Sinisi's more intuitive approach is far harder to replicate. Either you're born able to do what he does, Ramsey thinks, or you aren't.
Ramsey approaches his own situation with equanimity. "I don't really expect these guys to shade their numbers for me, not yet," he says. "It's satisfying enough for me that I can do this competendy, that I'm making a living making odds." The fact that he's actually making a living answering phones and sending faxes is immaterial to him. In his mind he's on the verge of showing Robaina what he can do. "I really don't feel that I'm that far behind," Ramsey says. "Once in a while I'll be off, maybe a couple of games a weekend. But most of the time I'm right there."
Perhaps Notre Dame-Purdue will be the game that opens Robaina's eyes, but for every game Ramsey pegs, Robaina can point to five numbers Ramsey proposed that would have cost a sports book thousands of dollars—if he were inclined to think of Ramsey at all. While Robaina works on the following week's college games, he monitors the screens with an eye to the second-half lines he has to set as each first half ends. He reviews numbers for the last weekend of the baseball season, and by Sunday afternoon he must finish his NFL picks for the following week. Worrying about the odds-making progress of his phone clerk is a luxury he doesn't have.
Ramsey's the last man on the bench, getting in shape for the coming season, though there's no evidence he'll play in a single game. He set out to be an odds-maker a few years ago because he often traveled down to Tijuana from his San Diego home and won money betting on pro sports. "I'm already getting prepared for pro basketball," he says, still looking at the television screen. "Last week I bought a preseason annual."
By some alignment of cosmic factors that make punt returns go a certain way and defenders miss tackles and perfectly diagrammed plays end imperfectly, Purdue defeats Notre Dame by 23-10, or precisely the 13 points Ramsey predicted.
If nothing else, it indicates that Ramsey understood the relationship between the two teams, at least on a single afternoon in West Lafayette, Ind. He knows it means plenty, but also nothing at all. "I judge myself on line movement," he says, and his line of 13 would have moved down to 10� by midweek. In that sense, it would have been wrong. Yet once the line started moving, all those bets on Notre Dame that kept it moving would have been winners for the casino.
Sinisi, one desk away, has a less complicated reaction. His 14 nudged the line LVSC sent out to 10�, which was a better number to hang—by any reckoning—than Robaina's seven. Sinisi leaves the office feeling satisfied with his day's work. He's approaching 50, and he's not sure how much longer he wants to, as he puts it, "sit in the same room thinking up the same numbers, day after day." Then he recalls how proud his father was that he'd taken the family business into a second generation. At those moments he can't imagine doing anything else.
For Robaina, Notre Dame-Purdue has long since left the radar screen. Where Ramsey was looking for validation and Sinisi for the ending to an intriguing short story, Robaina saw just another number. He's at home now with his wife and daughter, but he barely notices them. He's making the halftime lines on the late college games. Then he has to decide on his final numbers for the Sunday-morning meeting. After that he'll turn his attention to the NFL. It is an endless carousel of kickoffs, tip-offs and first pitches, one game blurring into the next.
As the skies darken over the desert, Robaina takes the sheaf of papers from his briefcase and lays it out on a table. Fifty-two college games to consider next week. He starts his session with his mind blank, knowing little other than that each one has a number hidden somewhere inside, waiting to be found.