Across South Carolina, the kind of illegal sports bookmaking that accused Richland County killer Brett Parker is said to have conducted happens out of sight of the law and the public and is far more pervasive than many people realize.
Were not talking office pools, sports fantasy leagues, the friendly wager or the weekly poker game in the man cave.
Gambling through a bookie involves far more money. And bookies are far more organized and secretive, knowing that if they get caught, the penalty could be substantial.
They fly underneath the radar, said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott. They dont have big flashing signs outside their business.
Bookies are akin to other kinds of niche criminals such as those who make moonshine or hold cockfights who cater to a clientele whose members have no interest in publicizing the illegal bets, Lott and others say.
These days, various kinds of high-tech gambling are now widely available using a computer to gamble at online casinos, for example. But old-fashioned bookies who take bets in person or on the phone on college and pro-ports games still ply their trade with a circle of confidential gamblers.
Even in small towns, theres usually someone who makes sports book, said Frank Quinn, a Columbia area psychotherapist whos spent more than 30 years treating various addictions, including gambling, in South Carolina.
No one knows how many sports bookies work these days across the state, but thats typical, according to national experts.
Illegal sports bookmaking continues to be a pretty big business. Its hard to say how big, because they dont report their numbers, said David Schwartz, director of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Center for Gaming Research, a nationally known site for gambling information.
People involved in sports gambling have incentives for keeping it quiet. Those include the fact that its illegal, of course. Also, gamblers fear being prosecuted for not reporting their winnings to the Internal Revenue Service and state tax authorities. Few gamblers do, law officers say.
And law officers rarely make an arrest. For one thing, its labor-intensive and time-consuming to penetrate and gather evidence against such a secretive operation.
When you put this (sports bookies) up against murder, rape and those kinds of crimes, you really dont have a lot of resources left over to devote to it, said Robert Stewart, who headed the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) for 20 years.
But, Stewart said, sports bookie gambling is imbedded in our culture.
Current SLED Chief Mark Keel, asked last week how many bookies his statewide agency has arrested, couldnt remember any arrests in his more than 30 years with the agency. Neither could two high-ranking SLED agents with him, who each had more than 30 years experience each.
We couldnt think of anybody, Keel said.
At the state Attorney Generals office, veteran prosecutor Deputy Attorney General John McIntosh whose experience as both a public defender and state and federal prosecutor goes back more than 40 years could only remember one case.
That was a federal case brought by the IRS in Cayce back in the 1980s, McIntosh said.
Federal authorities in South Carolina have brought few if any bookmaking cases in the state in years. U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said, This office allocates resources on the best assessment of the most efficient use of our resources.
The largely invisible nature of South Carolinas sports bookies illustrates just how rare it was for a prosecutor to allude to an alleged sports bookie gambling operation last week in a Richland County courtroom.
Brett Parker was operating an illegal gambling business, 5th Judicial Circuit prosecutor Luck Campbell said in court Thursday.
Although Campbell didnt mention what kind of gambling, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott on July 20 when announcing Parkers arrest for the shooting deaths of his wife, Tammy Jo Parker, and business associate, Bryan Capnerhurst, specifically called Parker a bookie.
In May, before Brett Parker was arrested, Dave Fedor, one of attorneys, said Parker and Capnerhurst simply were meeting to settle a sports bet. Parker owed Capnerhurst money, Fedor said.
Lott also said the Secret Service in South Carolina is now actively investigating whether Parkers alleged gambling operation, which the sheriff said centered on college and professional sports, ran afoul of federal law.
Mike Williams, Secret Service special agent in charge of South Carolina operations, declined to comment on any investigation.
But Williams did say, We investigate any type of money transactions that are not in line with state or federal laws.
Under federal law, authorities can only look into bookie gambling operations that involve five or more persons who conduct, finance, manage, supervise, direct, or own all or part of such business.
Persons familiar with sports bookies stressed their potential for harm.
Sports betting is known as a gateway drug in getting young people hooked into gambling, said John Kindt, a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus and a nationally known gambling expert.
Young people often are highly focused on sports, Kindt noted. Betting for or against a team is a way to escalate the thrill of watching a game and seeing their favorite teams make points and exchange leads, he said.
Sports bettors can bet a game in various ways, including betting against a point spread or selecting the over or under of the total number of points to be scored in a game.
Bookies make their money off the vigorish, or fee, that a losing bettor must pay to the bookie in addition to paying the bookie the actual amount he wagered, Kindt said.
Bookies have to be careful not to take too many bets on one side of a sports event, because if they lose, they could wind up with big losses, Kindt said.
Thus, if bookies get an excessive number of bets on one side, they often reach out to other bookies to spread their bets around as a hedge against a big loss, Kindt said.
Quinn, who has counseled numerous South Carolina gambling addicts over the years, said sports bookies are particularly active during football and basketball season on college campuses, getting college students to place bets.
You have college students laying down 50 to 100 dollars on a game, and if you have a couple thousand students doing that every weekend, thats a lot of money, Quinn said. Young people who avidly follow their favorite teams are particularly prone to laying down big bets, he said.
Quinn said todays sports bookmaking has deep social and historical roots, recalling the states race tracks and open cockfighting rings where gambling has taken place. And plenty of S.C. youths fancy themselves as having inside knowledge of a sport.
Besides addiction to gambling, Quinn said, the ramifications can be serious.
Several years ago, I had a young man who owed $17,000 to a bookie and wouldnt pay, Quinn said. He opened the door one day, and someone shot him in the chest and he died.
Quinn, an adjunct psychology professor at Columbia College, declined to identify the man because of patient confidentiality and because his family is still in the area.
There are good reasons why sports bettors continue to use local bookies, Schwartz said.
Its someone they know, and they know they are going to get paid. If you go with someone on the Internet who is headquartered in Antigua, you dont know if they are going to pay.
Dennis Bolt, a former 5th Circuit assistant prosecutor, said people who place bets with sports bookies dont usually think they are committing a crime.
It could be your neighbor, said Bolt, a Columbia defense attorney. As a matter of fact, it probably is your neighbor.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.