Among films available about sports betting, the 2012 release Lay the Favorite will always stand out in the crowd.
It isn’t the first movie about sports betting rooted in the depiction of a true story. In Casino (1995), Ace, the lead character portrayed by Robert De Niro, is based on real-life sports bettor Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal. Eight Men Out (1988) , looked at the betting scandal that saw eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox banned for life from baseball after taking money from gamblers to throw the World Series.
No, the difference with Lay the Favorite is that its story leans more toward the way sports betting works today. It’s a multi-billion industry where shares of sports betting companies are traded on the stock exchange. Like any other business, sports betting companies utilize marketing enticements to attract customers such as risk-free bonus bets and hire ex-athletes to work as brand ambassadors for their sites.
This isn’t the traditional method in which Hollywood likes to portray sports gambling, where the sports betting sites are mobbed-up and operated out of windowless rooms. Transactions take place in dank, darkened alleys, or in dingy back rooms of seedy dive bars.
That’s not the way it works. Today, sports betting is out in the open. The top sportsbooks are associated with the major sports leagues and sponsor elite pro clubs. It’s big business and these operations are run just as professionally and efficiently as any Fortune 500 company.
Toward the end of Casino, De Niro’s ace laments that “The big corporations took over. Today, [Vegas] works like Disneyland.”
He’s not wrong. But the fact of the matter is that this change was the best development for all of the players involved in the sports betting empire.
Beth Raymer is the real-life star of Lay the Favorite. Originally, she told her story in a memoir of the same name that was published in 2010.
Working as a waitress in Las Vegas, Raymer interviews for a job with a bookmaker. The qualifications for the position included someone who would show up on time, who had a head for numbers, and who didn’t steal.
Raymer got the job and it became almost immediately apparent that she had a head for numbers. She was a natural in the world of sports betting.
Lay the Favorite is the story of Raymer’s years in the high-stakes, high-anxiety world of sports betting. During the period of her involvement, the industry saw the fall of the local bookie and the birth of the offshore sports book, and with it the elevation of sports betting as part of popular culture.
As the business exploded, Beth rose from assistant to expert, running an offshore sports betting office in the Caribbean. While the men around her succumbed to their preferred vices, whether it be money, sex, drugs, gambling, Raymer emerged with her integrity intact. She proved to be wiser and sharper than the rest. She was nobody’s fool.
A keen and compassionate observer of the adrenaline-addicted roguish types who became her mentors, her enemies, and her family, Raymer’s work depicted an insanely colorful world teeming with pathos and ecstasy.
The Wall Street Journal noted that these outlandish and yet obviously true-to-ife characters led Raymer’s book to read more like a novel than a memoir.
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Raymer earned an MFA from Columbia University. As a Fulbright fellow, she studied offshore gambling operations in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama.
Raymer explains her fascination for sports betting and with sports bettors in easy to understand terms. She admires the risk takers in life and strives to be one of them.
“Everything has to be thrilling,” Raymer told Smithmag.com. “Some degree of thrill has to exist somewhere in my life for me to be content. I think I crave thrills just as the gamblers crave them.
“When you’re a gambler, you have to keep winning. You have to be comfortable with the uncertainty.”
The film version of her story features Rebecca Hall as Raymer. She’s supported by a stellar cast that includes Bruce Willis, Vince Vaughn, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Corbin Bernsen and Joshua Jackson. Stephen Frears directed.
Lay the Favorite debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012.