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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Beth Raymer's new book, "Lay the Favorite," is about guys sitting in front of screens, taking and placing bets, playing the odds and living it up. And here's the refreshing thing about it. These guys are not on Wall Street. They're in Vegas, in Curacao and Costa Rica.

"Lay the Favorite" is about sports gamblers. Beth Raymer, not long out of college in Florida, somehow tumbled into a world of men who made a livelihood out of their love of sports, their talent for math, and it seems their inability or aversion to do anything else. Their gambling is barely on this side of the law and sometimes not.

And Beth Raymer attaches herself to them, and let's just say that in this very funny and smart book, gambling turns out to be not the least wholesome career that she was playing with.

Beth Raymer, welcome to the program.

Ms. BETH RAYMER (Author, "Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling"): Hello.

SIEGEL: And to give some sense of your relationship to gambling, I wonder if you could read a story about a visit you made to a casino with your family when you were very little.

Ms. RAYMER: Okay.

(Reading) It was my first time in a casino but certainly not my father's. In the early years of my parents' marriage, he and mom flew out to Vegas a couple of times a year and stayed at the Tropicana.

In 1976, a nun from the orphanage called my parents and told them there was a 2-week-old baby girl available. My parents had married young and had been trying to have kids for 12 years. They had adopted my sister three years earlier. Now, there was a new baby from a different family. Were they interested?

Mom cried yes, but as soon as she hung up, Dad reminded her of the tickets they had to see Elvis in Vegas that weekend. The next morning, they picked me up from Catholic Social Services, named me after the Kiss song "Beth," which was playing on the radio, left me with my Aunt Bonnie and took off to Vegas.

On the evening of the show, Dad found himself at the blackjack table in the middle of a hot streak. Despite my mother's pleading, Dad refused to quit playing and they missed Elvis.

Twenty-two years later, during their divorce, Mom repeated this story in front of the judge as proof that my father was a problem gambler.

SIEGEL: So you were not a stranger to the problem of gambling...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: ...when you tumbled into this whole thing?

Ms. RAYMER: I wasn't.

SIEGEL: Tell us about the gambler named Dink, Dink Heimowitz, whom you worked with.

Ms. RAYMER: I met Dink Heimowitz in 2001 when I moved to Las Vegas. Someone introduced me to him. And Dink had moved to Las Vegas a couple years before. He had been a bookmaker in Queens and he got arrested, and he had to serve time in a halfway house. And it was during his time at the halfway house where he won a lot of money gambling.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAYMER: And so he made enough money to move to Las Vegas to be a professional gambler and he opened his gambling office, Dink, Inc. and he hired me as an employee.

SIEGEL: And in Las Vegas, what he was doing as a gambler was legal.

Ms. RAYMER: Yes.

SIEGEL: So what did you do for him in Las Vegas?

Ms. RAYMER: Well, I worked in his office. I would make bets and I would go to casinos around the Strip and off the Strip and make bets on his behalf.

SIEGEL: And you described some of the - what people are saying at Dink, Inc. - as they're following umpteen different sports events on television and on clickers and everything.

Ms. RAYMER: Yeah. A day in the life at that office was really hectic. I mean, September would be NFL, U.S. Open, the pennant race, preseason hockey, college football, plus Dink's always playing party poker on the computer. We're playing Jawami(ph), we're betting on horses. So there was always a lot of action.

SIEGEL: And he would come out ahead of all this? I mean, he was (unintelligible) winning or was he losing (unintelligible) all the time?

Ms. RAYMER: Oh, no. He was coming out ahead. Dink is so rare and that he's made a 30-year living gambling. You don't meet guys like that.

SIEGEL: Then you tell the story later of how you went to work in Curacao in the Caribbean for an outfit that was taking bets over the Internet.

Ms. RAYMER: Right. Then I meet someone by the name of Bernard Rose, who was a friend of Dink's, and Bernard also having - after having gone through a rough time, tried to go straight, tried to work for his father's candy business, just couldn't stand the boredom and the monotony, went back into gambling. And he takes the risk to move to Curacao and open ASAP, All Serious Action Players, his offshore betting office.

SIEGEL: All Serious Action Players.

Ms. RAYMER: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: And he's taking bets supposedly with his own methods here of calculating odds.

Ms. RAYMER: Right.

SIEGEL: And part of your job there was reviewing the recorded phone calls that gamblers made. I want you to describe that.

Ms. RAYMER: So, basically, when you call and make bets with an offshore sports book, all the phone conversations are recorded because then if anyone has a claim on Mondays when we're doing all the accounting, if someone says, oh, no, I didn't bet on the Red Sox to go under eight, I bet on it to go over eight, we can go back and check the bets and listen to what bet was actually placed.

SIEGEL: And in one point at ASAP in Curacao, you described the books and it wasn't as if this was a highly sophisticated piece of software they were using.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: It's some scribbled bits of paper with numbers.

Ms. RAYMER: No. I mean, that's the thing. It's - you know, these guys, they were bookmakers in the '60s and '70s and they - they're used to doing things on a different level. They're not the most technologically sophisticated group of men. Yes, they're mathematically inclined. They can talk about odds. But when it comes to running a business and having to deal with money wires and using computer programs, they are pretty ignorant about it. So very often, they write bets on paper plates.

SIEGEL: On paper plates?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAYMER: The accounting got really messed up.

SIEGEL: But the bet on the paper plate could be tens of thousands of dollars?

Ms. RAYMER: Oh, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: We should clarify here that what you did, this isn't like what Gloria Steinem did many, many years ago becoming a Playboy bunny for a magazine article. This was really your life. This wasn't a bunch of decisions just to write about it.

Ms. RAYMER: No. No.

SIEGEL: And so some explanation is required here. You're a very good writer. You're a very insightful and funny writer. How on Earth did you find yourself working in such a strange demimonde? Why not some kind of straight work that might have been a little bit more stable and legal?

Ms. RAYMER: Oh, gosh. I don't know. Honestly, I was just never attracted to stable jobs. And I think that's something that the people in my book and I have in common, which is the addiction to living a life of endless possibility.

Lay the favorite is a gambling term, which means bet on the team most likely to win. And the title's kind of ironic, I guess, because it's saying invest yourself in the outcome that appears most certain. And I and the people in my book have an almost pathological aversion to certainty. We crave uncertainty, and gamblers take every uncertainty in life and turn it into a game, which is why they do things like take bets on the results of their prostate exams.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Just like if there's somebody out there who's willing to bet the other side, why not?

Ms. RAYMER: Oh, always.

SIEGEL: Well, Beth Raymer...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: ...Beth Raymer, thank you very much for talking with us...

Ms. RAYMER: Thank you.

SIEGEL: ...about your book. The book is called "Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling."

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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