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Gaming Guru

Jeff Haney

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

27 December 2006

"The Smart Money: How the World's Best Sports Bettors Beat the Bookies Out of Millions," by Michael Konik. Simon & Schuster, $26

When Howard Schwartz, the esteemed proprietor of the Gambler's Book Shop on South 11th Street, showed me an advance copy of "The Smart Money" earlier this year, he predicted the book would leave some readers frustrated and confused.

Referring to the author's rampant use of fictitious names in the supposed work of nonfiction, Schwartz cited the old Butch Cassidy line: "Who are those guys?"

Indeed, bettors, bookies, oddsmakers, poker players, offshore sports books and their stateside representatives, betting line services, a couple of Hollywood actors and even gambling-oriented Web sites get the faux, faux, faux treatment in "The Smart Money" (subtitled "How the World's Best Sports Bettors Beat the Bookies Out of Millions").

In the newly released book, author Michael Konik chronicles his experience over several years as a bagman for a major sports betting syndicate headed by "Big Daddy Matthews," a character the New York Times identifies as Las Vegas developer Bill Walters.

Konik has an excellent track record as a no-holds-barred poker commentator for Fox Sports and as an author of books such as "The Man With the $100,000 Breasts."

My high expectations for "The Smart Money" were thwarted, however, by the author's use of all those fake names and fabricated details.

This would be OK if the book were marketed as a novel, a la Jesse May's "Shut Up and Deal," a 1998 classic inspired by the seedy underbelly of the real-life poker scene that has become an essential part of the literary gambling oeuvre.

But as Schwartz predicted, readers of "The Smart Money" - especially those in Las Vegas who follow sports betting - will encounter frustration as they try to figure out just what it is they're reading.

Half memoir, half roman a clef?

Half nonfiction, half novel?

Half man, half beast?

One of the main thrusts of the first half of the book is that the managers of Las Vegas sports books are nothing but wimps and sissies. (Actually, the book repeatedly uses a vulgar expletive to characterize the Vegas bookmakers.)

And this might well be the opinion of the author, or Big Daddy or whoever.

That's fine.

But if you're going to level those kinds of charges, come right out and do it. Hiding behind fake names and fabricated details is, at best, a questionable tactic.

I was also taken aback by Big Daddy's indignation, expressed time and again, regarding the casinos' refusal to book his big action.

I'm familiar with plenty of talented bettors who have never been affiliated with a syndicate like the book's Brain Trust, and who are certainly not high rollers, yet who have been shown the door at casinos dozens of times for being "too" skilled at gambling.

So what? It's just business. Big Daddy, of all people, should know that.

As sharp gamblers, it's our job to take the casinos' money (legally) and their job to prevent us from doing so (legally). As professional handicapper Omar Little would say, "It's all in the game, yo."

One character in "The Smart Money" suggests a particular sports book official at Caesars Palace and the MGM Grand was engaging in shenanigans behind the counter that would amount to a serious violation of state law.

Another character, a sports betting Web site operator, is accused of unscrupulous business practices.

Like the Vegas bookmakers, these characters evidently are supposed to represent real people.

If the author has evidence of their alleged misdeeds, great. Bring it on. Let's have it. Cards on the table.

But unless it's a novel, making vague hints about such despicable behavior while hiding behind a shroud of artifice does not serve the book's readers.

If you can get past all the fictionalized stuff, "The Smart Money" is an entertaining tale of the author's tour of duty with a big betting consortium.

Especially in the hands of a gifted writer such as Konik, though, it could have been much more.