By Jeff Haney
A very important thing to know Much like investing in stocks, you can't expect to make money every day at sports betting. Here's what you can expect.
Sports Betting Money Management
A Crash Course In
By Jeff Haney
When Alan Boston talks about how he came to find “a good place,” he does not mean his well-appointed house on a Las Vegas golf course or his summer home in Maine.
Boston has spent the better part of two decades handicapping and betting college basketball in Las Vegas, earning a national reputation among gamblers and oddsmakers. Yet he has always analyzed his own psyche as deeply as any Canisius-Siena matchup.
For once, he likes what he sees.
“If you had asked me at almost any time over the years, I would have told you I hate myself, I’m miserable, I’m unhappy,” Boston says. “At a very young age, I started using gambling as an escape from life.
“There were times I was in a very bad place. Not anymore ... I finally have peace of mind away from gambling.”
As a result, Boston says, this year’s NCAA Tournament will be the last he bets as a pro. After the championship game April 7 in San Antonio, consider Boston retired.
“I’m done. This is it.”
Boston points across his living room to a couple of overstuffed loose-leaf binders on the floor, scribble-filled pages spilling out, looking like the accouterments of an eccentric but brilliant professor. These are the tools of an old-school gambler who came up in the game before computers, who proudly relies on “feel” in deciding which college basketball teams to bet on.
Boston knows his method — knows Alan Boston himself — is an anachronism in modern-day sports gambling.
“The computer programmers can’t do what I do,” he says. “I can supersede any number with my feel. Everything I need to know is in those notebooks, and now I’m not going to need them anymore.”
The realization he was through as a professional sports bettor did not come to Boston as an epiphany. It was gradual, emerging from five years of psychiatric therapy and a lifetime of hard self-analysis. But Boston can pinpoint when things began to turn around. It was when he began acting as a mentor to a young man in Maine who had a rough upbringing.
Boston will refer to him only as “Rob” or, more frequently, “the kid” — although he’s in his early 20s now, living in Florida, pursuing a career in golf.
They met about five years ago at a golf course in Maine, and as Boston tells it, both of their lives changed.
“He was the kid who greeted me and got my bag and loaded it into the cart,” Boston says. “He always kind of moped around.
“We played golf one day and he acted like a selfish little (jerk). I told him to learn some (expletive) etiquette or we ain’t playing again.”
The next time they played, Rob chided a friend for trying to take a mulligan on a missed putt. Boston thought to himself: This kid really listens.
Boston attended one of the kid’s high school golf matches, and a connection became clear.
“He looked over and saw me,” Boston says. “His whole aura changed. The mopey kid was no longer a mopey kid. There was a glow. He just stood proud.
“I learned everything at that moment.
On the third hole, the golf coach introduced himself to Boston and said Rob was very happy he’d come. “‘No one’s ever come to watch him before.’ And I was like, whoa. Oh. Well. That sucks.”
Meanwhile, Boston was speaking with his psychiatrist about how he had always used gambling to run away from relationships, to avoid attachments to people. He asked his therapist why he cared so much about the kid, and the therapist said it was because that’s what fathers do.
“Now, late in life, when I finally let someone in, albeit in a paternal way, gambling is no longer relevant,” Boston says. “I actually felt love. Once you do that it’s a whole different world.”
Boston, who turns 50 in August, recalls watching an episode of “Maverick,” the Western starring James Garner, as a kid and loving it.
“What an amazing show,” Boston says. “And when the closing credits came up, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, when I die all this good memory is going to be gone.’
“Many of my therapy sessions have been driven by that. Why fall in love when you’re going to die?”
Growing up in Framingham, Mass., Boston lost himself watching the trotters and pacers at Foxboro and betting football, especially after his parents split up. “I found peace of mind at the racetrack,” says Boston, who today owns three harness racehorses.
While earning his degree in the biological basis of behavior at the University of Pennsylvania, Boston immersed himself in the culture of college basketball betting, attending doubleheaders as many as three times a week at the Palestra.
He read the betting column in the New York Daily News and a novel by Robert Kalich, titled “The Handicapper,” learning about semi-mythical figures called “wise guys” and vowing to become one.
“I would always wonder how anyone could predict a winner in William and Mary-Virginia Tech,” Boston says. “How do they do it? Well, now I know. I did become that guy.”
Boston came to Las Vegas for good in about 1988, honing his “feel” for how games played out against the spread at the Stardust sports book, then the gathering place for the city’s top bettors and oddsmakers.
“Alan was always one of the most respected bettors,” says Scott Schettler, who ran the Stardust book in the ’80s. “Alan was always smart, almost frighteningly smart.”
Last basketball season, Boston didn’t do well betting. He almost quit. He even threw his loose-leaf binders away.
Less than a month into this season, he hit another rough stretch and again considered hanging it up. The turning point came when he picked DePaul as a 4-point underdog against Vanderbilt. DePaul lost by 6 — but in overtime, and Boston felt in his heart he had the right team.
“That was a big ‘feel’ game,” Boston says. “Right side, bad beat. Starting from that game I got more confident.
“The last two weeks were some of the best I’ve ever had. I’m going to go out a winner with this tournament.”
He gestured again to the overstuffed binders on the floor.
“Last year, my roommate picked
them out of the trash can and shipped them to me in
Maine. That won’t happen again — because I’m going to
An award-winning columnist for the Las Vegas Sun, Jeff Haney writes about characters and events on the gambling scene, including sports betting, major poker tournaments and other gambling topics. Haney regularly covers boxing including world championship fights, mixed martial arts and other sports in Las Vegas. A graduate of St. Joseph's University, Haney has been with the Sun since 1999 in a variety of writing and editing positions.
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