Monday 1 January 2001

The Smart Money: How the World's Best Sports Bettors Beat the Bookies Out of Millions

A Book of Gambling Secrets, but Some Are Easily Spilled

Published: November 11, 2004

In the world of gambling, secrets do not last long, and it is not always easy to tell when someone is bluffing.

Those two maxims could weigh on the minds of editors at Simon & Schuster over the next year as it prepares to publish "The Smart Money: How the World's Best Sports Bettors Beat the Bookies Out of Millions."

The book is said to be the true story of the Brain Trust, a group of professional gamblers that legally wagers hundreds of thousands of dollars in Las Vegas each week on college and professional football games, making it one of the most influential forces in the gambling world.

The book's author was a participant in the group for seven years, first as a courier betting the syndicate's money, then as the operator of his own, smaller gambling ring affiliated with the Brain Trust. The proposal identifies him only as 44, an identity adopted, the author said, to protect the privacy of some of the participants in the gambling ring.

Books about gambling have been hugely popular in recent years, and the proposal for "The Smart Money" reads like an edge-of-the-seat thriller, one made all the more intriguing by the likelihood that it is true. David Rosenthal, the publisher of Simon & Schuster's flagship imprint, and Marysue Rucci, a senior editor there, agreed two weeks ago to buy the book for an advance of roughly $500,000. Publication is scheduled for October.

Simon & Schuster hopes to add an extra element of suspense by having the author wager some of his advance on the number of copies of the book sold in the first year: exceeding a certain number wins 44 a bonus, while falling short of the mark means the author has to return some of his advance.

But both the publisher and the author face several potential pitfalls. While all gamblers lie sometimes, changing the identifying details in a purportedly nonfiction book leaves readers in the uncomfortable position of not knowing which parts are really true. And it turns out that the supposedly anonymous players in this gambling drama are, in fact, very well known. A few hours of Googling and database searching by a reporter led to the real identities of 44, the Brain Trust and its principal character. The author is Michael Konik, a freelance writer who worked for several years for Bill Walters, a Las Vegas developer who is one of the country's biggest sports bettors.

The book proposal identifies the leader of the gambling ring as Rick Matthews, describing him as "the kingpin of American sports betting," a philanthropist, restaurateur and Southerner who, by dint of being "one of the greatest golf hustlers of all time," is "a millionaire several times over."

Those descriptions make it relatively easy to determine that Rick Matthews is actually Mr. Walters, a Kentucky native who now spends much of his time developing golf courses in Las Vegas. In a telephone interview, Mr. Walters, whose gambling history has been explored many times in magazine and newspaper profiles, confirmed that he is Rick Matthews.

For years Mr. Walters has run the Computer Group, a betting syndicate that uses computers to analyze reams of information on sports teams and players, placing enormous bets when it determines the point spread in Las Vegas books is out of line with its own calculation. Mr. Walters has been indicted at least three times in federal or Nevada state courts on charges of illegal gambling, but the indictments have been dismissed each time; he has never been convicted of any gambling charge. In 1999 The Las Vegas Review-Journal named him as one of the 10 most influential nonparticipant figures in sports.

Mr. Walters and others also said 44 was Mr. Konik, a television commentator on poker matches for Fox Sports who has written extensively about gambling and golf. Among his several books is "The Man With the $100,000 Breasts and Other Gambling Stories" (Huntington Press, 1999), which includes a profile of a high-stakes golf hustler who is a thinly disguised Mr. Walters.

Mr. Konik, reached at his home in Los Angeles, declined to discuss whether he was 44. Mr. Rosenthal, the publisher, also said he had no comment about Mr. Konik's relationship to 44.

In an earlier telephone interview, arranged by his literary agent, Jennifer Joel of International Creative Management, the anonymous 44 sounded much like Mr. Konik. In the interview, the author said all the events to be described in the book were true and were based on an extensive journal kept during his tenure at the gambling group, from 1996 to 2003. According to the proposal, the author recorded in the journal his gambling wins and losses, brushes with the law and "the stunning sensation of actually holding $1 million worth of cash in my hands."

But the author said he believed that he needed to change identifying details of people in the book because many of the participants in the gambling ring, as well as the peripheral characters in the casinos and elsewhere, are not public figures. As such, their abilities to sue successfully for libel or defamation are greater than they would be if they intentionally sought publicity.

The author also said that while all of his gambling activities were legal, not everyone who knows him is aware of his gambling venture, and he would rather keep it that way. The details revealed in the book proposal, however, seem unlikely to allow that to happen. The proposal details the author's start-up of his own gambling circle, which he calls "the Hollywood boys" and which includes some well-known but as-yet-unidentified celebrities.

Mr. Rosenthal, the publisher, said he did not think that the book needed an anonymous author to succeed. But so far, at least, he said he was willing to honor the author's desire to remain unknown. "He's not a C.I.A. station chief, but he has some specific reasons for wanting to keep his identity under wraps," Mr. Rosenthal said. "It's important to him, which I respect. But I think I could do it either way."

Michael Konik went along for a gut-crunching ride as Big Daddy beat the bookies

Reviewed by Jeff Ostrowski
December 31, 2006

Anybody who has played the office football pool knows how easy it is to fancy yourself an expert handicapper, and just how hard it is to outsmart the Las Vegas line. The matchups sit there like ripe fruit to be plucked. How can the unbeaten Bears be mere 10-point favorites against the lowly Dolphins? Then Rex Grossman throws three interceptions, the Bears lose three fumbles, and the Dolphins win easily.

Add in the bookies' 10 percent commission – which means you have to be right more than half the time just to break even – and you get an idea why casinos are so profitable.

Michael Konik knows these gut-wrenching ups and downs all too well. The magazine writer spent four football seasons as part of a gambling syndicate, an experience that taught him two lessons: Yes, you can outsmart the bookies. And no, it's not worth it.

Not unless you possess ironclad nerves and a bottomless well of patience. You had also better know a programmer who can whip up an algorithm to pick the winners, because opinions and hunches make for sucker bets.

Konik's introduction to this clandestine world came in 1997, when he met Rick “Big Daddy” Matthews. The legendary sports gambler recruited the scribe to work as one of the dupes who placed bets on behalf of Matthews' Brain Trust.

Matthews needed the help because every bookie in Las Vegas had refused his business. So Konik showed up at Caesar's Palace and concocted a story painting him as a high roller who'd cashed a big advance for a screenplay. In fact, he was simply moving Matthews' money.

But there was no such person as Rick “Big Daddy” Matthews, no such syndicate as the Brain Trust; both are names Konik made up. The New York Times and Las Vegas Review-Journal have reported that Konik's boss actually was Las Vegas developer and gambler Billy Walters, and the syndicate was known as the Computer Group.

Konik floats through the first-season honeymoon in which he is entrusted with briefcases full of cash, gets a front-row seat on the action and enjoys the high-roller treatment at Vegas' poshest casinos. The money isn't bad, either. As one of Big Daddy's operatives, Konik keeps 10 percent of the winnings but risks none of the losses.

But he operates under a constant cloud of suspicion: The bookies suspect that he works for Matthews, and any time he launches a winning streak, they limit his bets or close his account. Konik's girlfriend, tired of his gambling obsession, moves out.

By 1999, with offshore casinos booking millions through the Internet, Konik moves his money online, but he finds that the bookies in Costa Rica and Antigua are even slipperier than his pals in Vegas.

Konik deftly builds suspense throughout his fast-paced account, and it's not giving away too much to say that he finally decides that he's just not cut out to be another Big Daddy.

“All the time and psychic energy I devote to wagering on sports surely could be better spent on something else,” he writes in an uncharacteristic bout of introspection. “Anything else.”

© Cox News Service

1 comment:

Brooke Davis said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.