Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





William Kornblum

Subject Categories

Criminology | Criminology and Criminal Justice | Sociology


This study was conducted to examine the role of bookmakers in urban communities. Although bookmaking dates to 1780 in London, there has been little academic research on the bookmaker, or "bookie," and his role in neighborhood life. Drawing on five years of ethnographic research across three U.S. cities, I sought to answer two questions: 1. What is the relationship between the bookie and the neighborhood he serves, and how is his deviant identity managed in the larger community; and 2. How is trust established and maintained among actors in illegal gambling transactions? Once established, does this strengthen social networks and enhance the cohesiveness of the neighborhood?

Through a series of qualitative case studies, this research shows how: masculinity is revered and displayed through the sports betting process; race, ethnicity, and residency dictate levels of trust among bettors and bookies; the bookie negotiates his deviant identity in both interpersonal and societal relationships; and the presence of bookmakers is ubiquitous across the United States, despite the advent of quick access and one-click internet forms of gambling. As well, quantitative and mapping analyses are undertaken to further explore gambling differentiation by type.

I examine how bookmakers persist, who their clients are, how trust is formed among them, and what, if any, role race and sex play in creating bonds of trust. Five community areas in Chicago were chosen as ethnographic locations, as were three in New York and three in Los Angeles. My research shows that, despite being an illegal enterprise in the United States (with the exception of Nevada and Delaware), bookmakers exist in almost every city across the country and cater to a diverse range of clients. Moreover, the research explores how bookies manage to persist despite major demographic changes and community gentrification. This dissertation fills a void in sociological literature by examining the role of the bookmaker in urban neighborhoods in the twenty first century. This exploration of bookies can contribute not only to our overall knowledge of deviance, but also to the theorizing of identity and trust, race, network analysis, and governance of urban space.

This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Friday, June 03, 2022

Graduate Center users:
To read this work, log in to your GC ILL account and place a thesis request.

Non-GC Users:
See the GC’s lending policies to learn more.