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Gamblin'

RJ Bell’s PR Firm Had Us Publish This ‘Rebuttal’ That Fails To Dent Our Argument


RJ Bell Sucks

On Wednesday, I published an article titled, “Why Are Grantland And The New York Times Peddling The Bullshit Of Sports Betting Sleazeballs?” Check out the whole post if you haven’t, but if you don’t want to read a lot of angry words, here’s a primer:

New York Times Magazine published a cover story about sports betting. Sports betting is typically ignored by mainstream media, especially by an entity like the New York Times. This was big news. However, the writer clearly knew nothing about sports betting, as his “Behind the Scenes” interview later proved. Read this excellent analysis by VegasWatch for an explanation why. The article said a lot of ridiculous things. But most importantly: It glorified Pregame.com, its founder and CEO RJ Bell, and some of his “touts,” or pick-sellers.

It’s a problem that the New York Times gave free, positive publicity to Pregame.com, because:

A) Pregame.com is a profitable business that makes money by selling sports picks from about 25 different people.

B) As I quoted and explained, “the overall climate of the (pick-selling) industry is 99 percent scammers.”

C) Because of this, the onus is on the pick-sellers to prove their worth. Because if you understand the industry, you will trust nobody, unless they can show clear proof of providing profitable picks.

D) The only way to prove that picks are profitable is to produce a fully transparent long-term record.

E) Pregame doesn’t do that. Thus, you shouldn’t buy their picks.

F) Because they won’t/can’t prove that they’re a profitable service, the only way they can attract customers is through misleading marketing practices.

G) Because of all of the above, the mainstream media should not glorify Pregame or similar companies. Grantland should not let him write a column as if he’s a “writer.” He writes for his brand. The media clearly doesn’t understand the climate or the consequences.

That’s the argument.

Bell was upset by my piece, and sent a rebuttal to me through his PR agency (like I said… businessman, not writer). He wrote a lot of words. Not one of them put a dent in the above argument, but I promised to publish it out of fairness.

The PR Blitz

A man named Matt Rudnitsky attacked me personally on Wednesday. He and I have never communicated. He did not offer me the opportunity to comment (a standard journalistic courtesy) before his article was published on SportsGrid.com. The intent of this reply is to correct his article’s errors, misrepresentations, and lapses of logic. Although I must admit to having a reaction when called a “sleazeball” or having my work characterized as “bullshit” – this reply will focus on the facts, in an effort to minimize the chance of a casual reader being deceived by this unwarranted attack.

I probably should have reached out as a courtesy. Sorry, RJ. However, I’m confident I would have learned nothing from his response. I also read his responses to similar criticism at BeyondTheBets (sadly now defunct), and was not satisfied with his answers. The man can talk in circles for days.

I do not see any “errors, misrepresentations, (or) lapses of logic” in my piece. I will hear him out, though. I make mistakes.

The basic premise of Mr. Rudnitsky’s article is “most of the Internet is peddling bullshit.” Specifically, the “clueless” media should not use me as a sports betting information source.

True, mostly. I guess it’s possible someone could find him a useful source, but that should only happen if they’re 100% aware of who he is and what he’s selling. That hasn’t been the case.

Yet, throughout the entire article, he fails to cite even a single factual error in all of my published work. He does not even attempt to make the case of a sordid past – nor does he provide even a single instance of past wrongdoings. Rather, by his own admission in the comments section of the article, the lone reason for his attack is that Pregame.com, a website that I founded, does not consolidate handicapper pick records in a format he considers ideal.

I’m not saying that RJ Bell’s work contains factual errors. That said, here’s one.

My beef is with the media. They’re being irresponsible. RJ Bell is simply taking advantage of an unfortunate situation.

And as I explained, the record “format” isn’t “not ideal,” it’s wholly unacceptable. RJ Bell does not once mention why he doesn’t provide long-term records. It’s because they’d expose his bullshit in plain sight.

Many readers, no doubt, are not sure what that means.

The average person doesn’t understand the industry, which means they’re ripe for exploitation. Hence the need to expose him.

Here are the simple details: I don’t personally sell picks, but Pregame.com provides expert handicappers who do. 95% of the site’s content is free, and only a small percentage of the site visitors ever buy picks.

I have no ethical problem with the free content. You can investigate its worth yourself, but it’s not an ethical issue. That’s not what makes Pregame money. It builds their brand and attracts customers. The pick-selling is what makes them money. And, I quote Pregame.com here: “Pregame sells sports PREDICTIONS — generating over $1,000 per customer.”

Every pick ever sold in the history of the site is archived, publically available at all times for review or audit. Pregame.com is the only major pick selling site to offer this level of transparency.

This is smart, yet disingenuous marketing-speak. I’m just some writer. RJ Bell is a businessman trying to defend his brand. He’s the one with problematic bias. Which is my whole point.

Technically, the above is true. However, it’s meaningless, because:

1) They do not post bets at the start of games. They wait a while, which opens up the possibility for withholding picks that look bad.

2) The archives are not verified by a third party. A third-party did in fact track arguably their biggest-name tout, Steve Fezzik, for years. Somebody posted this independently-tracked, long term record in the Pregame forums… and was banned. Supposedly, Fezzik asked for them himself, but the poster was STILL banned.

3) As I’ve said a million times, the only thing that matters (long-term records) are not posted. Sure, picks are “available..for review for audit,” but as I quoted, “determining a long term record using their system would literally take someone days.”

4) Also, I’m sorry, but, since you were mean to me… “publically?”

The pick sellers are permitted to promote truthful streaks in a marketing friendly fashion. For example, stating that they are 52-40 ATS this season in the NFL, without mentioning of last season. Identical to a Fidelity Mutual fund advertising in Fortune magazine that they beat the S&P 500 last year, without mentioning the prior year.

It’s your right to mislead people through marketing. It’s my job to explain what you’re doing.

Hopefully that wasn’t too confusing. No fear, because that is it. Mr Rudnitsky is unable to muster even a single accusation of any instance of a customer being deceived.

Every single person that has ever bought a pick from Pregame was deceived, being told to believe that they are buying the “best picks” from a “winning pro bettors.”

His entire ire stems from his personal belief that the records should be consolidated in a different fashion – one he personally considers appropriate.

Not “appropriate.” Mandatory.

Pregame.com’s main competitors, falling even further short of Mr Rudnitsky’s standard (by his own admission), escape his expletive-filled attack.

All of Pregame’s “main competitors” are sleazy. Pregame may or may not be better than other sleazeballs. Irrelevant.

Also, I curse when I’m angry, and I was angry that people are being misled. I apologize to anyone who was offended by my language.

That is literally it. No additional rational was provided by the author to explain his vitriol.

Correct. My argument has been proven.

Have you offered one shred of evidence to disprove me? (No.)

The question is begged: Why? Here’s a clue: last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine cover story went behind the scenes of Las Vegas sports betting, and Pregame.com was featured prominently in the story.Yep, Watergate was about following the money; the Internet is about following the page views.

This is not an SEO-friendly article, at all. A picture of boobs would have done 50x the pageviews with 1% of the effort.

Or, perhaps it’s something more personal to Mr. Rudnitsky, since he rants on and on about the journalistic failings of the New York Times, ESPN and Grantland. Nothing short of ironic as a reader continues through the article.

Not ironic.

Mr. Rudnitsky complained that the cover story presented me as “some sort of God” – while also lamenting the story’s “glorification” of me. Strangely, elsewhere, he writes of my “scuzzy brand.” Confusing.

Not confusing. I also didn’t use the word “scuzzy.” Cool, quasi-word, though.

The reality of the Pregame brand is “scuzziness.” The New York Times article misled people into thinking it was something fantastic. And yes, RJ Bell comes across (almost) as “some sort of God.”

“R. J., who is 43, was earnest and clean-cut. He wore black slacks and a dress shirt and spoke with the quick, stat-supported assurance of a quant who graduated at the top of his class in the finance department at Ohio State University.”

The “sources” cited in the article include multiple anonymous forum postings. Most egregiously, he links to one anonymous posting rumor – saying “there is no reason to believe this is true.”

My point has been proven. The forum posts add a little “oomph,” but they shouldn’t be taken as fact. Just as a lot more smoke nearby a massive fire that has been confirmed for years.

I linked to many different posts, most of which come from BettingTalk’s forums. There was also a TON of of good information at the BeyondTheBets forum, but it was shut down a while ago and the archives are gone.

It’s hard to convince people that BettingTalk is legit, and I understand that. If you check out the forum yourself, you’ll see that it’s a transparent, honest, positive community. But I won’t waste time talking them up; it’s not necessary or worth it. However, know that I only referenced respected, longtime members at a forum of independent, knowledgable people.

He notes that Pregame.com offers an affiliate program – as if that’s a bad thing.

I was pointing out that they make most (or all?) of their money via: pick-selling, and this allows them to involve other companies in promoting their sleaze.

He quotes from the site’s attorney written Terms of Service as if it’s a mission statement.

No. I thought it was funny that their Terms of Service said this.

“(PREGAME AND CO.) DO NOT WARRANT THAT THE CONTENT IS ACCURATE, RELIABLE OR CORRECT; THAT THE SERVICE WILL MEET YOUR REQUIREMENTS”

He compares Pregame.com to McDonald’s – another company he seems to dislike. Good to know.

McDonald’s does unethical stuff too. I thought it was a funny comparison.

He references that one Pregame.com handicapper was suspended for making an error in the record he promoted (a fact which would seem to make the case that accurate records are taken extremely seriously by the site). But then, he claims that handicapper Steve Fezzik “fabricated” a record. But he offers ZERO proof. Not even a link to an anonymous forum post to back the accusation! Leaving the reader to wonder whether Pregame.com harshly disciplines record mistakes, or takes part in record fabrication? Then again, since not a shred of proof was provided about fabrication, the answer is clear.

All I can do is link to forum posts. I am working on acquiring concrete proof, but I’m not sure it’s possible, given the long history and the difficulty in acquiring information that should be easy to find.

Beyond the absence of proof and contradiction, what Mr. Rudnitsky leaves out is even more troubling.

Steve Fezzik, mentioned above, is the only two-time winner of the most prestigious football handicapping contest in the world (LVH SuperContest). Does that mean Fezzik couldn’t be part of wrongdoing? Heck, no. But, a reporter making a minimum effort to be fair would certainly include that fact when bashing Fezzik’s expertise.

This information is widely available. And, trust me, if you come across Steve Fezzik, you will find out this information, because it’s the main marketing tool he’s used since it happened years ago. It’s the first sentence in his Twitter bio.

He indeed won the very prestigious contest back in 2008 and 2009. That’s pretty crazy.

However, realize: It’s a very large contest. Even if someone is a fantastic sports bettor, they probably won’t win it. Winning is partly based on skill, but coming in first place takes a lot of luck. It’s really impressive that he won twice. It suggests he might be a good bettor. Perhaps amazing. However, winning a highly-luck-based contest again doesn’t prove the long-term value provided by a bettor. I was also informed that Fezzik did poorly in other NFL contests those years. He happened to run really hot in those two contests. That’s awesome. Good for him. But: Two contests ≠ long-term record.

If they don’t try to prove it, don’t believe it. The fact that multiple people have contacted me (and written in the comments of my original piece) suggesting that Fezzik’s records have been hidden and/or fabricated shouldn’t be taken as fact, but they should, again, slightly strengthen your already-extreme skepticism.

Pregame.com has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. Perhaps Mr. Rudnitsky could make the case that since he never even claimed a single instance of a customer being wronged, that this was not applicable.

Pregame is 100% legal. That does not mean their picks are worth buying.

Pregame.com’s own posting forum generates 1000+ posts a day. 99% are extremely positive. No reason to take my word for it, a few minutes of browsing shows this to be true. The 1% of complaints provides compelling proof that complaints are not censored – rather they are publically addressed till the customer is satisfied.

1) Learn how to spell publicly.

2) Literally yesterday, this happened:

A forum member posted my article in the Pregame.com forums. The member didn’t even say he agreed with me, he said that he thought I threw “some pretty insane claims” out. A reasonable discussion began.

The post was deleted in around an hour.

The member was soon banned.

But, right. They totally don’t censor important things like helpful, honest third parties posting long-term records.

Mr Rudnitsky obviously does not value the content I produce. I respect his right to that personal opinion.
Yet, he fails to show any respect to the thousands who do value my content.

I don’t like his content. I hope people stop buying his picks.

His article claimed picks from Pregame.com lead to “inevitable bankruptcy.” When asked by a commenter to provide proof of a single case of this, he could not. He also showed concern about Pregame.com “fueling addiction.” This accusation ignores the reality that Pregame.com handicappers often and aggressively stress how difficult it is to win, and how sports betting should be no more than recreation for most. You will not find a single instance of even a whiff of “get rich quick” marketing. Mr. Rudnitsky either did not do the basic reporting to know this, or he ignored the truth because it did not fit his narrative.

If Pregame.com is providing losing picks, they “can” lead to “inevitable bankruptcy.” They will lose people money. Simple. Losing money can fuel addiction.

For those not yet convinced of the degree of Mr. Rudnitsky’s bias, consider that one of Pregame.com’s competitor, whose level of transparency falls short of Pregame’s (by the author’s own admission) – is featured daily at the Sporting News website, and also has an employee who is regularly featured on Fox1 national television. If Mr. Rudnitsky intent was to protect the mainstream media from sports betting information sites which fall short of his personal standards, it’s only logical that this competitor would also suffer his wrath. Yet, this competitor is not even named.

I mentioned Right Angle Sports because they are the only company I’m aware of that does the one thing I’ve been preaching: Provide long-term records. Right on the front of their website, they say “View Our Fully Transparent Long Term Record.”

They’re not really “competitors” with Pregame, because informed customers would understand that one company is transparent and one is not. But again, this is irrelevant to my point. I have no affiliation with RAS; I just admire their transparency. They’re an expensive service and I never plan to use them. I suspect that most readers will feel the same way. I wanted to point out the only example of honesty in pick-selling that I am aware of.

Also, I’m not sure what he’s talking about on “Fox1 national television.” I was discussing RAS; he appears to be discussing Don Best and Todd Fuhrman, who appears on Fox Sports Live, a show on Fox Sports 1. I included Fuhrman as an OK source, because he “writes and tweets some good info.” I then immediately mentioned that he was affiliated with a company that sells picks, so you should read his stuff with that in mind. Whatever. Again, no ties to any of them, so I removed his name from the original article.

Another competitor of Pregame.com was much praised in Mr. Rudnitsky’s article . Curiously, this favored site was the source of EVERY ONE of the anonymous posts cited in his article. This competitor was exalted as the ONE site that did not promote less than his entire lifetime record. Except, when Mr. Rudnitsky touted this competitor’s record in college football and college basketball, he used only a 5-year sample rather than the lifetime record. As you might guess, the selected years were better than the lifetime record for both sports – with the arbitrary fifth year the very best college football year in this picker’s history. Perry Mason moment: promoting the truth in a marketing-friendly way – precisely his only tangible compliant with Pregame.com!

It get’s worse for Mr. Rudnitsky: the record he touted was incorrect – with the winning percentage inflated by nearly 1.5% (compared to the data provided on the competitor’s very own website). I can’t know if this was an incompetent error or purposeful deception – but either way, it’s one more transgression than his article was able to uncover about me. Guess Mr. Rudnitsky is now compelled to call himself even nastier names than he called me.

Wait, now he’s talking about Right Angle Sports. I have no idea what he was trying to say before.

It’s not “curious.” I used them as an example of what Pregame would do if it were honest: Provide “Fully Transparent Long Term Records.” It’s so damn simple.

But again, I’m not telling you to use them. I don’t use them. I posted their records to prove a different point, to show how small differences in percentage points makes a huge difference in profitability. It was in reference to a mathematical error made by the Times, that had nothing to do with Pregame. Yet again: Nothing Bell has written has disproven my arguments.

He was actually sort of right about the incorrect records thing, though! I apologize for that. I used the front page of RAS’s site for those numbers (which, AGAIN, were only used for a mathematical point), and they were a bit misleading. (Which is not OK! They messed up. They should fix this and I will notify them.)

The front-page records said they were for five years, but they’re actually for four. The CBB record didn’t include the record from five years ago (which was still excellent, FYI), or this year’s college football record (which was OK but not their best). Again, it does nothing to disprove my point, but RJ is right here, and I hope they fix that.

[empty space]

That’s it. That’s how the “rebuttal” ends. Not even an “Insincerely, RJ Bell,” to close.

In case you didn’t want to read that drivel (and I can’t blame you if you didn’t), here’s a summary:

RJ Bell is mad. RJ Bell wrote in circles. RJ Bell couldn’t disprove my arguments, that: You shouldn’t buy his picks, and the media should get a clue and stop glorifying him, his company and his work.



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