The million-dollar weekend

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:40 AM ET

When bookmakers had the sports wagering market in Edmonton cornered 25 years ago, the underground world was fascinating.

"There were times when we were following groups of bookmakers and we had every telephone in the LRT (stations) hooked up and every telephone in the Hudson's Bay building hooked up," said a retired member of the Edmonton Police Service bookmaking investigation squad, who asked to remain anonymous.

"We pretty much had the downtown core (tapped) and the ability to intercept private communication."

But that was only one part of the cat and mouse game between police and bookies.

"The only approval we had to intercept calls was when the bookies were on the phone, so we had to do actual surveillance (of the bookmakers) to make sure we weren't intercepting somebody's private communication," continued the former officer.

From pay phone to pay phone, the game continued until police had enough evidence to bust the illegal gambling rings.

But those underground days are gone.

The invention of cellphones and e-mail killed that era.

But one fact still remains: bookmakers are still doing a brisk business in Edmonton.

Even though there are more than 200 online sportsbooks on a computer near you, money is still being wagered illegally through bookies.

"Bigger players aren't putting up money. If you want to bet $50,000 on the weekend, are you going to send $50,000 to an Internet site?" said one local bookmaker, who has barely noticed a difference in his business in the last few years.

"That site might vanish."

Bookmakers typically don't take money before a bet is made.

And in this market, the NFL is the most popular choice among bettors.

"I take $100,000 on a regular NFL weekend," continued the bookie, who asked to remain anonymous.

"Collectively, the bookies in Edmonton take a million (dollars) on an NFL weekend."

That means almost $20 million is wagered in this city during an NFL season.

But down the road in Calgary - where there is a bigger and richer pool of gamblers - the numbers are even bigger.

"I guarantee you the action that is handled in Calgary is double or triple what is handled here," he continued.

Overall, this bookmaker takes up to $150,000 in "action" a week, meaning more than a whopping $500,000 a month.

It's a part-time job that can produce big cheques or big headaches.

"The biggest year I ever had was $160,000 (in profit)," he explained.

"But one year I lost $100,000."

In the business for more than 20 years, he has had a variety of rich clients in the West.

These days, this middle-aged family man laughs about the time he was involved in a police sting and shows no fear about being caught again.

And he says he's confident there are no ties to organized crime in the illegal wagering market in this city.

"I take my clients out at Christmas and have wine," he blurted with a chuckle.


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