It wasn’t the job Beth Raymer took dancing nude in private homes for $150 an hour that gave me pause.
After all, a college graduate in Tallahassee, Florida, might not have many options so remunerative, and as Raymer describes herself in “Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling,” she’s not shy.
I also accepted without much grudging the colorful cast of her first gig with a professional gambler, the 6-foot-4, 280- pound Dink (ne Douglas) Heimowitz of Dink Inc., who has a pet hamster, reads Fuzzy Creatures Quarterly and works with guys named Bobby Nebbish, Fat George and Lobster.
My skeptic’s antennae really twitched, though, when Raymer, fired by Dink because his wife, Tulip, is jealous, decides to take up boxing. She felt she wanted to hit something, and then she discovered a kinship with boxers’ “rugged individualism.”
Naturally, she entered the Golden Gloves -- oh come on. That’s when I hit the Google button, and sure enough, there she was on April 3, 2003, getting creamed by a force of nature named Dominga “La Tormenta” Olivo. There’s also a boxer known as the Psychotic Grasshopper, but never mind.
In “Lay the Favorite” -- which has to do with betting, not bedding -- Raymer traces four years from age 24 of Dickensian picaresque that paints an entertaining view of sports gambling and her own unconventional character.
Her father was a problem gambler who took her to the dog races at the Palm Beach Kennel Club when she was seven. Her job was to check whether any of the dogs in the paddock moved its bowels because her father believed lighter dogs ran faster.
She and her 60-pound Chow Chow, Otis, hook up with Dink while she’s waiting tables in Las Vegas. He shepherds her through the multibillion-dollar world of sports betting and such arcana as an online service that tracks gambling lines and information for all games:
“In fact, Don Best Live Odds did for gamblers and bookmakers what Bloomberg terminals did for hedge-fund managers and stockbrokers. Where Bloomberg streamed stock quotes and the latest financial data, Don Best displayed the latest injury reports and lineup changes.” A shameless plug, I know.
Dink takes her back and they leave Vegas for a stint in Costa Rica. Her other mentor is a “harmless maniac” named Bernard Rose, who weighs 375 pounds and interviews her at a pizzeria in the Long Island, New York, town of Ronkonkoma. She sketches sharp, amusing profiles of both men that reveal a lot about a gambler’s journey.
Bernard eventually sets up an operation in Curacao called ASAP, planning to spend “five years in the vacuum of high- stakes offshore gambling.” Raymer says it’s “like 30 years in any other line of work” because it’s tied to the Internet and runs 24/7. How’s the money?
“ASAP’s biggest win took place over the nine-day span of the 2004 NBA finals. In one of the biggest upsets in basketball history, the Pistons beat the Lakers in five games and we made one and a half million dollars.”
Bad stuff happens, too: A staffer cleans out Bernard, a creep cheats Raymer. She’s tough enough, though, to sort out the deadbeat while scoring 20-large and a trip to Rio for herself. Then, of course, she heads to New York’s Columbia University to score an MFA, a book contract and at least one very positive book review.
It’s on Curacao that my aforementioned antennae got to twitching again when Raymer says she saw an associate named Wladimir “catch a 30-pound, double-penised iguana with his bare hands.” Yeah, I hit the Google button -- and learned what an ignoramus I am about iguanas.
“Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling” is published by Spiegel & Grau (228 pages, $25). To order this book in North America, click here.
(Jeffrey Burke is an editor with Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)