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Lay the Favorite ()

What Are The Odds? A Book About Bookies

Jun 21, 2010 (All Things Considered)

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Beth Raymer's new memoir, Lay the Favorite, is about guys sitting in front of computer screens, placing bets, playing the odds and living it up. But it doesn't take place on Wall Street — it takes place in Vegas, Curacao, Costa Rica and the high-stakes world of sports betting.

Not long out of college in Florida, Raymer 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 other than what they do. Their gambling is barely on this side of the law, and sometimes not.

In Lay The Favorite, Raymer recounts her experiences working at a variety of different betting agencies including one office in Las Vegas, where she spent her time between the madcap offices and casinos where she made bets on her boss' behalf.

"A day in the life of the office was really hectic," Raymer tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "September would be NFL, U.S. Open, the [baseball] pennant race, preseason hockey, college football."

She says all that on top of her boss' online poker habit made it so "there was always a lot of action" in the office.

After Las Vegas, Raymer moved to Curacao in the Caribbean to work for the All Serious Action Players, an offshore betting office run by a man who, like her former boss, had run into trouble with the law and tried to go straight. He soon found he couldn't stand the boredom and monotony of legal employment, and quickly went back into gambling.

Raymer recalls the nonchalance with which the All Serious Action Players dealt with massive amounts of money — even recording bets of over $10,000 by scribbling them down on paper plates.

"There's just hundreds of bets being made, where everyone has different accents," she says. "There's guys from Philadelphia, there's the Curacaoans who have heavy Caribbean accents — and so there's a lot of mistakes."

Raymer's layered insight into the world of gambling is pulled directly from the life she lived in the sports betting industry. She says that because she was never really attracted by the prospect of stable employment, she had a lot in common with the people she writes about.

"If there's an addiction explored in my book, it's the addiction to living a life of endless possibility," she says.

But Raymer admits to a contradiction between this kind of addiction and the certitude of the book's title — a gambling term for betting on the team most likely to win.

"The title's kind of ironic, I guess, because it's saying invest yourself in the outcome that appears most certain," she says, "and I and the people in my book have an almost pathological aversion to certainty."

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