She Knows the Score

by Kelly McMasters ’05SOA
Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling
By Beth Raymer
Spiegel & Grau, 228 pages, $25
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Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling by Beth RaymerAt 24, Beth Raymer and her dog moved from Florida to Las Vegas for a boy. The frenetic and frizzy-haired adventurer loved the glitz of her new town, and so, even though she and the boy broke up as soon as she arrived, Raymer stayed. To make ends meet, she stayed in a motel in a sleazy neighborhood and took orders at a Thai restaurant owned by the parents of her now ex-boyfriend. When a regular customer — a masseuse named Amy — saw her filling out an application for a cocktail waitress gig at the Stardust, Amy declared those jobs foul and offered to connect Raymer with one of her clients, a professional gambler named Dink.

The fleeting romance, the impulsive move, the sketchy jobs: These are only the first few risks Raymer ’08SOA takes in the fast-paced four years covered in Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling. Although this book starts in Vegas, the gambling Raymer gets involved in is not high-stakes card circles or blackjack tables. Instead, Raymer takes her readers into the seedy world of sports betting, which seems to be more about the obsession — the need to “get down” — than about the wager or winning itself. Through a battery of codes and passwords, money is bet on anything with a score or a winner, including basketball, football, hockey, tennis, as well as Little League games, Miss America pageants, Coney Island hot dog–eating contests, and spelling bees.

Raymer shows up for the job interview in her Converse sneakers and denim miniskirt, bra straps sticking out of her tank top, wondering why a gambler would do business at an office park “alongside divorce lawyers and accountants.” Enter Dink, of Dink, Inc.

A Stuyvesant High math wiz and Jewish bookmaker originally from Queens, Dink is now a professional bet maker in Vegas. He is a large, soft man in his late 40s who, according to Raymer, “dressed like the mentally retarded adults I had met while volunteering at a group home. His Chicago Cubs T-shirt was two sizes too small for his expansive frame. Royal blue elasticized cotton shorts were pulled high above his belly button. White tube socks were stretched to the middle of his pale, hairless shins.” Raymer develops an unlikely crush on Dink, and so does the reader, a tribute to the author’s superb ability to see the diamond inside the coal. Of course, it helps that at his office, “stacks of cash were piled as high as his bottle of Yoo-hoo.”

It is not only the money that woos Raymer. In Florida, she had worked as an in-house stripper and made plenty of green. “Each afternoon, when I awoke, it became my habit to arrange my savings into piles of one thousand dollars and place them atop my bedspread, side by side. The rows of green stretched before me like a lifetime of summers, each one more promising than the last.” After a particularly terrifying scare with a client, Raymer decided the risk wasn’t worth the payoff. Dink, Inc., on the other hand, offers the right combination of thrill and money, along with something else she is missing: kindred spirits.

Even though she is one of the few women working in the field, Raymer falls in easily with Dink’s crew as a good-natured, mothering Wendy to the Lost Boys; only these boys are a band of middle-aged misfits, con artists, and crooks. After she admits to her shady past, Dink joyfully christens her a gonif, “Yiddish for a small-time, lovable thief,” and tells her that Amy, the masseuse who recommended her for the job — and who later breaks into Dink’s office and steals thousands of dollars — had told him, ‘Hire her, she’s one of us.’”

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