And even a perfect number, a number beyond reproach, may not be good enough. One midweek injury, one feature story in a national magazine that raises the public's awareness of a significant player, one sighting of a quarterback carousing, throws a wrench into all those careful calculations. Yet even those imponderables won't reduce the odds-maker's responsibility. The line the casino bean counters care about most is the bottom one.
Such is the pressure on Robaina day after day. No wonder he has come to trust computer models and statistics. No wonder Roxy is in Thailand right now, sitting on some beach, dabbling in Internet wagering on cricket and counting his money. Robaina thinks about this. He'd cash out too, if he had the chance.
Inside his house in a gated Las Vegas subdivision, Sinisi keeps a photo of his father on his desk. Tony Sinisi Sr., a moon-faced man with a beaming smile, looks natty in a Miami restaurant alongside men called Fat Mikey, Chew and Billy Bell. For his son, the photo encapsulates the old man's life.
After Little Tony moved west and became an oddsmaker—turned the family business legitimate, in a sense—he went back to Altoona for visits. In the years before Big Tony died, he would greet his son with a hug. "Picking any winners?" the old man would say, and his eyes would twinkle. Looking back, Little Tony remembers those moments as the happiest of his life.
These days Sinisi is the only guy at LVSC for whom oddsmaking is a romantic profession. On a hot Saturday morning, cars roll toward Lake Mead as if in a caravan, but Sinisi doesn't mind going to work. His stepkids are grown, his wife is a mortgage loan officer. If he were home, he'd probably be watching the games anyway.
He walks into the building, past a display of random sports artifacts in the lobby. There's a genuine Mickey Mantle hat but also an autographed picture of former Los Angeles Lakers coach Randy Pfund. A publicity photo of the 1977 Marquette men's basketball team, dolled up in tuxedos and positioned around an antique roadster, is hung next to David Humm's old Oakland Raiders jersey. It's as if someone wanted to send the message that, though the handicapper and the fan watch the same sports, they see the world through different eyes. If Mantle's hat is the World Series, the fading glossy of Pfund is that Brown-Dartmouth game. To an oddsmaker they deserve equal billing. Every game is a challenge to find the right number, nothing more.
Inside the LVSC offices, pennants of various college and professional teams are arranged along one wall in a halfhearted attempt at decorating. If not for the 11 televisions on the far wall, this could be the sports department of a medium-size daily newspaper. Four oddsmakers are here on this Saturday morning, ostensibly working at their computers but really watching games. The men who handicap college football are trying to spot something that might help predict next week's results. They're also rooting for themselves. Though they know that the purpose of a betting line is not merely to predict the outcome of a game, they have no other way to judge their work.
Sinisi, who takes special note when his number differs markedly from those of the other oddsmakers, will watch Notre Dame-Purdue this afternoon, but not really because he wants to prove himself right. He's just curious, is all. He feels sure Purdue will win by more than 10 points. He feels it in his bones, as his father would have said.
Purdue takes a 10-0 lead over Notre Dame, which then kicks a field goal to pull within a touchdown, Robaina's original spread. Robaina is too busy to acknowledge this; it's just one game out of many. But when Ramsey, scheduled to work the late shift, walks through the door more than an hour early, his eyes turn immediately to the television. He'd been watching the game at his house, which is just a couch and a couple of beds away from being unfurnished, and he came in to see the second half. "There's obviously a little bit of ego involved in this," he says. He pauses to watch Purdue's quarterback throw toward an open receiver, then grimaces when the pass goes awry. "Actually, a tremendous amount of ego."
Ramsey wants nothing more than to succeed at his chosen profession. He wants it more than he wants a girlfriend or a new car, and consciously or not, he is modeling himself after the most successful oddsmaker he knows. He has grown a goatee like Robaina's, has taken to eating lunch at the Mexican restaurant Robaina eats at. What Robaina does is deceptively simple, like Hemingway's writing. It takes hard work and years of experience, but there is nothing mystical about it.