Why Are Grantland And The New York Times Peddling The Bullshit Of Sports Betting Sleazeballs?
Mainstream media are finally beginning to acknowledge that Americans bet on sports, and that point spreads are far more accurate at evaluating teams than so-called "experts," who are really just writers or personalities, nothing more. But, it's happening at the (plodding) pace of an Andy Reid addition problem. You still read headlines like "Michigan 'shocks' Iowa..." when the winners were 3-point home favorites. Frequently.
And whenever a taboo subject permeates the national discussion, there is an information gap. The average sports fan doesn't know a lot about sports betting, because there are virtually no sports-betting experts employed by mainstream-media outlets. Why? Sports bettors usually spend their time betting on sports, not working full-time as writers or commentators. It's similar to why the media doesn't know shit about the stock market. And it's why outlets with solid reputations have been covering "stories" like "Floyd Mayweather Bets $10 Million On Broncos," when all evidence suggests that it's complete bullshit. That was the highest-trafficked story on the Denver Post's website a few days ago. Yes, in Denver's newspaper, during the week of a Super Bowl that featured the Denver Broncos.
This is a problem. It was a problem that mainstream media ignored sports betting, but it's an even bigger problem that supposedly reputable outlets are starting to cover sports betting... but doing so by peddling complete bullshit. There's no other word to describe it, so I'm going to keep saying it. Most of the Internet is peddling bullshit. ESPN is peddling bullshit. The New Yorker is peddling bullshit. Business Insider is peddling bullshit. Grantland is peddling bullshit. THE NEW YORK FUCKING TIMES is peddling bullshit. It has gone too far. The Internet reeks of sports betting propaganda and misinformation.
And most of that stench emanates from a man named RJ Bell.
If you are a Grantland reader or a sports fan on Twitter, you've likely come across RJ Bell. He's a self-proclaimed betting "expert," and he currently has over 78,000 followers on Twitter. He has influence, whether he deserves it or not. He writes a regular column on Grantland and has appeared on ESPN radio and TV shows for quite some time. His presence has intensified recently, and that's not OK. He was aptly described as "something of a mascot for the (sports betting) industry."
The problem with RJ Bell is very simple. He's not a writer or TV or radio guy first. He's the founder and CEO of Pregame.com, a website that sells sports picks. All of that media stuff is just branding. He is represented "by one of Hollywood’s hottest celebrity publicists to keep the brand red hot." The same publicist as Bill Simmons, if you were wondering.
The pick-selling industry, or "tout" industry, mainly consists of scumbags. An excellent BettingTalk article describes the climate succinctly and accurately:
Inside the gambling world, the only bigger insult than calling someone a tout is being called a sucker who bought picks from a tout. In fact, it’s hard to come up with a profession that has a worse reputation...
“The overall climate of the industry is 99 percent scammers, so I can’t really blame those that have that opinion of the industry,” another pick-seller wrote in an email.
The reasons for this are:
1) The percentage of sports bettors that profit, long-term, is typically estimated at ~1-3%. That's an estimate, but it is 100% true that very few people are capable of making money on sports betting. It requires a lot of intelligence, discipline and hard work.
2) For the few who are capable, the rational decision is to keep one's picks to him or herself. Disclosing picks will give the market a glimpse into the bettor's methods and make it more difficult for him to get the prices that he/she seeks. If you're a winning sports bettor, releasing your picks is a suboptimal financial decision. You also do not want to be a known winner. Most sportsbooks, especially those in Vegas, will refuse your bets or heavily limit the amount you can bet if they know you're a winner.
Your assumption should be that all pick-sellers are scammers, unless they can go above and beyond to prove that's not the case. In fact, there is one widely prasied pick-selling service that exists: Right Angle Sports.
How can you tell they're legit?
Right on the front page of their website, they feature a "Pick Archive," where you can view their "fully transparent long term record."
Does Pregame.com provide fully transparent long-term records?
This is enough to show you should not purchase their services. If RJ Bell could provide fully transparent long-term, successful records for all of his touts, he would do so. It would help his business immensely. The fact that he won't do so proves an obvious point: He can't prove that his touts' picks will win you money. Clearly, you shouldn't give them your money.
That's the main problem, and the only problem that matters if you were to consider buying their picks. But given that Pregame has to resort to sleazy marketing to fool people, there are other problems.
For one: Right now, Pregame.com employs about 25 touts. They're all independent, and logic suggests that the majority of them are not long-term winners. The facts back this up, and then some. There is no reason to have 25 different sellers, besides scammy marketing (it's likely that at least a few of them will get lucky and have a marketable, short term hot streak — "Ignore the 20 guys that are losing right now and the 25 guys we can't prove are winners... but 5 of them have won 12 of their last 15 bets! Send us your bank account info!")
Short-term records are meaningless. I have won 10 bets in a row before. I have also lost 10 in a row. Neither of those facts tells you anything about my sports-betting skills, or lack thereof. Shit, I won money for one full year of NFL betting. But there is no way for me to prove that wasn't luck, and I can in no way guarantee I won't be horrible next year.
RJ Bells claims that Pregame.com is "100% transparent," but it is not. Just take it from Edward Golden, the founder of Right Angle Sports himself, who writes: "RJ Bell doesn't get what 100% transparency is."
What he fails to mention is that long term records are not displayed for any Pregame "Pro" and determining a long term record using their system would literally take someone days."
Some comments from that forum discussion:
RJ is an absolute clown. So disgusting that he's given such a wide platform.
They kicked off Tony George from selling football packages after his claims of a 60% long term record in Football that was shot down by several posters.
Yes, it's a joke over there.
I'd agree with you somewhat, and there are a lot of sites out doing similar and worse things than Pregame, but the difference is they aren't out there actively defending their misrepresentation of records. He just made that comment yesterday, it wasn't dug up from the past.
There's proof of this stuff all over; you can search things like "Fezzik betting record," and see multiple accounts tracking him that prove he's not a winner. Complaints are EVERYWHERE, with comments on forums like:
"you have to log in to see more than the last 100 picks., and RJ quickly bans anyone who tries to post past records"
There's seriously so much of this shit out there, including Pregame being caught fabricating "handicapper" Steve Fezzik's record for his "Bet Like a Pro" package... WHICH COSTS $1,000 A MONTH.
But hey, at least they provide this disclaimer!
THE SERVICE, CONTENT, AND SITE ARE PROVIDED ON AN "AS IS" BASIS. USE OF THE SERVICE IS AT YOUR OWN RISK. THE SERVICE IS PROVIDED WITHOUT WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE OR NON-INFRINGEMENT. WITHOUT LIMITING THE FOREGOING, PREGAME, ITS AFFILIATES, AND ITS LICENSORS DO NOT WARRANT THAT THE CONTENT IS ACCURATE, RELIABLE OR CORRECT; THAT THE SERVICE WILL MEET YOUR REQUIREMENTS
UPDATE: Just to add another layer of sleaze, a tipster informed me of PregameAction.com, a Pregame subsidiary pushed to Pregame newsletter subscribers, that profits by referring people to online sportsbooks. This is illegal to do in the US... so they set up the company in Canada. Like everything they do: It's legal, but exceptionally shady.
Oh, and Fezzik was one of the other dudes quoted by the NEW YORK FUCKING TIMES. This dude "named" "Vegas Runner," too, for whom you don't have to search long to find a stench of scumminess. And that's the real issue here.
Pregame.com is a dishonest company that uses shady marketing to promote a detrimental product. But, McDonalds does the same thing. You get your initial satisfaction (expert picks = tasty nuggets!), and then you feel like shit (bankruptcy = diarrhea). But thousands of companies do similar things, and the amount of blame they deserve is beyond the scope of this article. The real issue here is the media. The media is helping the sleazeballs. Seriously: The New York Times Magazine feature is horrendous, and the vast majority of readers probably, understandably had no idea.
Its main message is simple: RJ Bell and his Pregame.com touts "Vegas Runner" and Fezzik are glamorous sports-betting experts — specifically experts in NFL betting, the hardest sports to bet on (mainly because it's the highest volume). It reads as the perfect ad for Pregame.com. You want to be these people. You want their picks. They call Steve Fezzik "the prototypical Vegas sharp." The feature doesn't explicitly tell you to go to Pregame.com, but if you're an uneducated, interested consumer, like many readers, you'll probably check it out. RJ wins. You lose.
And the weirdest part was that there were blatant inaccuracies in the post. This is a simple mathematical statement that is blatantly wrong and still hasn't been corrected, almost a week after publication.
"Veteran sports gamblers are happy if they can do just slightly better, hitting 53.5 percent or more of their bets, which is the threshold for beating the vig and being profitable."
The figure is 52.38% (rounded to the nearest hundreth). This can be proved by very simple math.
Most people won't find that significant, which shows you how ripe people are for exploitation. Do you know what the difference between your average, losing bettor and a pro is? If you flip a coin to bet each game, you'll win approximately 50% of the time. So, the average bettor wins something like 50% of the time. This means he will lose a lot of money, long-term. As I've said, Right Angle Sports are like gods in the gambling industry. Honest and successful. They hit 56.60% of their NCAAB bets over the past five years, and 60.84% in NCAAF. Those are easier markets than the NFL, and those numbers are FUCKING FANTASTIC. You will be filthy rich if you can consistently hit those numbers. A few percentage points can be the difference between bankruptcy and extreme wealth. Oh, and those percentage points become even more important if you must subtract a price that you're paying for picks.
They also hype another, non-Pregame-affiliated tout, some dude named Dave Oancea (Vegas Dave). How do they prove he's also a sick dude? He "says he drives a Ferrari and bets up to $100,000 per week..." and spends "more than $1 million for bottle service at nightclubs..." Wow! Hey, New York Times, I have a story for you: I drive four Lamborghinis and I bet $2 billion a week and spend $10 trillion at nightclubs! I would send you pictures but all of my cars are in the shop! Darn!
Really: The NEW YORK FUCKING TIMES promoted a sleazy business's brand because the dude said that he drives a Ferrari and bets obscene amounts of money. No need to look into that or anything. It's not like this is the NEW YORK FUCKING TIMES, or anything.
I can't stress this enough: This is a big fucking problem. It allows Pregame.com to brand itself as "the largest sports betting info site compliant with U.S. law, and the most quoted worldwide: including ESPN, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, and Wall Street Journal (and now, New York Times)."
They get to say: "Pregame.com has received more national media attention than all of our competitors combined." Because it's true.
They even say it themselves, on their affiliates page: "Pregame.com's unmatched endorsements from the biggest and most respected media companies in the world (see the amazing list) establishes an instant credibility and trust level no competitor can match."
They know what they're doing. In this area, they're transparent. The media is just too dumb and lazy to do something about it.
It also allows Pregame to hype their CEO another alleged credibility indicator, bragging that:
"RJ Bell of Pregame.com is the only sports bettor on Forbes' list of Gambling Gurus and has been called "a true insider" by ESPN and a "point-spread maven" by USA Today. Mr. Bell has been featured on Dan Patrick, Colin Cowherd, Mike & Mike, Jim Rome, CBS Evening News, ABC Evening News, Nightline, CNBC, CNN, Fox Business, Sportscenter, Outside the Lines, Pardon the Interruption, First Take, Sports Nation, Rick Reilly, ESPN.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo, and in the Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, New York Times, LA Times, Newsweek.com, Bloomberg, Maxim, and Sports Illustrated. Pregame.com is the largest sports betting news website compliant with US Law."
It allows him to build his useless Twitter "brand" where he tweets unverifiable "facts" like mystical "wiseguys" who agree and disagree with Colin Cowherd's bets, hypothetical payouts for ridiculous underdog parlays that nobody bet, and what future, hypothetical lines would be, by saying things like VEGAS SAYS A SUPER BOWL REMATCH WOULD BE LINED AS FOLLOWS, as if that holds any significance, as if Vegas is a person, and as if Mr. Vegas doesn't typically just copy the lines put out by the big boys offshore. He writes things like "for those wanting to handicap the toss: [ed. note: PERHAPS THE DUMBEST PHRASE EVER WRITTEN] There have been 24 heads and 23 tails in the 47 prior Super Bowls. The NFC had won the toss 14 straight times before the AFC won the last two." (The only fact that illuminates anything about "handicapping the coin toss" is the surprising, comical fact that the coin is slightly more likely to end up falling on the side that initially faces up.)
It allows them to have an affiliate program, getting other sites in on the sleaziness.
It allows them to, according to the New York Times (though apparently we shouldn't take their word anymore), be worth $5 million as of 2012.
Pregame.com is a viable business, and a seemingly successful business, thanks in massive part to lazy, mainstream media.
NEXT PAGE: So, why do mainstream media outlets quote self-interested scammers?
So, why do mainstream media outlets quote self-interested scammers?
Because they're fucking clueless.
But not everyone is clueless. Some people are aware of these issues. Yet they make the rational, morally questionable decision to give these guys publicity.
WagerMinds has explained this perfectly. Chad Millman of ESPN Magazine is one of the people who often interviews sketchy characters... but he knows they're sketchy.
...according to Edward Golden from RAS Picks (one of the few tout operations with a long-term winning track record), when he asked Millman why he interviews touts who have proven to lose money for their clients over the long term, Millman responded by pointing out that “there just aren’t enough reputable people in the industry to interview and write about..."
The public wants picks. Whether it’s a stock pick or a sports pick, they want a specific, actionable recommendation. And media outlets – whether it’s CNBC or ESPN – need to give the public what they want to keep their attention. So it’s not at all surprising that CNBC resorts to trotting out underperforming money managers as guests on their shows. And given there are only a handful of people with proven, long-term track records of winning at sports betting, it’s understandable that Chad Millman has resorted to interviewing articulate touts, even if those touts are proven money losers.
Now, whether ESPN should provide legitimacy to these tout operations by interviewing their pick-sellers is another matter entirely. And one that’s very much worth debating.
Fezzik, Millman and RJ: BIFFLES! (Incredible photoshop via @Kunk7.)
This credibility problem is a pervasive parasite in sports media. But if you had to come up with the two sources you'd trust most for sports information, there's a solid chance you'd say Grantland, the company that employs RJ Bell and has him write regular columns, and the New York Times, the paper that made him seem like some sort of god. Oh, you like Sports Illustrated better? They do it too. Their top soccer writer wrote this compilation of horse dung pimping out a tout who said he makes money betting MLS:
@WagerMinds You aren't target audience of article (nor are you civil). I frankly don't care if he wins. Find it interesting that he exists.
— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) July 2, 2013
That's ignorance at its finest. Why is it so hard to ignore (or thoroughly research) a topic you are clueless about? Isn't that your job?
(I also must note: I found a COMPLETELY UNVERIFIED rumor in a forum that ESPN owns a percentage of Pregame. There is no reason to believe this is true, but it would explain a lot if it was. Please tell me if you have any info on this.)
There are a few legitimate sources out there. David Purdum is a longtime journalist that doesn't sell picks or do much besides genuine reporting. He is the only one I'm aware of, period. The WagerMinds blog isn't updated often, but they aren't selling anything and are always a reliable, unbiased source of criticism and full of insight on Twitter. BettingTalk's blog is similarly sparse yet reliable. The same goes for VegasWatch, where the snark is dialed up to XTREME.
It's RJ Bell's job to promote his sleazy brand, so, sure, cut him some slack if you want. But the media? It's their job to tell people about this stuff. But apparently the job has to go to the independent blogs like our humble SportsGrid, because you can't expect the well-compensated veterans to do their due diligence, right?
I'll leave you with my own rewritten version of what an Honest RJ Bell Twitter bio would look like, just to ensure that take everything he writes, says and tweets with a few gallons of salt.
Pusher of useless trends, unverifiable info, and useless hype to drive you to his sleazy website where he will charge you to create/acceleate your addiction and inevitable bankruptcy. Happy betting!
Everybody knows that Skip Bayless is a joke. Countless takedowns have been written, memes created, and common sense employed. But you have to dig a little deeper to take down guys like RJ Bell, because of the information gap. Once you know a little bit about sports betting, the stench of sleaze overpowers you.
Hopefully, people will start to catch on, and the New York Fucking Times and Grantland — otherwise fantastic entities — will piece their shit back together. Because right now, it's separated and nasty and they should ask Erin Andrews for some probiotics.
If you have anything to add, please hit me up on Twitter or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.
Photo screenshot via
UPDATE: RJ Bell has responded to our criticism. Check it out HERE. Spoiler: It does nothing to disprove any of this.
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