This is a story
that defines Bob Martin perfectly as a man of nerve and conviction, the
qualities that make him The Main Man of bookmaking.
Bob Martin is in
effect the commissioner of games betting in America, the David Rockefeller of
odds and spreads. He is an ordinary, pleasant, likable fellow whose word is
taken as gospel by a multibillion-dollar industry.
He has achieved
his status in the free marketplace of betting because he is better than anyone
else at his job. He said one thing that describes his preeminence: "I don't
bet money—I bet faces."
What this means
is that he couldn't care less if you or I walked off the street and wanted to
bet him the mortgage on a football game. He would smile, write the bet down and
stick the mortgage in a drawer. He would not move the line a half point. But,
he said, if a professional, a man whose opinion he respects, bet a couple or
three thousand or more, then and only then might he make an adjustment.
That is profound.
It is the essence of how the line is formed and what makes Bob Martin the last
of the super bookies. Unlike lesser men, who nervously shift the line around,
Martin refuses to be intimidated by public money (except on the Super Bowl,
where the volume is overpowering). He has absolute faith in his own judgment,
refined by a consensus of betting pros and backed by the 11-to-10 odds bookies
get—the vigorish. Just tell him what you want to bet and you're down. He is
willing to take financial risks because he knows that you are likely, over a
period of bets, to stay down.
Martin conjures a
line every Monday evening from a witch's stew of records, power ratings, horned
toads and intuition that includes a feel for how the public backs certain
popular teams—this season the Dolphins, Redskins, Steelers and Packers—called
public teams. That's the only concession he makes to public taste. He has a UPI
sports wire in his office, keeping him abreast of developments (i.e., serious
The final stage:
"I ask myself whether I would bet a game at a number," he said. "I
keep moving the number until I feel I wouldn't bet either side. That's the
The numbers are
exposed to "eight or 10" pros during the day. This is the outlaw line
or the early line or the service line. Martin has a limit (higher than his
competitors) that can be bet into this line at half-point increments (as
bookies universally do). If he makes a game three you can bet it to the limit,
then bet it again at 2� or 3�, as the case may be. This process shakes the line
down to the hard numbers that will be posted for all comers Tuesday.
that the system is imperfect. But nobody has come up with a better one, and it
works—which is all that counts. "I make mistakes," he said. "I
might like a team and stay with my opinion too long. I think I've had about 15
losers in a row on my opinion. Last year we lost quite a bit on football
because there were an unusual number of middles. The numbers we had were too
good, so they weren't good for us."
What he meant by
that was that the biggest danger to the bookie is a game landing right on the
spread, say four, because he might have had bets on 3� one way and 4� the
other. On the weekends, when the pros and betting groups make their big plays,
Martin adjusts the spreads accordingly in a large-scale repeat of the Monday
shakedown. He takes no interstate calls for betting purposes, but it is
altogether possible that bets are relayed to him by local representatives of
groups and individuals from around the country (the same representatives who
early in the week phone out reports of Martin's line and changes).