Do Underground Bookies Still Exist?

Underground Bookies With Money And Sportsbetting

Underground bookies have been portrayed in many movies and TV shows. They’re usually stereotyped as a middle-aged mobster who sends goons out to break legs and collect debts.

However, the sports betting industry has changed greatly over the past few decades. First off, both regulated and unregulated online sportsbooks take bets. They provide a convenient option for sports gamblers. Many states have also legalized land-based sportsbooks. The fall of PASPA paved the way for each state to decide if they want legal sports betting.

With so many options now available, you might wonder if underground betting even exists today. I’ll explore this topic below while discussing more on how the industry has changed.

How Do Underground Bookmakers Operate?

To answer the title question of this post, yes, illegal bookies do still exist to some degree. However, their existence doesn’t just revolve around the mob these days. Here are the multiple ways that underground bookmaking works today.

Traditional Method

As commonly dramatized by Hollywood, mobsters are involved in illegal sports betting. They don’t have as big of a hand in it as they once did, but there are still mob-style operations.

  • An oddsmaker sits at the top of the hierarchy. They set the odds on whatever games they’re offering. They typically rely on Vegas to get these odds.
  • A manager sits beneath the oddsmaker. They manage the bookmaking action in a certain part of the city or region.
  • The bookies are the ones who actually deal with the gamblers. They inform clients on the given odds and available matches, collect money from losers, and pay winners.

This whole structure is designed to keep the oddsmaker separate from the bookies. If a bookie goes down, they don’t have any information on who’s at the top of the pyramid.


Not every illegal bookmaking operation needs to be extensive. Individuals can also run an underground betting operation.

Please Note:
These people can range from a college student to a retiree. The keys are that they get clients, have the capital to cover wins and be able to collect money.

Individual bookies must be careful, though, to not overextend themselves. They risk not being able to pay clients back when giving out too much credit.

Pay Per Head

Some individuals, or even slightly larger operations, want to run their bookmaking operations online. Of course, developing online betting software and marketing it is extremely expensive.

This is where pay-per-head operations come into play.

This model sees a bookie send their clients to an online betting site.

The clients will then place bets on the site.
The bookie, meanwhile, makes payouts and collects losses in person like normal. In exchange for the convenience of using an online betting site’s services, the bookmaker will pay a flat fee per client. For example, they might pay the website $10 per client a week.

Offshore Sportsbooks Are the Main Game in Town

The internet opened up new possibilities for the sports betting world in the 1990s. No longer were bookies completely confined to acting as individuals or running mob-style operations.

Instead, some bookmakers moved to countries like Antigua, Belize, and Costa Rica. They started offshore online sportsbooks and began serving the US and other countries. Offshore bookmakers have since become the top option for sports gamblers in unregulated markets. They give people an avenue to place bets in the absence of licensed options.

Unlicensed betting sites have reduced the reliance on underground bookies. Again, the latter still exists to a degree, but they’re not as common due to the availability of online sports gambling.

Licensed Sportsbooks Are Becoming More Common

As mentioned before, more and more states are beginning to operate regulated sports betting markets. They now offer popular licensed brands, such as BetMGM, DraftKings, FanDuel, and William Hill.

These sportsbooks are completely legal and regulated by the local gaming governing body. They’re also allowed to advertise through mainstream channels because they’re legal.

In turn, many gamblers feel safe when betting with regulated sites. They feel that they’ll get a fair shake because they’re dealing with legal entities. The same bettors are far less likely to seek out illegal bookies.

Reasons Why Underground Bookies Are Still Around

Offshore sportsbooks and regulated betting sites have become the most-popular ways to place wagers. However, illegal bookies are still hanging around for the following reasons.

Bettors Can Gamble on Credit

You can’t ask an online sportsbook to extend your credit.

Instead, you must place a deposit before making any wagers.

A land-based sportsbook may grant you credit if you’re a high roller. Largely speaking, though, they’re not going to extend you this courtesy either.

Underground bookmakers are usually the only option for betting on credit. They get to know clients to gain a feel for how much credit they can extend. When dealing with the average sports gambler, for example, they might offer up to a $500 credit line.

Sports bettors, meanwhile, enjoy this convenience. They can place wagers and settle all the potential losses at a later date.

Lower Vig

In some cases, illegal bookies take less vig (a.k.a. juice) from the losing side of the bet. For example, they might only collect 8% or 9% vig, versus the more common 10%, on a point spread or totals bet.

Every sports gambler appreciates having a stronger chance to win money.

They’ll enjoy better long-term odds when not having to pay as much juice on losses.

Personal Touch

The stereotype surrounding illegal bookmakers is that they’re quick to crack skulls when they aren’t paid. However, this scenario often isn’t the case.

Please Note:
Underground bookies would quickly run out of clients if they broke everybody’s legs for paying late. Instead, they try developing a personal touch with their customers.

First, they get to know whom they’re dealing with. This familiarity gives them an idea on how much credit to extend.

Assuming a gambler falls behind on their debts:
The bookmaker doesn’t immediately send goons to harm them. Instead, they’ll likely set up a payment plan so they can get their money back. The idea is to retain a lifetime customer rather than bankrupting and beating somebody right away.

All things said, illegal bookmakers and their clients often form a personal relationship. This relationship can keep one betting more often than if they were just dealing with a faceless betting site.

Will Underground Bookies Always Exist to Some Extent?

Sports betting is moving online. Even the licensed land-based sportsbooks outside of Las Vegas don’t do incredible business compared to their online counterparts.

Many people prefer the convenience of placing bets through smartphone apps. They don’t typically enjoy the same convenience with underground bookies.

As mentioned before, some underground operations do set up websites. However, these sites aren’t exactly sophisticated apps that gain mainstream attention.

Please Note:
Despite the lack of an online presence, illegal bookies do figure to exist in some form or another. They stand out from the crowd by offering credit to the average bettor.

Betting sites never offer credit to sports gamblers. Land-based sportsbooks only offer this courtesy when dealing with specific high rollers.

As long as illegal bookmakers are offering credit, then they figure to exist in some way.

They also have a good chance at retaining longtime clients due to their personal relationships.

Offshore Sportsbooks Aren’t Going Away Either

Much like underground bookmakers, offshore betting sites offer unique advantages. They don’t have to pay the same heavy licensing fees as regulated counterparts. As a result, they can offer lower vig and/or more promotions to bettors.

Bovada and BetUS are some of the long-time offshore sportsbooks that have thrived. They provide betting to many parts of the US that don’t have regulated options.

Furthermore, long-time offshore sportsbooks usually have good reputations. Even though they’re not regulated, they can be trustworthy operators. They try instilling some level of trust so that they’re able to draw repeat business.


Up until the 1990s, people didn’t have many options for placing sports bets. They either had to visit Las Vegas or find an underground bookie. The internet has largely changed how the bookmaking industry operates. Now, you can quickly place a mobile bet through a regulated or unregulated betting site.

Please Note:
This convenience has largely diminished the underground bookmaking industry. Nevertheless, illegal bookies still exist to some extent.

They stand apart from online sportsbooks by offering credit. They also typically develop long-term relationships with customers. These factors ensure that underground bookies should continue existing into the foreseeable future.

About the Author
Rick Rockwell profile picture
Rick Rockwell
Sports/Casino Writer
Blog and News
Rick has been a professional writer for over 14 years with an extensive resume spanning projects and clients from around the world. But, his passions have always been sports and sports betting. Whether it’s being a credentialed media member to major sporting events, climbing into a racecar or a pro wrestling ring, Rick’s sports and sports betting knowledge, passion and versatility is on display with each article he writes for TSG.

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