LAS VEGAS — Todd Fuhrman’s trek to sports-betting prominence began in the passenger seat of his dad’s blue Cadillac, en route to hockey games in Northbrook, Glenview and Park Ridge.
Early those fall Sundays, Todd would pick an NFL team, from this paper’s lines, leaving Mark, a commodities broker, with the other side. Then Mark selected, then Todd, etc. Buck a game. Todd was 8.
Confidence pools, via a buddy’s pop, became “the real sweat,” Fuhrman says.
At boarding school outside Boston, he involved hockey teammates and friends in free website contests that awarded prizes to the largest fictional end-of-week bankrolls.
The school’s administration, however, balked at Fuhrman’s request to launch a Sports Betting Club, akin to the more common chess or foreign-language groups.
In his senior yearbook, his peers called him Most Likely to Become a Bookie. He adds, “Most likely to win or lose a million dollars, too.”
In college, Fuhrman prospered betting on offshore sites. Those forays would bloom at the University of New South Wales in Australia, where he studied as a senior.
He’d monitor money movements of the country’s National Rugby League matches on offshore lines, then traipse a block from his Coogee Beach pad to the Coogee Bay Hotel and its TAB store, Oz’s retail betting outlets, to make wagers.
Nearly half of the country’s 4,400 such outlets are in New South Wales, and those Coogee purveyors moved like snails.
“Those guys thought I was a rugby savant,” says Fuhrman, 40. “I was following line moves, watching steam move the significantly more reputable offshore books, and was able to take advantage of some of the Aussie bookmakers.
“[They] just weren’t accustomed to moving [lines] based on what was going on in the Caribbean. It definitely paid for a few beers. And when talking about the liquor tax in Australia, every extra dollar helps.”
TAKING A MILE
Even with all of that budding sports-betting interest and knowledge, Fuhrman had been poised to use his economics degree from Wesleyan University, in Connecticut, to break into Wall Street as an investment associate.
Until Susan Fuhrman, his aunt, returned from an African safari, where she had met a Caesars Palace executive. With maybe half a little toe in that door, Todd jumped into the arena.
He submitted a résumé, passed a battery of tests and two months later, in March 2006, began working as a financial analyst for Caesars Entertainment.
“She played an extremely helpful role in giving me a jump-start,” Fuhrman says of Aunt Susan. “Anytime a family member vouches for you and creates an introduction, you never want to let them down.
“With a Type-A personality, it was, ‘OK, I’ve been given an inch; now I have to take a mile.’ Like a seventh-round draft choice or someone who went undrafted, someone’s given me a chance, and I won’t let it slip through my fingers.”
Immersed in budgeting and market analyses, involving the table-game side of the house, he’d meander to the sportsbook and befriend Chuck Esposito, a fellow Chicagoan, who’d tutor Todd on risk management.
“How to book to faces, a lot of what went into the daily machinations of moving numbers,” Fuhrman says. “He was integral in my development.”
Fuhrman would ease into the Caesars book, spending Saturday and Sunday there as a supervisor, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in International Player Development.
“Eye-opening,’’ Fuhrman says. ‘‘No matter what you think you know about sports betting, until you think about it from the oddsmaker’s standpoint, behind the counter, you don’t understand exactly what goes into the process.”
Pressed to elaborate, Fuhrman says sophisticated bettors know every book’s strengths and weaknesses, when new staff starts, whom they might be able to bully into getting larger limits and when, early in the morning or late at night.
“You have to really develop a backbone,’’ he says. ‘‘ ‘Hey, look! Here are our limits.’ You’re not going to let someone sweet-talk you. They’ll get one by you from time to time, but you learn. As long as it doesn’t keep happening.
“A trial by fire.”
Let’s back up, though. Fuhrman didn’t just skate around, pass the puck and unleash blue-line bazookas on the ice.
He was a goalie.
When reviewing what made him bolt from Wheeling High after his sophomore year for a boarding school in the Northeast, Fuhrman at once thanks financial aid and mocks himself.
“There was plenty of endowment money for a kid who can read and write,” he says, “and was dumb enough to put his face in front of hockey pucks.”
At those youth tournaments, he’d heard about the academic and athletic benefits of a boarding school. He’d leave friends, parents Mark and Wendi and sister Hallie for the prestigious Groton School in Massachusetts.
“Even more jarring, on some level, [Groton] had relatively strong church ties,’’ he says. ‘‘So being Jewish in a middle-class family from the Chicago suburbs and going to an Episcopalian boarding school was a little bit of culture shock in its own right.
“Arguably, the toughest two years in my entire life. I’m the ultimate poster boy for the cliché: Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Against Groton archrival Brooks, as a senior, Fuhrman faced nearly 60 shots but let only one by him. Groton attempted only six or seven, all meek, in a 1-0 defeat.
In the handshake line, the Brooks coach apologized to Fuhrman. Groton didn’t win a game that season, yet Fuhrman earned all-league honors and received a Division I scholarship offer.
Hoping to draw more D-I attention, he played a season for the Green Mountain Glades, in Burlington, Vermont, of the Eastern Junior Hockey League. He lived in an apartment with two Groton pals and worked as a Starbucks barista.
“We all had jobs, and it kind of felt like you were a semi-pro athlete,” Fuhrman says. “You had to show up for practice and team lifting sessions, and you had to pay your bills. Add in two years of boarding school, and I grew up quickly.”
He is grounded in pragmatics. At 5-10, 140 pounds, he harbored no pro-hockey ambitions. The sport was a passion, and he viewed the EJHL as a test.
In the sports-betting industry, he’d just as wisely learn the importance of versatility.
Caesars let Fuhrman fulfill sports-talk and other media requests to speak about the games, spreads and line shifts. He’d dash to Barbary Coast or Bellagio to make bets. His social-media profile expanded.
He’d leave Caesars for a consultant’s post with the Don Best sports service, learning from Kenny White. Video work there, for foreign clients about American sports, further honed his cadence, delivery and timing.
In 2014, with Payne Insider, Fuhrman launched the ‘‘Bet the Board’’ podcast, which has 26,000 Twitter followers, NASCAR affiliation and regularly delivers a wealth of insights.
He wrote for Fox, appeared on its ‘‘Lock It In’’ show (he and host Rachel Bonnetta won’t return for a fourth season) and has had a steady relationship with CBS platforms. Fuhrman is a regular guest, as a Vegas insider, on national talk shows.
As states legalize sports betting, I ask him about the many loudmouth frauds who appear to be metastasizing by the week.
That, he says, is the proper word.
“Metastasizing — the perfect portrayal of it,’’ Fuhrman says. ‘‘To a certain extent, there are plenty of cancers in the space. When something proliferates, there are more opportunities.
“But the brutal reality of it is, there aren’t enough qualified individuals to fill a lot of the media obligations.”
There are only so many bona fide bookmakers, only so many bona fide handicappers, he says, and people in a pinch just try to find someone they can portray as an expert.
It’s deeper, for him and others who have devoted their lives to the nuances of the brutal, cut-throat business. There’s frustration about the clueless, unaccountable fakes whose “guidance” can be costly.
“You hope, over time,’’ he says, ‘‘that casual fans understand whom he or she can trust for information, versus other folks who just want to go out there and talk about gambling but don’t stay fully immersed in this world 24 hours a day.”
THE FORTUNATE GOALIE
Fuhrman says his last six months of sports wagering have been “extremely profitable,” so all of the moving parts of his career are operating efficiently.
He doesn’t take his unique perch for granted.
“It’s all about developing those relationships and creating a symbiotic dynamic with the [books] in town,’’ he says. ‘‘I don’t ever want to do anything dirty or deceitful. If I want a little bit more on an event, I’m in a fortunate spot.
“I can send some of them a note, Hey, do you need a little bit more on ‘this’ side? Can I get a little bit more on ‘this’ future? If they work with me, I’m just as willing to work with them. That allows you to be successful.”
The kid born in Park Ridge and raised in Wheeling, though, never cared for the Bears. He’s all about New York — the Knicks, Rangers, Yankees and Giants.
Early this summer, he bet under 6.5 for the Bears’ season-victory total, at even money. At both the Westgate SuperBook and South Point, disinterest in Chicago has shaved that total from 6.5 to 6.
The Bears, he says, have an incomplete roster and rougher days ahead of them.
“[Fans] should just want to see modest improvement from Justin Fields,’’ Fuhrman says. ‘‘More important, that he doesn’t get sacked a Joe Burrow-like 50-plus times over the course of the season.”
With all that he juggles professionally, Fuhrman has managed to have a personal life — he and girlfriend Nicole Russo recently became engaged. An online service matched them, but they easily could’ve bumped into each other when he worked at Caesars; she worked two doors down for the World Series of Poker.
Fortune continues to favor the guy who willingly placed his mug before so many pucks.