Why Gambling Doesn't Pay

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — When Marisa Lankester began working within an illegal sports betting operation, she had to learn the gambling jargon, dress like a man and stop wearing lipstick in order to fit in with the boys.

"The ringing phones were unrelenting and I realized how badly I needed to know the meaning of the terms I heard: dog, favorite, teaser, dime, nickel, parlay, over and under," Lankester wrote in her tell-all book Dangerous Odds: My Secret Life Inside an Illegal Billion Dollar Sports Betting Operation (Cappuccino Books, May 2014)

The pretty blonde was able to find acceptance and maintain her femininity among the hardened men by cleaning the dungeon-of-an-office where they worked. What begins as a fun and exciting ride morphs quickly into a nightmare.

Lankester was indeed working for a bookie by the name of Ron "The Cigar" Sacco and lands in prison for it.

She writes about prison in chapter 8: "I discovered someone had taken my blanket. I knew that I'd never get it back. There were too many beds, too many prisoners, and anyway what would I do? Ask politely? I wasn't prepared to risk a beating or worse over an itchy prison-issue blanket so I resigned myself to sleeping without one."

So how did a nice girl with a privileged New York background get tangled up in a slice of the underworld? Her art portfolio for admittance into the Parsons School of Design in New York disappeared.

"My parents were in the middle of a bitter divorce, which brought out the worst in my mother and made life unbearable," Lankester wrote. "Studying at Parsons was all I had to look forward to and my portfolio was my ticket. Losing it devastated me."

Lankester subsequently moved to the Dominican Republic with Sacco's operation where a co-worker named Vinnie dies.

"If a guy owes a couple thousand dollars, his life could be in danger," Alioto told MainStreet. "Gambling is a disease, and a lot of people have a problem with it. It was for me until I turned it into a business."

Among Lankester's new friends in the Caribbean was an undercover informant named Remo whom Lankester exposes while snooping through his drawers.

"Underneath the envelope were two FBI business cards held together with a paper clip," she writes. "The second card had the same elaborate gold seal but this one was crisp and pristine. It belonged to Ernesto Navarro, Supervisory Special Agent, Caribbean Liaison Officer. The address was listed as the Federal Building in Puerto Rico."

Lankester is apparently one tough cookie.

But abandoning the kind of money Lankester describes in her memoir and taking a 9 to 5 job would be hard for even the healthiest of humans and nearly impossible for a bonafide gambler.

"You can't walk away because money becomes a disease and an addiction," said said Marc Alioto, a professional poker player. "There's tons of money involved in running a book. Some people can't get enough money and then blow it all."

Lankester's journey eventually leads to a job with Kraft General Foods in Santo Domingo, but violence runs her off the island.

Meanwhile, the ringleader Sacco received the longest-ever prison sentence secured by the U.S. for a bookmaking offense.

--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet

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