LAS VEGAS — The elderly wife of the elderly man yanked the telephone receiver from her husband’s paw.
”I told you guys to stop calling!” she yelled. ”And I told him to stop answering!”
”Ma’am,” Vegas sports tout Noah Parker said, ”I’m just trying to make you guys some money.”
”Don’t ever call again!”
Parker, though, had learned never to take no for an answer. The next day, he called the number. The man answered. The woman wasn’t home.
”Sorry,” he told Parker. ”She saw the credit-card bill.”
Parker shifted into his spiel.
”Understandable, sir,” Parker said. ”Let’s just get some winners tonight.”
Parker had sensed — accurately — that they had established a rapport. The man read a credit-card number.
That was years ago, but the sports-tout song remains the same. Seeking some ”professional” advice about the Packers-Bears battle Sunday or the Illinois-Northwestern hoops game Thursday?
Internet, magazine and radio tout ads abound, often with a Vegas sheen to convey legitimacy. Ring that number, and someone like Parker will answer or call back soon, courtesy of a recording-service trap.
”It’s never gonna go away because sports gambling is never going away,” Parker said. ”I know firsthand it’s all just words, just air. But it’s worked for years. A never-ending cycle of hustle, but we’re just throwing darts at a board.”
TWO PACINOS and A LITTLE LIOTTA
Such touts prey on the desperate, the greenhorns and the gullible. To the rational, the lines are comical. Sports betting, however, grinds without mercy its many irrational mugs into mincemeat.
A nationally syndicated radio spot airs Saturday mornings.
”Turn a grand into $8,000, $10,000 into $80,000, with our three plays. . . . I’m red-hot, hittin’ 85%. . . . Absolutely free. Today is your day. Just call 1-888 . . . ”
Clever characters like Parker lie in wait at that number.
He’s two versions of Al Pacino, whose aggressive Walter Abrams runs a tout hotline in ”Two For The Money” and whose slick Ricky Roma peddles Florida real estate in ”Glengarry Glen Ross,” with a keen Ray Liotta “Goodfellas” voice-over.
”You’re manipulating them: ‘We’re in Vegas, and you’re in Wisconsin. What do you know?’ ” Parker said. ”Any excuse, you have a response ready. As long as they don’t hang up, you’re still reeling them in.”
The monthly package is $2,499, but for you we’ll reduce it to $1,499. Having a bad run, sir? My boss, Parker coos, has OK’d $999.
”Yeah? Cool. We’ll run the card.”
Running that card is the whole game. He would keep 50% of the money he’d generate, get a check every Friday. Two grand was common. He once made $5,000. Some competitors offered 60% or 75% commission rates.
A cubicle-mate once tapped a dowager for a year of selections — at $4,999 — mere weeks after she already had paid that price for that service. The double-dip worked.
Parker made it seem as though he had inside information.
”Football is probably the easiest sport to fix,” he said. ”A ref can throw that flag whenever. In the pros, though, everyone is watching, so I’d stick to unranked college teams — not mid-majors, but not Clemson-Alabama.
”I never said ‘fix.’ I would say, ‘We’re involved.’ I wanted them to think I had influence on the game, so they’d want to buy, even pay more.”
Having provided a winner, he’d ring clients without a play.
”Made it sound as if I knew what I’m doing,” Parker said. ” ‘We’re taking the day off, but tomorrow will be huge!’ They’d be so fired up, just waiting for your call.”
Ensconced in a strip mall, the office had maybe 10 cubicles. A white dry-erase board at the front, names in order of daily money earned. At the end of the week, the top name got a $50 bonus. Parker never got it.
”A guy next to me, Johnny, maybe 5-2 and 145 pounds soaking wet, knew nothing about sports,” Parker said. ”He’d say, ‘The Atlanta team.’ Didn’t even know they were the Falcons, but he could [expletive] sell. His name always topped that board. He’d say, ‘I know howda sell, howda talk these guys into buyin’ packages.’ That’s all that mattered.”
A GOOD HUSTLE
Born in New York, Parker moved to Vegas with his family. After graduating high school in the wake of 9/11, he entered the Marines to settle scores. Not yet 18, a parent had to co-sign his enlistment papers. He settled many scores in the Middle East.
He returned to Vegas and drifted between menial gigs. A friend recommended he turn his sports passion and knowledge into a living.
Twenty-three when he started, he was handed a list of leads — people who either had made that call or, even better, had a purchasing record — and a sheet of introductory lines.
Nothing more. No five-star selections or a featured triple-platinum play of the day. The boss laughed, telling Parker, ”We just give you the leads, and you go to work.”
Parker shook his head.
”Nobody knew [expletive],” he said.
After two penniless weeks, he started concocting counters to excuses and developed fictitious company names, such as G and L (Good and Lucky), Vegas Sports and Vegas’s Finest.
He got lazy, relying on repeat clientele instead of chumming for new business. The shenanigans became boring. Today Parker, 36, supports himself and two young children as a professional sports bettor.
He addressed guilt before I broached the subject.
”I did start feeling like I was almost stealing,” he said. ”I’d think, ‘Man, I might be screwing up this guy’s life.’ But I got a winner tonight, and I want you to play it! I was just trying to pay the rent.
”Others were making so much more money than me, you throw all that conscience [expletive] out. It’s a good hustle. It works.”
Anyone pondering making that call for the Surefire Viva Las Vegas Special should heed Parker’s sage counsel.
”Eventually, you’ll want to change your phone number,” he said. ”Everybody will have it. Don’t get involved. You’ll save yourself time, money and hassle.”