While other kids his age were perfecting their baseball swing, “The Sultan” was drawing to an inside straight.
Gambling has always been in his blood.
These days, he’s still watching baseball, but most likely as a split-screen on the computer he uses to take and make sports bets. Indeed, even though sports betting is now legal in Pennsylvania, there’s still plenty of work for an old-school bookie.
We at PW aren’t using The Sultan’s real name because, well, he doesn’t want to get busted. We recently caught up with him to talk the ins and outs – and it’s really the outs for most people – of sports betting.
But first, some background.
“I’ve been playing poker and gambling since I was about 10, whenever the movie ‘Rounders’ came out,” he said, referring to the 1998 film starring Matt Damon and Ed Norton as New York City poker cheats. “I would just, like, organize neighborhood poker games. My uncle was a book, and I didn’t really know what was going on, but I was very good at math, so he would show me shit.”
He felt right at home by the time he hit high school, as poker was all the rage with national networks broadcasting tournaments. Parlay cards were popular then, too. You know, the cards where you pick a few teams, drop $5 and hope to hit it “big.”
“So like we all did that shit, and sports gambling,” he said. “I’ve just always been into sports and gambling. It’s almost like I have a knack for it. It’s hard to explain, but I’ve just always known gambling.”
Fast-forward to today, and The Sultan has taken a lot of what he learned back then and applied it to his present-day work. He is ready, willing and able to satisfy your craving for sports betting. But first, of course, you have to meet him – not easy to do, given he’s not the type to put up billboards along I-95.
“Now is a weird time because [sports gambling] is openly accepted,” he said. “Before I was doing parlay cards. Like nobody could pick a parlay when you’re that young because you just pick favorites. But parlay cards, that’s where it kind of starts for almost everybody. So it’s like word of mouth. The perfect example is my roommate from college. He has never gambled because he’s been into fantasy football, and now he’s into it because it’s legal. So I think it’s pretty weird for me, but essentially it’s just word of mouth. If I know two or three people who say you’re cool, we’ll start small and kind of go from there.”
People don’t realize you’re going to lose more than 40 percent of your bets even if you’re really fucking good.– South Philly bookmaker, “The Sultan”
“It’s more like if they know two or three people I know, they ain’t going anywhere,” the Sultan continued. “I mean, just make sure they got a good job. I meet up with them and talk it out. You know they can pay up and you don’t let them off the leash at first. As long as they can pay up, it’s pretty easy to get the money. I never really had a problem. Money would disappear here and there. But those are like the people who have lost their lives, right? Or like just gave up on life.”
The Sultan’s busiest time of the year is from mid-October through the Super Bowl. It makes sense – college basketball and football, the NFL, NHL and NBA are all in season at that time.
Oh, and Premier League soccer. No, that’s not a typo.
“Bookies get a lot of soccer action because, if you’re a degenerate gambler, it’s on when you wake up,” The Sultan explained. “The Premier League is on [by] 7 or 8 a.m. Sunday morning. So if you’re waking up, and you may have lost last night or you’re trying to keep everything going, you throw out a few bets here and there. A lot of people are into soccer now, like a lot.”
But some people have no clue about betting soccer. Like three-way betting (win, lose, draw), among other options.
“If they don’t know what that is, then I know they’re just throwing like pasta on the wall and seeing if it sticks,” The Sultan said.
All that sounds well and good, but legalized betting has to be a threat to The Sultan’s business model, right? There are sportsbooks at casinos, apps and many, legal ways to make bets.
Not so fast.
“Last week, I probably took in $130,000 in bets [also known as the handle],” he explained. “I don’t have any whales (people who make super big bets), but when you get a whale, who knows what it could get to? If I had a whale, it could get to over 300 grand.”
But why? Why would anyone go to The Sultan instead of a casino’s sportsbook or an app?
“Online gambling and casinos are basically kinda like the weed clubs now,” The Sultan said. “Everyone’s gonna go at first because the novelty is new, it’s legal. But once they realize you gotta put up money every game, they’re out. They may last two weeks, but you go bust. If you don’t have the credit line and kind of like the payment plan and type deal, and you put up $400 every game, if you lose three, you’re done.”
The bookmakers saving grace according to The Sultan? Credit.
“The credit line is why bookies will always be around,” he explains. “Say somebody wins or loses two grand. A lot of times on bounce-back week, I’ll wait, collect half, and then see what happens [the following] week.”
But sometimes even the best lose. The Sultan’s biggest loss was the Eagles-Patriots Super Bowl. A double whammy for him, since he also “hates the Eagles.”
“The local thing is no joke,” he said when talking about clients who like to bet the home teams. Emotional betters “The run they went on was a real killer because it was followed by [Villanova winning the NCAA Tournament in March 2018]. So once you combine two [big games] with people hitting every fucking time and bailing out, it gets expensive, yeah.”
So what percentage of The Sultan’s clients actually win on a consistent basis?
“Not many,” he said. “If somebody is winning with me, I’m like, ‘what do you know? Let’s split some bets and find a big book.’”
And why don’t more people win? After all, the experts say you only have to hit 52.5 percent of your bets to turn a profit, even if you’re playing with -110 on the line, or the “vig” (aka, the “juice,” “cut” or “take” a sportsbook makes by never, ever offering even odds on a game).
“People don’t realize you’re going to lose more than 40 percent of your bets even if you’re really fucking good,” The Sultan said.
No, people lose money because they don’t manage their money, bet too often and, in a nutshell, they make stupid bets.
We’ll explain that last one in a bit.
“The credit line is why bookies will always be around. Say somebody wins or loses two grand. A lot of times on bounce-back week, I’ll wait, collect half, and then see what happens [the following] week.”– South Philly bookmaker, “The Sultan
“The mismanagement of money is the biggest one for sure because once [they’re in], people just start going crazy,” said The Sultan. “Then they try to make up for it. This time of year is like the [NCAA] holiday tournaments before conference play. People were betting on [teams like] the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. I just laugh because you know they’re just throwing darts at a dartboard hoping it hits. A 2 p.m. game? They need action. There’s a huge difference between needing action or like having a long-term plan of like, ‘hey, there’s nothing I like, I won’t take it tonight.’ Like most, if they play a game every day, they’re not going to win.
The other prevailing mistake?
“The volume of the bets [people] place is second,” he said. During an average NFL week, “I would only really make five big plays. If you don’t like a game, just don’t play it. There’s always gonna be another game, literally nonstop. It does not stop. That’s the best way to put it. There always will be another day.”
And, finally, the stupid bets.
“Trying to hit nine games (out of nine games in a parlay) is just ridiculous,” he said. “I think Twitter affected that a lot. Because people see some jerkoff hit like a 20-team parlay and they want to go do it, but they just can’t.
“The people who are trying to bet like the five, six- and 17-team parlays will go to (casino sportsbooks) because no bookie will accept that shit. Because it’s like playing the lotto, essentially. You know, going to Sugarhouse is hysterical because everyone is trying to bet a parlay. They actually have a line for single bets. Go sometime on a Wednesday afternoon – nothing is fucking funnier to see.”
“I think betting is going to have a bad rap [in the next] five years or so. They (the Twitter and other media “experts”) don’t show a ticket. They don’t prove it. Twitter is bad because a lot of people, they never show their real record. They just post every night but don’t prove their bet at all. Which is very alarming. it’s like the end of Prohibition, everyone wants to make a rum or a liquor.”
For most people who make these mistakes, it doesn’t end well.
“Most people who are gamblers, they want the instant gratification and don’t have the patience and kind of psyche to lose,” he said. “I’ve never seen more people want to bet than this year. It’s crazy. Since high school, I couldn’t really talk to people about this shit. Now it’s like everyone I know is betting like $5, $10 bucks or whatever. In a year, it will be $50 to $100.
So if you want to try your hand or you’re already on a bookmaker’s card, what’s the ideal amount to bet to ensure you aren’t putting a fist through a wall?
“[People] should bet two-to-three percent of their bankroll. Maybe three percent at most. If you don’t do that, once you’re down, you’re just going to go, like in a poker tournament, on tilt and throw it all on a Patriots money line or something crazy with such bad odds.”