Beth Raymer sat huddled in the corner of a stranger's locked bathroom as he waved a shotgun outside the door. She had come to the house as an in-home stripper, and now the experience had taken a turn toward the surreal. Terrified, she sat wondering if her next breath would be her last.
"I get bored easily, and I knew myself well enough to know that if I continued to be a social worker or any job like that, I would just continue to be fired or unhappy."
She escaped with her life that night in Florida, but the eventindelible as it may have beendid not immediately release her from the clutches of the fast cash and adrenaline highs afforded by the perilous occupation. Instead, Raymer stayed in the business, eventually landing a gig as a nude online model. She parlayed that into a career running her own website, until, on a whim, she left Florida to head out west for life, with a man she'd just met.
The relationship fizzled in Las Vegas, and Raymer soon found herself with a job that combined the rush of fast cash with ever-present danger. This time, though, she was mired in the high-stakes world of professional gambling, where she would see hundreds of thousands of dollars changing hands each day.In Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling, Raymer relates her story with staggering honesty, sharing with readers details of her life that even her family members have yet to hear: from her irreverent life in Florida as a college graduate, to Vegas, where she works under the tutelage of Dink Heimowitz, a gambling savant. She bounces from Vegas to New York City to the Caribbean and back to New York, leading a thrilling life all the while.
In the following interview, conducted by phone and edited for clarity, Raymer discusses misperceptions related to the gambling world, the difficulties of working therein, and her own rebellious nature.
Gelf Magazine: The book's subtitle is "A Memoir of Gambling," which is obviously a layered term. You've done a lot of risky things, I'd say. Was there a catalyst to write this all down? Did a time come when you thought you needed to start getting this on paper? Or did someone else say it?
Beth Raymer: Someone else said it. In the book, my love interest, Jeremy, was a reporter in New York. I was writing him letters all the time, and he was like, "you're such a good writer. I love listening to your stories." He wanted to me to write an article. He was super-instrumental and got me into graduate school.
I applied to Columbia and I got accepted. Jeremy totally applied for me. So I went to school and I really didn't think I had anything to write about. I started writing little profiles about the gamblers and my teacher was really supportive. Then I took a class where you learn how to write a book proposal, and I wrote, like, a 28-page proposal and sold it. In the end, I spent almost two years writing it.
Beth Raymer: I really didn't think I was going to include myself as much as I did. After the second draft, I got a feeling that I would be comfortable and it would be fine for me to put a lot of myself in.
Gelf Magazine: Was that a difficult decision, or was it liberating? Were you waiting for the opportunity to tell your story?
Beth Raymer: I wasn't waiting. There was something very natural, because that really was how it happened. I really did tell Dink about everything. Telling him, when I was 24, made us closer friends. It was nice to have someone in my life who knew that about me. Those worlds I was in were so secretive and I hardly told anyone. So it felt good to finally share with someone about my life.
Gelf Magazine: Were you worried about what your family or friends would think? You come off as a totally different person.
Beth Raymer: I know. I don't know, my family still hasn't read it. I didn't know what to think. So far, it has been good. I get texts from friends who knew nothing of it, and they were very surprised and supportive.Gelf Magazine: What brought you out to Vegas? Was there something that really drew you there?
Beth Raymer: I just wanted to get out of Florida, and somewhere like New York City seemed way too expensive. Las Vegas actually seemed practical.
Gelf Magazine: After you got hooked up with Dink, what were your feelings after talking to him and realizing what he does and what you would be involved in?
Beth Raymer: I was so happy to finally get a job that paid well, and to be working for a boss who was so laid back. It was kind of like a dream. I couldn't wait to start learning about everything. Tagging along with Dink those first few weeks, meeting his friends, going to casinos, and going on little pay-and-collectsI was so happy in the passenger's seat.
Gelf Magazine: Was it scary? Gambling is equated with gangsters and seedy fellows of the sort. Were you ever worried about carrying that much money around?
Beth Raymer: I was never terrified. I think that was the big reason why I wanted to write this book and why I was excited. Everybody has these stereotypes of gamblers, and bookmakers, and strippers, and boxerseverything. My experience in being in these worlds was nothing like what I saw on TV and read in fiction books. Every time I would bring my friends to hang out with Dink and Bernard (her boss in New York), they'd be like, "Oh my god, these guys are gamblers? These guys are bookmakers?" It was very shocking to them, and I always loved seeing that surprise. I wanted to get that in the book.
Gelf Magazine: Why is gambling, in general terms, stigmatized?
Beth Raymer: You mean with people like Dink?
Gelf Magazine: Well, professional gamblers. People who win. Typically, gamblers are thought of as people who are trying to keep their head above water. You dealt with people who won, right?
Beth Raymer: Sure! Going back to Dink, he's made a career of betting on sports for almost 30 years. He has friends who are professional gamblers, but it's a very small group. They are so rare and it's their little circle, and it's probably like 10 people on this earth.
Gelf Magazine: So you've seen both sides, then? The successful and the alternative? You've seen people win, but you have probably seen why gambling is legal in so few places.
Beth Raymer: Right. If the government is ever allowing you to gamble any government game, you can be sure it has the worst odds of anything. It's very hypocritical. There are places like Yonkers now, where you walk in and it's just all slot machines. No one wins on slots! But you'll notice that there are no sports books there, because people can win and it's a fun way to gamble. I don't think most of the population knows what goes on when you bet on sports. They hear the world "gambling" and conjure up the image of the most pathetic person at the track on a Wednesday.
Gelf Magazine: What was the most negative thing that you saw? When did you think that something had gone too far and maybe they needed to stop?
Beth Raymer: I never thought they needed to stop, because it is their livelihoodit's their job. Sometimes I was like, "You guys have to take better care of yourselves." Their lifestyle, their diet, their eating habitsthey are very overweight. They spend so much time just sitting in a chair, stressing out. Their moods are very erratic. I don't know how people live with gamblerseven when they're winning. They just don't exercise. Health is on a different planet than them.
Gelf Magazine: Why are you such a rebel, would you say? Beginning with the social-work incidentyou worked at a home for troubled teens and allowed a few to escape, giving them a 15-minute head start before calling the copsand through the stripping, boxing, and the gambling. There are dangers associated with all of the things you did. Why were you drawn to these sorts of activities?
Beth Raymer: My father was very irreverent. He was the ultimate maverick, and I really admired that about him. He was always getting fired from jobs, and telling off his boss. My sister, too. I remember when she was like 12 years old, she became a metal-head and she bought all of these Metallica T-shirts, but my mom didn't want her to dress like that, so she threw them all away. So my sister got a job at McDonald's so she could get her own paycheck and buy her own Metallica T-shirts. I think that ran in our familythe spirit of, "You can't tell me no! I'm going to do what the hell I want to do. I don't care what anybody thinks. I'll make it happen."
As for the adrenaline rush, I get bored easily, and I knew myself well enough to know that if I continued to be a social worker or any job like that, I would just continue to be fired or unhappy. That's why I'm so happy I have writing now. It's perfect.
Gelf Magazine: It's always a question with nonfiction books: What are the other characters going to think? Are you afraid of any repercussions? Did you tell most of these people? Did they know they would be involved in a book?
Beth Raymer: I wanted to be as fair as possible, so when the book was in galleys, I had all my main characters read it, and I said, "If there is anything that I'm wrong about or any inaccuracies, then I want us all to be able to talk about it." That was in January, and that was a really nerve-wracking time because my imagination would go wild: Someone was going to be hurt or get a lawyer or whatever. None of that happened. They were all so supportive and they didn't have me change a thing.
Gelf Magazine: That's interesting, especially considering how sensitive the material was in some places.
Beth Raymer: I know! I especially thought Tulip (Dink's wife) would be so appalled by my talking about the facelift and how much it cost, but she wasn't! I was so proud of them and really relieved that I didn't have any problems, because, yes, nonfiction can be very taxing on friendships.
Gelf Magazine: If you had to choose how this would be accepted by the common reader, do you think it will be viewed as a cautionary tale of gambling or a glorification?
Beth Raymer: I think they will just get swept up in the adventure, and by the end, all that they learned about gambling would be secondary. When you're done with the book, you won't say, "Oh, that was a good gambling book." Hopefully you'll say, "That was an exciting book and I happened to learn about this whole subculture while reading it!"