What is a Bookie?

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Before states legalized online sports betting, individuals who wanted to place bets on games needed someone to facilitate their bets. That person was known as a bookie.

Bookies were necessary prior to 2018 when the US Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), a reversal that granted states the authority to decide how to handle sports betting. Since that landmark decision, more than 30 states have enacted laws to handle the newfound freedoms regarding betting.

What did bookies do before PASPA was overturned? Are bookies still in business? These questions and more are answered below.

What Do Bookies Do?

Bookies were individuals who accepted bets either over the phone, face-to-face with bettors, or even online. While this activity was often against the law, bookies were often the only source individuals had for placing bets. To profit from this, bookies charge a fee—known as a vigorish—that they “held” from winnings bets for accepting the bet.

Additionally, bookies set the odds for a given bet and accepted the risk of losing money on these bets. If a bookie set the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears point spread at 10 points, for example, the bookie would want nearly equal amounts of bets on both sides of the point spread.

Because you wouldn’t win as much as you bet on a 50/50 bet (due to the vig), bookies would make money as long as they didn’t have a ton of money coming in on the side of the bet that ended up winning.

In the example above, if all of the bets recorded were for Chicago to cover the point spread, the bookie would owe the winnings to bettors and potentially stand to lose a significant chunk of change. If Miami covered, conversely, then the Dolphins’ win would be a windfall for the bookie.

Do Bookies Still Exist Today?

In states with legal sports betting, many bookies have likely closed shop, though there are surely some still around. Bookies remain common in states without legal betting as well as the many offshore books that operate in countries outside of the U.S.

In states with legal sports betting, some successful bookies may have transitioned from accepting bets as a side hustle to working for legitimate sportsbooks where they can utilize their line-setting skills. Former bookies can now work with sportsbooks, continuing to set odds as they had in the past.

With nearly two dozen states permitting mobile or online sports wagering now or in the immediate future, individuals can place bets securely with a legal online sportsbook on their mobile device, largely eliminating the need for a bookie.