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MARX: Despite legalized sports betting, Super Bowl Sunday is still a big day for a Quad-City bookmaker

31st January, 18:11

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Fifteen years it ago, it was one cell phone, a land line and a bevy of frantic, under-the-wire calls with wagers taken and written on strips of notebook paper.

A Super Bowl of $20,000 wagered was monumental, as well as anxiety-laced.

Saying things have changed -- save for the anxiety -- would be an understatement for one Quad-Cities' bookmaker.

Today, there are hundreds more players than his first year of accepting bets -- which is illegal, though sports betting through casino-based outlets is legal in the state of Iowa.

Phone-call wagers are nearly extinct. Today his players use an online portal to place what he says could total between $180,000-$250,000 in illegal wagers accepted for Sunday's Super Bowl LIV.

The Kansas City Chiefs have been installed as a one-point favorite over the San Francisco 49ers in the battle for pro football's ultimate prize. The Super Bowl's over/under, a bet placed on how many points will be scored by both teams, is 54.

"I have four older gentleman, who have no time for computers, who will make phone calls for this year's Super Bowl,'' the local man, based in Iowa, said with a chuckle. It must be noted, in addition to bookmaking, our man has a "real'' job and through his 15 years of taking bets from others, has claimed a portion of his winnings on his income taxes.

"Super Bowl Sunday is huge for me,'' he added. "There is some prep work and then there is the game and all that goes with it. After the game can get kind of hectic as well. The dust eventually settles and you move on.''

To wager with this particular bookmaker, individual bettors are guided to an online transaction site where they use a numbered code or password to place a wager.

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The bet is accepted or denied by the bookmaker and then both sides wait for the event's outcome. Every bet -- based on size -- comes with the "vig,'' or "juice,'' a dollar amount established by the bookmaker and charged to the bettor for placing his/her wager. It assures the bookie makes money on every bet.

There is a prescribed dollar amount reached -- won or lost -- before the two sides make good. That number, and how and where they settle things, is based on how much is wagered annually by the player.

Today, winnings and losings are mailed, sometimes wrapped in magazines, to large-dollar winners. There are still face-to-face transactions with the $20 to $1,000 player.

"I have added four players not from the Quad-Cities, who have turned things up a notch, playing -- on some college football Saturdays and some NFL Sundays -- upwards of $80,000 a day,'' the local bookmaker said. "That has taken things to another level. Get down $80,000 on a Saturday or Sunday and you sweat. That's the drawback to all of this, my mood is dictated by up or down, which is not fair to those around me.''

The man, in his 50s, is aware Iowa has legalized sports betting and says houses like William Hill at the Isle of Capri and the Rhythm City Casino parlor are first-class.

"I bounced back in forth with wondering if legalized would hurt or help me,'' he said. "But nothing has changed for me. Those two houses do a great job locally. Here's what I have in my favor. Someone will exhaust a limit on their credit card or get tired of using it and come to me. I am a bet-now-pay-later entity that deals in cash, which allows them time to settle with me if they choose to play.''

With every Super Bowl comes a variety of unusual wagers, known as "prop'' bets. Prop bets cover anything from the number of pass attempts Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes will make Sunday, to how long it takes Demi Lovato to sing this year's game's Star Spangled Banner.

"I'm OK with the statistical side prop bets,'' the bookmaker said. "I get that. I don't like all the side stuff -- fluff if you will -- but I will take a few of them. No, I haven't taken an (Iowa) caucus bet yet, but you never know.''

Booking illegal wagers is not a think-down-the-road kind of business, but our man believes there will always be a need for his services -- even if more states make sports betting legal.

"There is so much information out there that everyone -- no matter how they do -- wants to believe they can beat the odds,'' he said. "That's what keeps it all moving, thinking you can always better the house no matter what house it is. As long as I provide an option, some people will play.''

Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309-757-8388 or jmarx@qconline.com

Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309 757 8388 or jmarx@qconline.com

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