“I could add an agent to the book with the click of a button, without ever putting down their name or contact information,” S said. “It felt safer for everyone that way, and gave off the mirage of invincibility.”
S was introduced to one of the bigger ‘backs’ in the college gambling scene by a mutual friend. The ‘back of the book’ is the person involved that puts up the most collateral in order to get the process started.
S said the Ohio-based back was looking to expand his operation into UNC, and the connections S had to students at Carolina, enthusiasts across the country and a fleet of "trust fund babies in NY" made him a perfect addition.
“It was mostly a business relationship,” S said. “We would make fun of the kids who were betting on Japanese baseball at 3 a.m., and get hyped up when a good week hit us. The downside was collecting money from your friends, which is never fun.”
Collecting debts, one of the most volatile parts of the industry, was difficult for S and his team. Not only were they stationed at different universities across the country, but they were also dealing with clients remotely.
“We alternated from Apple Pay, Venmo and the Cash App to dampen the steam of money going in and out of each agent’s account each week,” S said.
The meticulous process was designed to avoid detection by law enforcement. Additionally, all of the descriptions for the private transactions had names like “Rent,” or “LSAT Tutoring,” S said.
There were close calls; when a student across the country refused to pay his debt, S and the others threatened to contact his parents if he didn't pay. The student responded by threatening to call the police. Sometime after that, the back had his Venmo account frozen, but nothing ever came of it, S said.
S and his counterparts were more worried about money being left “on the street,” or unpaid debts, than they were about the legal ramifications. The most destructive debt-dodger they dealt with ultimately fled the country to avoid paying his losses.
“He bet big the first week, lost about $800. He paid in full,” S said. But the next week, the situation spiraled out of control.
“He lost over two grand, then he sent me $100,” S said. “He skipped town, changed his number, couldn't find a trace a trace of him on social media. No one knew where he went.”
Months went by until the bookkeepers heard rumors that the debtor was working on cruise ships in Mexico.
“I had no way to get that money other than politely asking or tracking him down,” S said. “If gambling is legal, then it’s pretty easy to get your money left on the street.”
Tales of skipped tabs and broken kneecaps illustrate the benefits of bringing the dark-world trade of sports betting into the mainstream. With the looming authority of the legal system in their corner, legal bookies will soon no longer have to resort to drastic measures to collect their under-the-table debts.
As for the rest of the institutions that will be impacted by the Supreme Court’s landmark decision — the athletes, universities and state economies — most of the expected developments are speculative. One thing, however, is widely agreed upon: People were betting on sports while it was illegal, and people will bet on sports once the states legalize it.
Steve Kirschner, the senior associate athletic director for communications at UNC, said that although the road ahead is unclear, UNC is no stranger to conversations about this issue.
Kirschner said the University was working on ways to protect the integrity of the game before the Court made sports gambling legal, and it will continue to do so as states individually legalize the industry. One of the complicating factors, he said, is that the ACC incorporates schools from many states, some of which plan on legalizing sports gambling quickly. Other states in the conference, like North Carolina, intend on taking their time before making a decision.
“The concern is already there,” Kirschner said. “We’ll see how this affects peoples’ attitudes.”
The athletes themselves are already being coached not to involve themselves in any aspect of the enterprise. Brooks Langley, a UNC sophomore who played wide receiver on the 2017 UNC football team, recalled a seminar hosted by the NCAA in which they explicitly forbade the athletes from gambling on sports.
"There's an NCAA course you have to go through, where you make an agreement that you won’t bet on anything as a college athlete," Langley said. "You know people are betting on it regardless of what the Supreme Court rules."
These seminars are part of the NCAA’s efforts to protect the game’s integrity, and accompany other rule-based information sessions hosted by both the NCAA and individual teams.
Timothy Crothers, a former senior writer at Sports Illustrated and lecturer in the UNC School of Media and Journalism, said he sees an opportunity for sports gambling to become a societal merit, like the lottery, a form of gambling that helps raise money for education.
“If we can figure out a way to make sports betting a benefit to the general public in some way, then I think it actually becomes a positive,” Crothers said.