Published by: Da Capo Press
Release Date: 03/26/2002
There’s the high roller with the shaved head who morphed from cocaine addict to health-conscious bodybuilder without missing a beat. There’s the college dropout whose parents booted him from their house when he decided betting would be his way of life. And there’s the bookmaker who wonders where his life has gone while he serves the bettors he despises. Between them and glory is the 1999-2000 NCAA basketball season, with its thousands of games, hundreds of teams and “March Madness.”
While the Super Bowl gets all the hype as the biggest bettors’ holiday, the NCAA tourney has surpassed it in total dollars bet. Betting on the tournament has become so commonplace that celebrating the event in Vegas is better than being at a game, as revelers descend upon Sin City for forty-eight hours of betting, beer and basketball.
But the stranglehold Vegas once held as the sports betting capital of the world is weakening and the industry feels as though it’s under siege. Internet betting sites in far away Caribbean Islands lure the casual bettors and chip away at the Vegas bookmakers profits. Meanwhile, the characters that once flocked to Vegas because its vices made them feel welcome have been cast aside like dirty dice as the city has undergone an image makeover. Even more than money or prestige, the forces playing against both bettors and bookmakers late in 1999 and early 2000 were threats to their very lives. While the bets were big—for one gambler bets occasionally reached into the hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single day—the stakes were even larger.
For the bookmaker, the need to win may cost him more than any game he’s ever lost. For the high roller, the rush of picking winners could blind from seeing how unstable his life really is. And for the kid, what was at stake was quite possibly his soul.
“This is one wild read. Chad Millman is the guide on a hair-raising tour…It was fascinating and furious and frightening.”
— Ricky Reilly
“A print version of cinema verite…often screamingly funny.”
— The Wall Street Journal
“Millman brings to life nerve-jangling chaos…in this edgy account.”
— The Los Angeles Times
“Millman has written an intimate, hilarious and, at times, terribly sad portrait.”
— Sports Illustrated
“Thoroughly reported and tightly written.”
— The Las Vegas Sun
“So vivid and immediate that it will either a) make you want to move to Vegas and spend the rest of your life betting on sports, or b) never make another sports bet.”
“Odds are that if you like sports, you’ll like this book.”
— St. Louis Post-Dispatch
In March of 1999 I was an associate editor at ESPN The Magazine working in the football department. It was the off-season, and I needed something to write about, when a senior editor asked me to pick up a story he had planned for our Biz column. One of my colleagues had already begun reporting a piece about the Vegas bookmakers who set the lines for the NCAA basketball tournament. The decisions these bookies make—in an instant the night the 64-team field is selected—directly impact the billions of dollars that are bet. But the original writer was pulled off the story for another assignment, and he handed his contacts over to me.
The first name on the list was Joe Lupo, the head bookmaker at the Stardust in Las Vegas. The Stardust was the inspiration for the sports book in the movie Casino, and it’s always been the first sports book on The Strip to set the lines. Lupo was a great interview—open, a colorful storyteller and patient when explaining his world. After the piece ran, I asked him if he’d be interested in expanding the story into a book, over an entire season. He was into it. Then I asked him if he thought any professional bettors, wiseguys in Vegas parlance, would be willing to be as open with motivations and dollar figures as he was. He laughed at me, but promised he’d ask around.
For two months I heard nothing. And I assumed that Lupo was right: no wiseguy was going to tell me what he was betting on, why he was betting, and how much it was costing him. Then, in late May, while walking through the airport in San Diego, I got a call from Alan Boston. His voicemail was an electric rant that ranged from his old coke habit to the five figures he had riding on Andre Agassi in a tennis tournament that day. By the time we finally spoke several days later, Boston, an Ivy League grad and a voracious reader, had decided he was in. Lucky for me.
“Death Is Not the End”
Alan Boston walked into the Corvette dealership fourteen years ago wearing a ripped University of Pennsylvania Tshirt, shorts and a pair of boating shoes, looking like some twenty-seven-year-old punk coming to jerk the salesman’s chain. He hadn’t slept in two days. A binge of betting, boozing, and partying left him more wired than Con Ed. Alan knew the guys hawking cars would brush him off. He knew the dealers would see another young kid eager to take the ’Vette for a spin, and then leave them with the keys in one hand and a promise to come back soon in the other. That’s what Alan was counting on, actually. He reveled in finding a mark and making his head spin.