Michael Konik might have been best known for two previous books related to gambling–“The Man With the $100,000 Breasts and Telling Lies and Getting Paid”. He could have been recognized more for the fact that he was the first to do a live TV commentary on poker. Some folks recognized him as a musical talent. But now that he has written an interesting memoir titled “The Smart Money: How The World’s Best Sports Bettors Beat the Bookies Out of Million” (360 pages, hard bound $26), he’s sure to be known as the man who wrote about the kind of life that dreams are made of.
Wannabe world-famous sports bettors with visions of betting games, sleeping until noon, then riding massive adrenalin rushes will stagger with delight as Konik describes a roller coaster ride of action by a team of big plungers that wagered big and won bigger beginning at the latter part of the 1900s and ending in 2000.
Readers who are “in the know” might get a little frustrated because they must guess who Konik is dealing with as a betting team partner or a sportsbook persona, because with few exceptions, he’s changed the names of virtually everyone the betting group dealt with or placed bets with. My hunch is the publisher’s lawyers got nervous and moved wary fingers side to side with some fears of lawsuits. However, the New York Times did get Las Vegan Billy Walters to admit he is one of the main characters (identified as “Big Daddy” Rick Matthews) and took away some guess work. Perhaps the decision to change names had implications since the book was delayed about a year from its first announcement in Publishers Weekly magazine. Back then, the author was identified only as the mysterious number 44. Come to find out, that was a nickname from Konik’s past.
Of course most of the people who are outside and now looking in probably wouldn’t know the principle characters anyway so the name changing won’t be that much of a bother to them.
Now Matthews (Walters) is clearly a power to deal with in Las Vegas. In another book titled “Gambling Wizards”, he let it all hang out in a question-answer format on how he has operated and what made him the success he is in virtually everything he’s ventured into-and that’s too much to bring forth here.
“To the gambling cognoscenti, Rick Mathews is no rumor. He’s credited as the emperor of an operation that inspires fear in bookies and jealousy in aspiring professional punters,” Konik says. “He’s the Michael Jordan of the wagering business, a man to whom the clichÅ½ ‘living legend’ may be applied without embarrassment. One man moves the Vegas line. One man influences the way millions of people bet on sports. One man is a celebrity in a milieu otherwise devoid of stars,”
Konik describes how he met the man and how he gained his trust, how he learned the rules (including being allowed to bet some of his money with the man’s picks), and how the “Brain Trust” (the group’s nickname) functioned. Along the way he introduces guys like Eric “Jox” Brijox, …the man who creates the Las Vegas line…and former statistician with a major aerospace concern” who doesn’t like Matthews and explains why. We’re guessing that Brijox was a mover and shaker in Las Vegas Sports Consultants. But again, that kind of information matters only to those close to the story.
Konik begins surfing with big bucks on the highest waves he can find, wondering if he can get $30,000 (or more) down in sportsbooks. (If memory serves me correctly this must have been the last of the Golden Days of sports betting, when the biggest sportsbooks still allowed big wagers. For the most part, those days are gone, with offshore operations taking the bigger action.)
The book has some smart and appropriate comments about how the Las Vegas sportsbooks have actually chased the big action to the Caribbean and Central America, and it provides some fascinating insight about how the big boys bet (football and basketball) and why.
Konik has a fantastic memory and I’m sure he kept a remarkably detailed diary, as most good writers do, because the detail here is tightly woven and intricately laced together. I like the way he describes the action, but he frustrates me on who’s who. He is visiting “the boss man at Bally’s” who he called Jay Muccio, and at the MGM Grand he’s introduced by the host to “Lenny Dip, the sportsbook manager.” Later there’s mention of”John Trotter, the sports book manager at the Mirage” and “Super Moe” from the Hilton. Repeating the line from the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid seems appropriate here: “Who are those guys?” As I said, this is a personal frustration and it probably won’t even cross the minds of readers who wouldn’t necessarily recognize the real names anyway.
This book provides a rare glimpse inside a unique, sometimes strange world of new generation pleasure-seekers and it deserves to be read by today’s players.