When Life Gives You Lemons, You Give Out Rebates

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Faithful Assistant passed me a cellphone. “It's for you...it's a woman.”

My stomach knotted. Women calling a bookie's office? Bad news. I don't have any female customers, but they're usually a headache: most of the time they're not betting for themselves, but for some sharp guy who wants to stay anonymous. If they're not customers, they're somebody's wife complaining that her husband blew Junior's college fund on the Mets and what was I going to do to make them whole?

“Hi! It's Melody!” Prism is my best customer; Melody is his wife. She's got that gorgeous, snooty, “RP” accent they teach in public schools in England. I can listen to it all day.

Prism told her that he was pulling his action out of my office to bet online with a shop based in Costa Rica. Melody knew I worked down there awhile, and wanted to know if these people were gangsters.

I told her what I knew. I never worked for them, but I knew them—lots of shops there operate out of the same building and my place was two doors down the hall. Far from being in the mob, they were two good guys from Hoboken who got tired of looking over their shoulders. They found a math whiz and a database guy on the Internet, and moved down there to build the business. It's pretty big now, it's well capitalized, and there's nothing to worry about. She thanked me.

I knew why she was really calling—she was giving me a heads-up to try to save the account.

“You're going to have to give him a Rebate”, chirped Faithful Assistant. I told him if he ever used the R-word in my presence again, I'd wash his mouth out with soap right after I snapped his neck. Rebating losses back is what's going to kill the industry, or at least the bottom feeders like us.

What's happening to small bookies might be what happened to Bernie Madoff. Most piss on Bernie's quote-unquote legitimate years, but what I heard of it, Bernie was doing just fine before decimalization of stock prices. He could deal all day buying at 6 1/4 and selling at 6 3/8 and make nearly an eighth of a dollar just by being open. Sweet business, making markets.

Bookies have forever wanted to do the same thing. And we used to be able to. Enter the bookies in Costa Rica. Their margins are tighter, their labor costs are $3/hr., and everything's on the Internet so they're open 24/7. Computers make odds adjustments to minimize risk in reaction to bets. Those places have their own challenges that I don't (like dealing with credit card chargebacks) but overall they offer the customer better prices and more convenience. I'd like to go down there and open up my own place—if you want to invest, let me know. It makes more sense than Lightsquared.

Well, Prism called that night, sheepish because Melody had done his dirty work for him. We went over all that shit about 24/7 availability and he left the door open a crack—could I make him an offer? I broke down and offered him a rebate, 25% on losses at year's end. This guy loses and pays: I know I'd rather have 75% of the money than none of it.

“Wow—you never give rebates, why me?” I could have just told him he was a sucker, but I was one step ahead for once in my life. We were partners now: he would have to go ahead and open that account in Costa Rica, but turn it over to me. They kicked me out of there for winning too much last year, and they're a super place to lay off bets because they offer unusual odds. I would give him 25% of my layoff action for his trouble if he wanted it. He did.

That helps. I've taken on two pro customers. Dealing to pros without being able to lay off bets yields really lumpy results. Most times I can move the number and bring in enough sucker money to more than balance their action. But when the pros are on the “public” teams themselves, it gets Linsane. I need to shovel those bets out the back door, times five, as soon as they come in the front.

Some offices, like these guys in Costa Rica, don't want winning action at all. So they kick winners out. I don't know why. I like winners more than losers—as long as I can follow them. I've got an extra way to do that now with Prism's help. Let's go.

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