Weekend with a sick gambler

Categories: Sports

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Preface: I don’t know the individual described below, nor does he know me. I don’t know what he drives or where, specifically, he lives. I know neither his surname nor his day job. I have never met him before and I’ll likely never socialize with him again. All I do know is discussed herein.

I’ll spare you, gentle reader, both the words and the wares of how I happened upon the home of a local bookmaker on Saturday. Just know I was there for a few hours over the weekend to watch the Gophers and Badgers game, the outcome of which was far less depressing to the owner of the home (duplex, actually) than it was to most Minnesotans who viewed sans monetary interest.

The residence belongs to Blueberry Dan. Or at least that’s what his friends call him. I’m not his friend, but I followed suit of those more familiar on this day in question and referred to him as such during my four or five hours at his place. Blueberry Dan is a local metro bookie, and, via a mutual friend, I’ve placed the very occasional wager with him over the years. On Saturday, despite the Minnesota loss, Dan took greater salvation (and profit) from the fact that the Gophers covered the +14 spread, losing Paul Bunyan’s Axe, 35-32.

“Most people bet on favorites,” Dan explained, which is why he and his triangular booking crew -- Dan takes action, another fella sports the bulk of the dollars, and then there’s a strong man -- generate their lines via offshore accounts which trend the favorite spread upward another point or so. (Online gambling, it should be noted, was outlawed in a bill signed by President Bush back in October of 2006, although the practice -- considered extremely challenging to regulate --still obviously exists).

It was some time, however, before we reached such a conversational tone or opportunity. Upon my arrival, the phones were buzzing like crazy -- conversations in which numbers usurp pleasantries. And there were hordes of texts and emails as well, the latter of which is how Dan ultimately calculates and tallies the action for the day. In the approximate hour prior to the Axe game, I counted about twenty incoming phone calls. Dan later explained that, during that 1:45-2:30 span, he took a mirrored number of text messages. Yet, once the game began, the lines of communication cooled and Blueberry Dan gave me some back story of how he came to be a Twin Cities’ bookie.

Dan’s been gambling regularly since the age of 15, when he started playing cards during the summer with co-workers at a local suburban golf club. In ensuing years, those on-the-level summer paychecks were being taken to Mystic Lake Casino where Dan and his pals learned how to lose their hard-earned dollars playing blackjack. Post high school, Dan gambled on at a popular Midwestern college, where, circa 1996, he estimates that he won upwards of $20,000 betting on college basketball. The following year, as Blueberry and his circle of self-described “sick gamblers” began regular trips to Vegas, he says that his crew won about $5,000 on the Super Bowl. But as the odds for any regular gambler are dictated with repetition and time, the numbers soon went the other way.

“Then shit really hit the fan,” Dan reflects. He and his buddies found themselves in debt with Midwestern organized crime, with one member of his betting circle eventually digging a $20,000 hole of gambling debt. Said friend’s parents were forced to take out a second mortgage on their home to bail out their fallen son, whom Dan explains experienced earnest “suicidal thoughts.” Eventually, two years later, Dan and friends threw what he describes as a “Payoff Party” for their embattled pal, who “worked his ass off” to pay back his parents.

Such grim history seems far away on this day, however, as the talk shifts for a time to such male and myopic subjects like the merits of Vitamin Water and the alluring Playboy spread of some UFC-celebrity reporter named Rachelle Leah.

We watch on as the Gophers take an impressive second quarter lead before Wisconsin starts coming back. The horn remains cool, although Dan diligently checks voice mails and performs “grading” of his master sheet, the latter a Beautiful Mind-looking series of numbers, symbols and nicknames, the likes of which surely only he can understand. At the end of the weekend, the sheets are eventually shredded and then charred in a large garbage bin.

“Listen to this guy,” Dan says as a voice mail plays on speaker to our small gathering. “This guy whispers. He calls from the closet so his wife won’t hear.”

Recent success in Blueberry Dan’s legitimate job pursuits have allowed him to compress his client list in recent months. He now takes bets from about thirty trusted players, with a cap bet of $1,000. Over the course of a football weekend, he’ll take around $15,000 in action, six of that for college and the wealth for Sunday NFL. He says that he runs a very organized system with each individual player, with known, respected, and understood payout levels/betting limits for both parties. To collect (or pay), he’ll meet each necessary party at what he describes as “individual, undisclosed locations.” As per breaking knuckles or knees -- it’s never happened, although the aforementioned “strong man” has, according to Dan, “had to make the very occasional hard-ass phone call.” If a player becomes overly problematic or untrustworthy, Dan explains, then he just drops him. Done deal.

And our deal and day nears it’s conclusion as well as the late autumnal eve mellows the light in this space and the Badgers rally for 18 fourth quarter points to drop the Gophers to 7-4. I depart with my own circle, thanking Blueberry Dan for his time and hospitality. I’m told not to observe addresses or street signs on my way out. The evening games are soon to get underway and the phone rings. Blueberry Dan addresses his Vitamin Water and begins grading his sheets anew.

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