Deadspin Faces Lawsuit Over Hit Piece on Handicapping Industry
The business of professional sports handicapping has changed a lot over the years, and for the most part the industry has become far more transparent.
In the Hollywood film Two For The Money (based on the real life of Stu Feiner and Brandon Lang), handicappers are portrayed as unethical, immoral, dishonest individuals looking to bleed their clients dry as quickly as they possibly can.
This was a successful business model for some in the 80s and 90s, before the rise of the Internet, and prior to the era of social media. Today’s handicappers are held to a higher standard, as false claims or misrepresentation of facts can easily be exposed by the online community.
Online gossip rag Deadspin published this article in June of 2016: How America’s Favorite Sports Betting Expert Turned A Sucker’s Game Into An Industry. The piece was written by freelance journalist Ryan Goldberg, who claimed to have spent over a year investigating Pregame.com, and owner R.J. Bell.
In the opening paragraph, Goldberg acknowledges the popularity of sports betting, and names Bell as America’s authority on the subject:
“Full wagering is illegal in 49 states, but sports betting is big business, with billions wagered each year—and everyone knows it. Lines and moves are discussed openly on TV, and covers are mentioned right next to game stories. Media outlets nationwide turn to a handful of people for insight and predictions into point spreads and odds. And the man they look to more than any other is RJ Bell, a self-proclaimed modern-day Jimmy the Greek.“
As you read on, it becomes clear that Goldberg wants us to think that today’s touts are no better than those of the past. He acts as though he has evidence that proves what he says is a “gross misrepresentation of records”, and goes on to point out what most people would consider to be common knowledge (the house always wins). He uses spectacular graphs and formulas to create a perception of enormous losses, but fails to disclose how he comes to such conclusions.
The Pot Calling The Kettle Black?
In the eyes of somebody with knowledge of the industry, it seems that Goldberg is using the same tactics he says are used by the handicappers he is slandering. Deadspin’s former parent company (Gawker Media) was forced into bankruptcy after Hulk Hogan was awarded $115 million in a lawsuit over a sex tape. R.J. Bell has retained the same lawyer who represented the Hulkster (Charles Harder) for his lawsuit versus Deadspin.
The article shows a list of 49 handicappers, and claims that only 11 of them showed profits over a five year period from January 2011 – May 2016. The funny thing is, most people who are well informed about the world of sports betting would be impressed by the fact that Pregame managed to find 11 individuals who can prove they’ve beaten the bookmakers five years running.
The article goes on to say that the profits from these handicappers would still not even cover the cost of purchasing the picks. Of course drawing such a conclusion would be impossible without using highly speculative data, and this will likely be a major point of contention in the lawsuit.
Poor Understanding Of The Handicapping Industry
The biggest issue though, was the suggestion that professional handicappers sell clients losing picks so that they can cash out a percentage of their losses as affiliates to sportsbooks. Here is a quote from Goldberg’s article: “It’s a can’t-miss business plan, and it pays off twice. First when customers buy the picks, and again when they fork over their money to sportsbooks on those losing bets.”
The problem with these wild accusations is that Goldberg knows very little about the handicapping business. He makes the assumption that people will buy picks from a losing handicapper, and that simply isn’t how it works. Most sites will only market handicappers who are winning, and 90% of the sales will go to a handful of pros who rank near the top on the leaderboards. In other words, R.J. Bell makes a lot more money when his handicappers win than he does when they lose.
Is Goldberg A Losing Bettor?
Everybody has heard the expression “the house always wins“, so it really seems strange that Ryan Goldberg would take a year out of his life trying to prove the obvious. He seems to be quite passionate about the subject, and perhaps it’s the result of his own failed ambitions as a sports bettor? Goldberg sounds like a punk kid who blew his trust fund betting on sports, and has decided to ruin the fun for those of us who enjoy betting within our means.
Responsible bettors understand the risks, and they are not oblivious to the fact that it’s extremely difficult to beat the house. When they decide to hire a professional handicapper, they do so because they believe it will increase their chances of winning, NOT because they believe winning is guaranteed.