teddy was acquainted with, when
he gets too much action on one team and fears he won't be able to
cover his losses.) According to J.P. they easily made more than
$15,000 apiece in the fall of '92, and J.P. made at least $15,000
booking football bets in '93 after Teddy left Gainesville.In the
fall of '94, J.P. made a quiet$2,000. While basketball
bookmaking has been less productive for J.P. than taking bets on
football -- he claims to be even after four years of hoops
bookmaking -- he says that he made $2,400 on the 40% share of his
old book during the first weekend in March.
One piece of arithmetic drives any bookmaking operation: the 10%
vigorish that a bookie collects when a bettor loses (i.e., if a
bettor wagers $10 and wins, he collects $10; if he loses, he pays
$11). In the long run the vigorish should make any bookie a
That understood, J.P. created his own set of rules tailored to
his clientele. Nothing unfair, mind you. Well, hell, what's
unfair? The entire operation was against the law. J.P. preferred
to see it as a little gamesmanship.
Hence, J.P.'s rules:
Adjust the point spread, according to the individual bettor.
Most full-time bookmakers will tell you it's foolish for an
independent bookie to establish his own point spreads or to pull
them from the local newspaper. Subscribe to a Las Vegas service,
which provides updated and accurate betting lines. Consult with
other bookies. Don't expose yourself with a naked line that could
be off by five points and become easy pickings for smart bettors.
J.P. did subscribe to a Vegas service, but he also tinkered with
``If you're a big-time bookie and you're dealing with big-time
bettors, they'll notice flaws in your lines,'' says J.P.,
``because those [big-time bettors] are sick. They're like
psychiatrists, analyzing everything. The bettors I deal with don't
do that. They're just loyal to their teams and not very smart at
``I know one guy is a huge Houston Oiler fan. That's suicide for
him when I know that, because every time he calls, I'll up the
Houston line. And he doesn't know it because the line changes
every day in the paper. Even in Vegas they move the line if
there's too much money on one side of the bet. I just give people
some b.s. like, `Oh, man, there's just so much money on this
game.' I played the phone very well. And the people that I'm
dealing with just don't know what they're doing.''
Behave like a friend to the bettor on the phone. Even while J.P.
was sticking the knife into his bettors by tweaking the spread, he
was massaging them. ``The best thing for business is trust,'' he
says. Animosity breeds payment problems.
Earlier this year, before J.P. farmed out the business, one of
his clients suddenly changed his betting pattern from
conservative to desperate. ``This guy is down a couple hundred
bucks, and all of a sudden, on a Friday night, he starts betting
two hundred bucks a game,'' says J.P. ``Obviously he's chasing
his bets. When a guy does that he usually ends up losing big,
and he can't pay. So I get on the phone, and I say to him,
`Listen, I just want to make sure you're O.K. Please be careful,
don't go over your head.' This guy is not a great friend of
mine, but I want to be nice to him, and I want him to think that
he's my best friend, because it increases my chances of getting
End the football week on Sunday not on Monday. Most bookmaking
operations close the football betting week after the Monday-night
NFL game. ``If you make the Monday-night game the final game,
every sucker who had a losing weekend will try to recoup it all on
that one game,'' J.P. says. ``I don't want people to bet their
pants off on Monday night and either get killed or kill me. I
don't need that stress.'' J.P.'s clients all started at zero on
Monday, which keeps desperation betting to a minimum.
Nobody runs a tab. What, no credit? One of the great
attractions for a college student betting with a bookmaker is
that bookies don't ask for money up front and usually let
clients float their losses to a certain agreed limit, like $300
or $500. Not so with J.P. Losers paid every Tuesday; winners got
paid every Thursday. No exceptions. No balance sheets kicking
around J.P.'s house. ``Running totals are too risky,'' says J.P.
``Plus, college men tend to have terrible short-term memories.''
In the beginning J.P. was living in his own apartment and driving
to Teddy's place (headquarters) each Monday and weekend in the
fall. He would answer phones, log bets and then religiously watch
games on television, especially the ones that had attracted big
action. ``I was in front of the TV nonstop,'' says J.P. ``Then I
realized people are going to shoot themselves in the foot
eventually.'' In their second year together J.P. moved into
Teddy's house, and when Teddy left, he remained there.
During the first two seasons of the operation, J.P. developed a
client base; that kind of work was his strong suit as a bookmaker.
Whenever a fraternity member began betting with him, J.P. would
encourage the guy to solicit other members of his house and
promise him 15% of his recruits' losses for collecting from them.
It was a terrific plan because J.P. soon found that fraternity
brothers were more successful at collection than he was. ``The
losers get more embarrassed in front of their brothers,'' he
From the start J.P.'s younger brother, Dee, also a Florida
student, was an integral part of the operation. Dee distributed
betting sheets around his freshman dorm and brought his brother
some clients. J.P.'s client base grew to roughly 130 bettors
(although other Florida student bookies suggest that he had far
more players than that). And with each passing autumn his system
became more streamlined. J.P. estimates that by last fall he was
spending no more than 10 hours a week on the operation. ``Think
about it,'' he says. ``That means some weeks I was making $100 an
Here's a typical fall week for this college bookie:
Monday -- Phone calls to the clients who owed him money from the
weekend just ended. ``I didn't have to pay the people who won
until Thursday or Friday, so I didn't worry about calling them,''
says J.P. For action on the Monday-night NFL game, he hired
somebody -- often his brother -- to answer the phone at his house
and take bets. He paid that person $10 an hour.
Tuesday -- Collection day. Most losers came directly to his
house, others he visited. ``He was pretty friendly about it,''
says Andy Campbell, a Florida student who bet with J.P. for
three years before graduating last May. ``It was not like he'd
come in and just stick out his hand. I'd know why he was there.''
Wednesday -- Day off.
Thursday -- Payout day. J.P., a roll of bills in his pocket, made
his rounds on the campus. ``Not a lot of money,'' says J.P. ``I
never ran around campus with more than $500, but I often went into
apartment complexes with $2,500.'' Like it's only pizza money.
There was usually a college football game on ESPN on Thursday
nights. An employee of J.P.'s manned the phones again, from 6 p.m.
to 8 p.m.
Friday -- Day off.
Saturday -- College football day. Phone lines open from 10:30 a.m.
to 2 p.m. and again from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. ``I'd spend some time
[monitoring the operation] on Saturday, just to make sure my
brother [or whoever was answering the phone] did it right,'' says
Sunday -- NFL day. Bets were taken from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and
again from3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. No calls were taken after 5:30,
which meant no bailout bets on the Sunday-night game because when
J.P. closed his book, bettors still didn't know the results of 4
p.m. games. ``Once in a while, I'd take some of the calls myself,
just for the thrill,'' says J.P. ``But it got boring. `Please
hold, please hold, please hold,' then reading the lines to every
guy who calls. Boring.'' Callers who couldn't get through
occasionally knocked on J.P.'s door to make a bet. They were
summarily turned away. ``I didn't want anybody to know how we were
changing the lines,'' he says. ``Coming to my house was not
The notion that all of this was time-consuming or draining amuses
J.P. The actual number of incoming calls on a Saturday or a Sunday
gradually decreased through consolidation -- students calling in
the bets of several friends or fraternity brothers along with
their own. ``By last fall, I'd have like 25 or 30 people calling,
with people betting under them,'' says J.P. ``There was no problem
tying up phones with volume.''
No problem training the next generation of student bookies,
either. J.P. says more than a half-dozen underclassmen have
learned the ropes from him, either by answering his phone or
recruiting members and earning a 15% commission. One J.P.
disciple, a Florida senior named Jerry (Slaw) Davidson, says, ``I
learned all the tricks of the trade from J.P. Everything, I got
from him -- how he kept his books, what the bettor sheets looked
like. . . .''
The business didn't require heavy hands-on management since the
first autumn, J.P. says.Even when J.P. went solo after Teddy
left Gainesville, the operation continued to run smoothly. ``I've
had it on autopilot for the last three years,'' he says. ``It
became so second nature to me that I didn't even really think of
it as illicit activity anymore. It was just a moneymaker, with
very few problems.''
Many college students bet with bookmakers who are not students but
full-time bookies who target students as easy marks. At Texas Tech
in Lubbock, where gambling is widespread and heavy, most of the
bookmakers are nonstudents. J.A. Davis, a 23-year-old Tech senior,
has had four different bookmakers in five years in Lubbock -- from
the son of a local elected official to a white- haired senior
citizen, who, as Davis recalls, was no more than 5 4" and would
come by his house to collect in a late-model Cadillac. ``All my
bookies drove nice cars,'' says Davis.
In Lubbock and places like it the bookies recruit students who
can connect them to the campus. Mike Tyler, a Texas Tech
sophomore, has bet with at least five different local bookies,
none of them students. Last fall he worked for one of them,
spending as many as four nights a week in a small, barren
apartment taking bets, and once a week collecting from student
losers. Tyler has connected scores of fellow students with
off-campus bookmakers, and those students, in turn, often
connect others. It is the chain that nonstudent bookmakers seek.
Del Sherwood (pseudonym), a bookie based in Des Moines, explained
that he tries to recruit student runners to work both the
University of Iowa in Iowa City (112 miles away) and Iowa State in
Ames (28 miles). The runners collect bets or parlay sheets, and
the bookie pays them a 10% commission.
On campuses where there are student bookmakers, none are
guaranteed the financial reward that J.P. reaped. Andrew Stewart,
for instance, a 24-year- old senior at the University of Georgia,
abandoned his operation in early March because of collection
problems. Stewart was a gambler for three years before starting a
basketball-only book last December with two partners. His client
list of 170 students was culled from the 220 names in a friend's
football book. For the privilege of using the names, Stewart paid
the football bookie 25% of his winnings.
``I got started for the same reason anybody else would, just to
make a little extra cash,'' says Stewart. On paper he did
precisely that. In early March, Stewart says, he and his partners
were more than $12,500 ahead for the season and gathering momentum
on the desperate bets of their clientele. However, they had been
paid only $2,500 and successful collection was becoming difficult.
``As you would expect,'' says Stewart, ``people come around to
collect their winnings more than they do to pay.''
Stewart quit the book, passing it on last month to two former
student clients who carried it through the NCAA tournament. ``For
a while I had a bunch of guys playing small amounts of money,
which was beautiful for me,'' says Stewart. ``Then they started
betting more and getting down to where they were not going to be
able to pay. It stinks not to get money. But what could I do? Go
out and kick somebody's ass? This isn't my livelihood. It's pretty
naive to think that I could go around doing that.''
Bettors understand that. Stewart isstill scrambling to collect
some small portion of the more than $10,000 he and his partners
are owed, but for all practical purposes he is out of the
Back in Gainesville, upon hearing the story of Stewart's
bookmaking demise, J.P. shook his head in a bookmaker's empathy.
``Getting ahead on paper and not getting the money . . . I really
hate that,'' he says. J.P. says that he nearly always collected,
relying on his own particular blend of charm and natural
intimidation. (``Have you met him?'' asksCampbell. ``He's pretty
tall. I'm sure he could be imposing if he wanted to be.'')
Sometimes that was enough. His refusal to allow clients to run a
tab was another factor. It's much easier for a college sophomore
to pay one week's $350 loss than a month's losses of $1,500.
``I've been very lucky,'' says J.P. ``Most of my clients were
friends of mine, so I had very good luck collecting.'' J.P. admits
to using the occasional scare -- ``Some guys go a month or two
without paying, and suddenly we're telling them we have friends in
the Mafia, blah, blah, blah.'' In the first two years of the
J.P.-Teddy partnership, it was Teddy who would verbally shake down
customers. But intimidation has its risks. J.P. believed it to be
more prudent not to frighten young customers, lest they run in
fear to their parents or the police.
``I prayed every night that I wouldn't get caught,'' says J.P.
``In my room, in the dark, I'd put my hands together, and right
after the `Now I lay me down to sleep' crap, I'd say, `Please
don't ever let me get caught.' The consequences to my future would
have been pretty severe. That's why I didn't sneeze wrong for four
He took other measures, as well, to thwart the law. ``First of
all, I knew everyone who bet with me,'' says J.P. ``Second, I had
a wiretap detector on my phone, and I had it checked for taps, by
the phone company, at least once a year. I never called anyone's
parents for collection. I never took a check made out to me. I
destroyed all my records every week.''
He was told of a sting at Arizona State 14 months ago, in which
Tempe police infiltrated a gambling operation. Posing as a new
client, an undercover officer set up an account by using an
existing client -- a student who had gone to the police because of
collection threats -- as a reference. The officer placed bets for
seven weeks before consummating the bust. J.P. considered the
scenario for several seconds. ``I wouldn't say I was beyond
infiltration,'' he says. ``Sure, I guess that could have happened
to me. I guess if somebody was that petrified or neurotic to go to
the police, I would have been screwed. But if I have to threaten
someone to pay, they're not going to bet again with me. And if
they take X number of weeks to pay up, lord knows, they're not
going to be reinstated. I wouldn't say I was ever in serious
Upon being asked if he feared that the university might have taken
some interest in his avocation, J.P. could barely swallow a laugh.
``No,'' he says condescendingly, ``the school didn't bother me.''
When J.P.'s operation was described in general terms to University
of Florida dean of students Thomas Hill, he was exasperated. ``I'd
love to talk to that kid,'' Hill said. ``It appears he's violating
student conduct statutes left and right. But that person will
never surface. You're telling me about a perpetrator, and we can't
even find the victim. We try to do some things on campus with
regard to gambling. But to do a hard sell, just to decide we're
going to put everybody through a gambling awareness program, I
don't think that's practical.''
After he leaves Gainesville in May, J.P. says he will continue to
gamble but won't make book again. ``I would never take that
risk,'' he says. He leaves behind his clientele and his students
of bookmaking to continue the operation.
Campbell, who's also about to leave Gainesville, says, ``It looks
to me like J.P. made out like a bandit. I mean, I would never have
done it, but I bet with him, and I looked at betting as
entertainment. He provided a service for me.''
As J.P. analyzes it, anybody who bet with him was assuming a risk
of his own. And, after all, he was just a small-time bookie on a
college campus. ``I can't see anyone really having a problem
because of any betting they did with me,'' he says. ``I've had
people equate me with a drug dealer; I hate drugs and people who
deal them. Gambling is a mental addiction, drugs are a physical
addiction.'' I realized people were going to shoot themselves in
the foot. His system was simple supply and demand, he says, and he
offered a product that students sought.
``So he thinks he's good and drug dealers are bad?'' says Wexler,
the consultant on compulsive gambling. ``He's absolutely wrong.
He's no different from a drug dealer. But I'm not surprised he
feels that way. People everywhere think drug addicts and
alcoholics are sick, and compulsive gamblers are bad people.''
So J.P. leaves without remorse. ``I'll go wherever my career takes
me,'' he says. ``I think I'm a pretty talented businessman and
salesman, don't you? You could say I have a lot of on-the-job
NEXT WEEK: The most serious risks of campus gambling are
student-athletes whose wagering leaves them vulnerable to scandal,
and undergraduates who plunge into addiction.