A bookmaker – commonly known as bookie - is a person or organization that takes bets on events at agreed upon odds. Virtually all bookmakers accept bets for sport events, but there are also plenty of bookmakers that will allow you to bet on other things as well, from political elections to the name of the next royal family member born in a certain country.

Bookmakers and the law

Virtually all countries have laws concerning bookmaking. Some outlaw the practice completely, some keep a state monopoly on bookmaking and some have a licensing system with rules that must be adhered to if you wish to obtain and keep a bookmaker license.

In the United States, bookmaking is regulated at state level and illegal in most states. One notable exception is Nevada, the state where the famous gambling city of Las Vegas is located.

In many countries, only the state is allowed to offer bookmaking. Example of such sates are Canada, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Sweden.

In the United Kingdom, bookmaking is legal for those with a bookmakers license. Up until the enactment of the Gambling Act 2006, gambling debts were however unenforceable under English law, so letting people wager money without forcing them to pay upfront was not recommended.

Famous bookmakers in history

Helen Vernet (1876 - 1956)

Helen Vernet was the first woman ever to obtain a license to be a racecourse bookmaker in the United Kingdom. Vernet, born Cunningham, inherited a fairly large sum of money from her father but gradually dissipated it by betting.

During her frequent visits at the racecourse she noticed that many women were interested in betting but deterred by the rough and tumble of the virtually all-male preserve that was the betting ring in those days. In 1918, Vernet started accepting small bets from female acquaintances. Soon, her bookmaking venture attracted so many punters that she was officially warned by the police to stop her unlicensed activity. She was then recruited by Arthur Bendir who had been running Ladbrokes since 1902, and started working in Ladbroke's upscale bookmaking office in Mayfair.

In 1928, Vernet became a partner in the firm. She insisted to continue working and kept on accepting bets almost until her death at the age of 80, despite having to use a wheelchair at the racecourse due to severe arthritis.

Frank Lawrence "Lefty" Rosenthal (1929 - 2008)

Frank Lawrence "Lefty" Rosenthal was a bookmaker and casino executive with strong ties to Las Vegas organized crime. The film Casino is loosely based on his life. Rosenthal grew up in Chicago's West Side and would often skip school to visit the racetrack. By the mid 1950s, he was working with the Chicago Outfit (a crime syndicate). Eventually, Rosenthal ended up running the biggest illegal bookmaking office in the United States on behalf of the syndicate.

After relocating to Las Vegas, Rosenthal secretly ran four casinos controlled by the Chicago Outfit: Stardust, Marina, Hacienda and Fremont. He created the first sportsbook to operate from inside a casino and turned Stardust into a world famous hotspot for sportsbetting. Rosenthal was also the one who decided to allow women to work as blackjack dealers, a change that was to double Stardust's income within in year.

In 1982, Rosenthal survived an assassination attempt where his car was rigged with explosives. Rosenthal was driving a 1981 Cadillac Eldorado, and its manufacturer GM had installed a metal plate under the driver's seat to correct a balancing problem. The plate saved Rosenthals life by absorbing most of the blast.