Sunday, January 13, 2013

Lying, Sleazy Sports Handicappers

This is a bit off topic for my blog, but not that much.  I would say if I hadn’t spent so much time involved in poker the past year or two, I probably wouldn’t have done what I did in this story, I probably wouldn’t have made the phone call I did.  But hanging around poker rooms, I am constantly hearing players talking about their sports bets, their parlays, their teasers, their round-robins, etc.  Also, a lot of the fine bloggers you see on my blog roll cover sports betting as much—or even more—than they do poker (examples:  LuckiDuck & Coach).  There seems to be a connection.  And I’ve actually discussed sports betting a little bit before, in this post.

Actually, this is more a post about some blatantly false advertising I heard on the radio, which had to do with the NFL playoffs the weekend of January 12-13.  And even if you don’t follow football, or give a damn about sports betting, I think there’s a good chance you’ll find this story interesting.
On Saturday morning, before any of the NFL playoff games had started, I was driving in L.A. on my way to an appointment, and flipping through the dials on my radio.  I found a station where some guys were talking about the playoffs, so I started listening.  It soon became apparent this was not a regular sports talk show or a normal preview of the weekend’s games.  The guys on the show were all talking from the perspective of how to bet the games, not to what to look for as a football fan.
I soon realized this was a sports handicapping show, and what I was actually listening to was basically an hour long infomercial.  The “hosts” were telling the listeners that certain handicappers had absolute locks for the games this weekend, and if you followed their advice, you would be a big winner with your NFL playoff bets.
I was amused.  I’ve actually heard these types of shows before and for reasons I cannot explain, find them oddly entertaining.  I knew I could switch over to a “real” sports show where some expert would tell me why Aaron Rodgers was going to carve up the 49’er defense (ahem), but I found this strangely more interesting.  Especially when some guy said he had a 92% win rate for the current NFL season and he had “an absolute lock” for the late game that day, Green Bay at San Francisco.  He insisted the Vegas line of 3 points was way, way off.  He said the team that was going to win was going to win by at least three touchdowns.  Yeah, that’s what he said.
Now I must admit I don’t follow the NFL nearly as much as I used to.  It used to be my favorite sport, and there was a time where I could honestly say I never missed a Monday Night Football game, and when I almost never missed the Sunday double-header.  But that was a long time ago.  For reasons I won’t go into, I’ve paid less and less attention to the game as the years have gone by, and these days, the NBA is by far and away my favorite sport.  Now, I really only start watching the sport when the playoffs start (I can still say I’ve seen every single Super Bowl except the first one—and only because that one was actually blacked out in L.A.).  But this brings us back to poker.  Because of all the NFL talk at poker tables, I’m able to absorb a fair amount about the current season and the teams without really trying.
So I was intrigued when this so call expert handicapper said the 49’ers-Packers game, which I was looking forward to watching, was going to be rout.  Like the Vegas oddsmakers, I expected a tight game.  And here was this guy insisting the winning team was going to win easily. 
Of course, he wouldn’t say on the radio who the winning team was going to be.  For that you had to call a 800 number, presumably his office phone number.  Now, I understand the way this guy makes money is by selling his sports picks to sports bettors.  In that sense, he’s like a financial advisor selling his advice on which stocks to buy.  But as I’ve heard other times I’ve heard shows like this, he was offering to tell you the winner of the 49’er’s-Packers game for free.
Yes, free.  You see, all you had to do was call his toll-free number, and you would hear a pre-recorded message that would tell you which team, the 49’ers or the Packers, would win the game by at least 3 touchdowns.  The caller would then be able to place a bet on that team and win as much as they felt comfortable betting.  And he made it clear that this pick was absolute slam-dunk sure-thing winner.  There was like no chance the other team could win.  It was essentially money-in-the-bank.  The guy had different levels of picks, some marginal, some sure things, and this was a definite sure thing.
If the guy makes a living selling this information, why would he give you this pick free?  Well, he explained, if you get this pick, bet on it, and win a bundle with it, you will be so happy, and will so clearly see the benefit of using this guy’s service in the future, you will be only too happy to subscribe to the service.  In other words, this is a loss leader.  He gives you the first one for free, you will like the results, see how much money you can make from paying this guy for future sports picks, and be more than willing to pay his fee.
It made sense.  They also had another handicapper on, who had a similar “lock” for one of the Sunday games (I don’t recall which one).  But it was the 49’er game that kept intriguing me, because what this guy was saying seemed so out of line with what I was expecting from this game.
So, it was a long drive and I started toying with the idea of actually calling his 800 #.  After all, he said it was a pre-recorded message.  And it would be totally free.  Now, I had absolutely no intention of making a bet on the game, that’s just not my thing.  But I was actually really curious as to which team was going to win by such a big score, or at least, which team this so called expert thought would.
Yes, I knew that it was very possibly a scam.  That it wouldn’t be exactly what it said it was.  But I thought that would be interesting to find out.  I also thought, well, they’ve only repeated like 87 times that that if you called the number, you would get the team to bet absolutely free and that you would get a pre-recorded message.  They said that over and over and over again.  It couldn’t be clearer.  And this was an over the air radio station.  Certainly truth-in-advertising laws apply. 
So, what the hell, I had some time before I got to my destination.  I had time to dial an 800 number and hear a pre-recorded message that would tell me whether it was the 49’ers or the Packers who win the game by at least 3 touchdowns.  And then, when I watched the game, everything that happened would be filtered through that perspective….did that interception, did that touchdown, did that fumble, help or hurt the guy’s pick?  It might add a whole new layer to the game, without my actually having to risk any money of my own on it. 
So I called the number.  After a few rings, a guy came on the line.  Not a pre-recorded message, but a real, live, person. Who sounded like he belonged on The Sopranos.  I suppose I should have hung up immediately, but I figured at this point it would be fun to see what was going to happen.

The guy said he worked for the handicapper I was hearing on the radio and said something like, “We know on the radio it said you’d get a pre-recorded message, but it’s actually a little different than that.”  No shit.  It’s not a little different.  What they said on the radio was an outright lie. 
The guy asked me my first name.  I gave him a phony one.  The guy asked me my phone number.  I gave him a phony one (though, with caller ID, he has, in theory, one of my numbers).
Then he asked if I was calling out of curiosity or because I am a sports bettor wanting to use the information to place a bet.
I said that I was mostly curious, but that I do sometimes make sports bets.  So, I told a fib, but you know, once I realized that they were blatantly lying on the radio, I felt no compunction to be honest.
He asked, if he gave me the name of the team to bet, did I have a way of placing the bet?  I suppose I could have said that I was in Vegas (as I frequently am) and that I could place it at  a sports book.  But instead I said yes, I have an online account (not true).
He asked how much I usually bet on individual games.
I had to play this out a little longer.  “Oh not much, usually about $10-$100.”
I was wondering if that was too little to be of interest to him, but he pressed on.  “If I gave you this pick, which is an absolute lock, an absolute guaranteed winner, and you were sure you would win with it, what’s the most you would put down on the game?”’
Sigh, Ok, I’ll play a little longer.  “Oh, maybe $250, tops.”
“OK, so if you bet the $250 and won, and you will win, then you’d have $500 in your offshore account.  Then I’d give you the pick for tomorrow, which is also an absolute lock.  And you’d bet that game, and at the end of the weekend you’d have $1,000 in your offshore account.  That’s pretty good, right?”
I said yes, waiting for the shoe to drop.  “So, well, I know this isn’t exactly as we say on the radio, but for that $1000 you’re gonna make, that’s worth….that’s gotta be worth the $100 membership fee for to you sign up for our service, so you can get all our picks, including absolute locks like these two…..right?”
I didn’t say anything for a few seconds.
“So what do you say, will you sign up for membership for $100 to get these two picks?”
I’d had enough.  I said, “No. This isn’t anything like what you advertise on the radio, so goodbye."  And I clicked off.
I found the whole thing amusing, but disturbing.  Are all sports handicappers this scummy?  I mean, he could say on the show that it’ll cost you to get the information.  Instead, he lies that it’s free, and lies that you get a pre-recorded message.  I imagine most callers don’t stay on the line as long as I did, seeing as how dishonest the thing was.
Then I turned the radio back on.  They were finishing up, and the guy was giving his one free bet on the radio..  Yes, he was giving you a bet to make without having to call his 800 # and get the “pre-recorded message.”  He said bet the over in 49’er game.  He said that the team that’s gonna win will cover the over all by themselves. 
I started replaying the whole conversation in my mind, and realized that I had maybe a good story.  And then I started wondering a few things.  For one thing, since everything else the guy said was a lie, I wondered if the whole three-touchdown thing was a lie too.  I could imagine that if I’d given the guy my $100, he’d then say, “Oh that was another thing that we said on the radio that wasn’t quite true.  It’s really is going to be a close game.  So, the Niners will win, but they won’t cover.  Bet the Packers.”  That would be funny.  I also wondered—if I had said I could bet $10k on the game, would that membership fee would be substantially more than $!00?
Originally, I was planning to give the name of the sleazy handicapper, as he is a lying scumbag who deserves no protection.  But for reasons I won’t go into here, I’ve decided not to out him here on the blog.  I have a hunch that maybe they’re all like this, but I can’t say that for sure.
Anyway, later that night, watching the game, I of course couldn’t stop thinking of the handicapper.  First of all, my working assumption, rightly or wrongly, was that if any team was going to win by 3 TD’s, it would be the Packers.  Ooops.  But during the first half, it sure looked like that "win by 3 touchdowns" thing was way off, as it was a close game, with the teams exchanging scores all half.  I was hoping for a very close game, regardless of who won, just so the guy would be proven totally wrong.

But the second half was quite different, as you know.  The Niner's were indeed up by 3 TD's at the very end, but missed the "3 TD" prediction only because the Pack scored a meaningless touchdown in the game’s final minutes.  But that doesn’t matter if the guy was picking the Niner’s, because they more than covered the 3 points they had to and I’m sure that the guy wasn’t going to suggest you find a bookie who would give you a money line on the Niner’s winning by 21.  I really would be curious if they guy had it right, it was such a lock.  Did he really pick SF by 3 TD’s?  Or did he pick Green Bay and is there a huge amount of egg on his face…and big red deficits in his subscriber’s accounts? I’ll never know.
But I have to give him credit for one thing.  He was right about the over/under.  I tweeted to find out the line there and it was 45.  So over was definitely the way to bet, as he said.  In fact, The 49’ers hit the over all by themselves, as he had predicted.
But he’s still a lying sleazeball.


  1. "Are all sports handicappers this scummy?"

    Not me, but I'm not too sure about that Coach guy! :)

    1. LOL....

      but, hmmm, is there a better term I should have used than "handicapper." Clearly I wasn't talking about guys like you and Coach who do this for fun, but guys who actually try to make a living selling "can't miss picks."

      Is there a better word?

    2. Oh, a technical term! :)

      How about a Yiddish word....goniff?

  2. I've heard of some of these tout services that will give the first caller GB and the next one SF. That way, half the callers will be happy and perhaps give return business (that's NOT free).

    1. Yeah, you know, while I was writing the post, I remembered something from somewhere, I'm not sure where it was. Maybe a movie or a sitcom or something. or maybe I heard about from somebody in Vegas. But the idea is that gives free winners of the same game to say, 128 people. He tells half Team A, and half Team B. He does the same thing the next day but only to the 64 who got the winner. The third day he's got 32 people who got two winners from him, so he gives 16 one team and 16 the other. Now he's got 16 people who think he's picked three straight winners and will pay him for his tips from now on.

      That said, in this case, the guy, if he was doing that, was going out on a limb by saying it was going to be a 3 touchdown victory.

    2. "The guy asked me my first name. I gave him a phony one." Big surprise there, Mr. Pseudonym.

      Yep, I had heard the same stories about calling the tout sevices -- that half who called would get one team and half the other. I remember calling one of these numbers many years ago. I think I got some type of bs and hung up as you did.

    3. Oddly enough, he didn't blink when I gave my name as "Poker Genius."

  3. I had a buddy that was really into sports betting and he called one of these services out of curiosity. They tried to get him to sign up right then and he demanded the free pick they touted on the radio show. They gave him the pick and he bet it and won. Then every week or so he would get a phone call from the service pressuring him to sign up because they gave him a winner. It took him several very angry exchanges with them to get them to stop calling.

    1. Thanks, Jeff, interesting story. I never thought of DEMANDING the pick, Based on that story tho, glad I didn't.

  4. Remember, any time someone wants to sell you their supposed "lock" on a sports bet, stock, or other investment, remind yourself: THERE'S A REASON THEY ARE SELLING YOU THE "LOCK" AND NOT BETTING/INVESTING PERSONALLY. If their prognosticating skills were so good, they would be fabulously wealthy, sipping mai tais on a beach, surrounded by hot women (or men) (or both), not running some phone bank.

    1. Thanks, Grange. I was thinking of mentioning something like that in my post. Of course, if a guy could really win 92% of all his sports bets, why would he not just make his bets and not bother with everything else.