Steve Fezzik is a numbers whiz. A former actuary and Chess Candidate Master, he’s the first person to ever win the Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest in back to back years (2008, 2009). Some have even called him “the best bettor in the world,” per his bio at PreGame.com.
Dave Oancea, better known as “Vegas Dave,” flashes diamonds and chains as he drives his Bentley through the streets of Las Vegas. He’s made his fortune betting on sports. Supposedly. You may have seen him featured on the Showtime miniseries Action with little discussion of his felonious background upon his introduction. “God gave me this gift,” Dave tells cameras during the show.
Steam Capper is less well known. Unlike Dave and Steve, there’s no name or face to put with his Twitter account (@steamcapper1). His handle says he’s a professional sports bettor, and maybe that’s all the information we need.
What do the three have in common, though? They sell sports picks for a living. From web pages and Twitter accounts to unsolicited text messages, TV shows, and radio ads, odds are you’ve come across others doing the same.
They often call themselves handicappers or “sports information consultants,” but are more commonly and colloquially known as “touts,” which comes with a much more negative connotation in the gambling community. Steve, Dave and Steam Capper are just a few of the thousands of touts marketing themselves as experts in the sports betting industry. And the number of them and the variety of their methods will swell in the coming few years as legal sports wagering takes hold across the U.S.
Sharp bettors or snake oil salesmen?
Citing records and win rates, touts sell themselves by promising win streaks and riches. They claim to know something the rest of the market doesn’t. It’s how Dave got on Showtime; it’s how Steve consistently turns out “epic” heaters. You could be like them if you just tail their picks.
Usually, the secret is in the dirt: hard work, long hours, discipline and research. But these secrets — these secrets lay behind hefty subscription fees.
Rest assured, there’s a “money-making opportunity not to miss,” or “a whale play never misses two days in a row,” or, “a $100 bettor who played my #MAXBETS only this month would be up $2890” for the month. They are self-proclaimed experts, after all.
Or are they just better at marketing than they are at beating the markets?
As the old saying goes, if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.
Sports betting is hard. Really hard. Markets, especially for the major sports, are incredibly efficient. Even the most successful professional sports bettors will tell you their ROI isn’t more than 3-5 percent.
One of those professional sports bettors is Rufus Peabody. Peabody is also one of the most prominent critics of the touting industry.
Tout skeptics like Peabody rightfully call into question why someone good enough to beat the bookmakers on their own would busy themselves with selling picks.
The argument goes something like this: A bettor who can beat the market over the long term 1) wouldn’t need to sell picks for money because they’re already profitable on their own, 2) wouldn’t want to sell their picks because if they were truly profitable they would be giving up their edge and cutting into the money they can make betting in the long term, or 3) would move the lines as soon as they bet, leaving no edge for pick buyers.
Please remember: If you buy a pick from a tout, if the tout has a 55% win rate (which would be extraordinary!) betting at -110, you need to bet 20 times the price of the pick JUST TO BREAK EVEN.
— Rufus (@RufusPeabody) June 24, 2019
In short, someone who has picks worth selling wouldn’t be selling them. And even if they were selling picks, you’d still be on the losing end when all is said and done.
And of course, buying picks will make it more difficult to win in the long run. To illustrate this, consider that you either have to win at a higher rate than most pros, or bet a substantially larger amount than the picks cost to make up for the money invested in purchasing picks and profit from them. If the tout has a 55 percent win rate, you would need to bet 20 times the price of the pick to break even on a traditional -110 line.
At PreGame.com — where Fezzik and other touts market and sell their picks — you’ll see a headline titled “Fezzik’s Win Streaks” next to a menu of betting packages for sale from $169 to $875 (the latter discounted from $2,500).
I asked Fezzik how much someone needs to wager to have a chance at profiting after purchasing his packages. “My advice to all regarding daily plays is to only buy them if you are a big bettor,” Fezzik responded. “Paying $20 for a best bet and betting $100 on it is going to make it impossible to win long term.”
Below the main bar is a daily message now emphasizing Fezzik’s “6-1 Weekend.” You can also click on a tab to view Fezzik’s win/loss record. Not including money spent on betting packages, $100 bettors were down $136 for the most recently completed seasons (NFL, CFB, CBB, NBA) when I began researching for this story. At the present, the page indicates that Fezzik’s picks are up $2,075 over the last 30 days and that $100 bettors would be up $2,992. But again, that’s not taking into account money invested in Fezzik’s betting packages. The cheapest full-season package listed runs $875 after a 60% discount. While this is more effort at transparency than other touts give, there’s more to the story.
“I do promote my win streaks, and for those questioning why I do so, the buyer has to make his decision based on all the info,” Fezzik said. “Many want to back handicappers on short term win streaks, following the hot hand. Like an investment fund on a short term run, we provide that info along with other info.”
What isn’t so easy to find is a long-term record of Fezzik’s picks. You can find, at least, Fezzik’s records dating back to August 2015 on Pregame’s forums, as Pregame invited an impartial third party (“Comptrbob”) to track Fezzik’s picks. At the end of 2015, he was +4.62 units. 2016 was a solid year with Fezzik’s picks up 36.9 units at the end of the year. In 2017, they were -25.78 units, in 2018 +45.9, and as Fezzik did point out in our email exchange, his picks were -33.5 units for 2019 as of July 8th.
Whether Pregame and Fezzik ought to get credit for tracking his year-to-date figures but relegating that information to forum posts, compared with banners for the “weekend streak,” well, that’s for you to decide. But to be fair, it is more than touts like Vegas Dave provide.
“Note, some enjoy just being able to hit slightly over 50%,” Fezzik explained, “and that experience makes sports betting more enjoyable. They would rather pay a fee, hit 53%, and break even. Similar to the golfer that will get the best hybrid clubs to shoot 88 instead of 90.”
Truth in advertising?
In many instances, touts outright omit or manipulate their records.
I sent Steam Capper a direct message on Twitter to inquire about purchasing picks. After I asked for past records, he said everything is recapped daily on Twitter but that he could send screenshots from his book for the past five weeks. The figures he showed were impressive (no actual bets), but there was no way to prove it was true and accurate. And if it was accurate, even losing gamblers can have a five-week hot streak.
Vegas Dave doesn’t record his picks for consumer consumption, either. At this point, he’s banned from Vegas casinos for three years after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor related to opening accounts with phony social security numbers. But like Floyd Mayweather on his social media accounts, Oancea has been quick to post winning tickets as evidence of his sports consulting prowess after the outcomes are determined. The losing tickets? Nowhere to be found.
Oancea doesn’t place bets anymore, which is okay with him because he’s “making more money now as a consult.” He says he’d be a “complete moron” to bet sports ever again. That doesn’t mean he’s done selling picks.
Other touts have been flat out caught stealing screenshots and photoshopping winning tickets, as Peabody documented in an April tweet.
David Miller, the tout accused of stealing that screenshot, links to a website site in his Twitter bio. The first thing you’ll see is a video with the caption “The shocking true story of how a pair of ‘Average Joes’ cracked the code to transform the Las Vegas Bookmakers, offshore betting rigs, and ‘local’ bookies into their own personal cash spitting ATM Machines.”
He, like Oancea, shows a collection of winning tickets hoping it’ll entice curious gamblers to click links for his one-day ($9) and monthly ($199) betting packages. But again, transparency is null.
With roughly 500 followers, Miller has an exponentially smaller congregation than Fezzik (@fezziksports), Dave, and Steam Capper, each of whom have over 50K followers on Twitter alone.
People using manipulative and predatory tactics to enrich themselves aren’t new. In an earlier story, Robert Mann described a common practice at horse tracks:
“When horse racing ruled the sports world in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, racetrack touts would sometimes pick each horse in a race to a different customer, thereby guaranteeing one would win. The tout would then return to the winning customer to receive a fee or percentage of the winning bet in exchange for pointing that bettor toward the winning horse. The tout could not lose, but every bettor, except one, did just that.”
Many sports touts use the same tactic to Divide and CONquer: Sending half of their clientele or prospectives one side of a game, and the other side to the other half. Ensuring half of their prospective clients are winners, and now hopefully convinced of their expertise, they cast their line and wait for bites.
Or they simply text with promises of easy riches and inside information. If an “easy cover” lands? The tout may have a customer hooked for numerous packages. And there will be more celebrations along the way, because to cover the spread some of the time is just natural probability.
With sports betting becoming more mainstream, there are more gullible bettors dreaming of funding luxurious lifestyles while watching — just like they see on Twitter and Instagram. There also more Millers aspiring to be as successful at marketing as Oancea.
“Touting” has long been an issue of concern for consumer advocates. According to the 1991 Sports Illustrated article 1-900-RIPOFFS, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs fined notorious tout Stu Feiner $13,000 in 1990 for false and misleading advertising.
Unlike mutual funds, which are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, there is no regulatory body that holds touts accountable. Touts can reference their performances without disclosing their 1, 5 and 10 year performances, as Wagerminds pointed out.
While true that it’s the consumer’s responsibility to research what they buy and invest into, the fact is, most of those preyed upon are either desperate and vulnerable or newcomers to the industry. The issue has become of so much concern that legislation was introduced in 2018 in Nevada to bolster accountability beyond message boards and Twitter watchdogs.
An early version of Senate Bill 46 in Nevada’s state legislature aimed to “provide by regulation for the operation and registration of tout services and persons associated therewith.”
The bill didn’t detail the regulations or their potential scope, or define a tout exactly, but instead gives regulators broad powers over anyone who provides advice or opinions relating to wagering on racing or sporting events for “any form of compensation, fee or remuneration.”
The well-meaning proposal was met with opposition from Sandra Douglass Morgan, Chairwoman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, who argued that existing laws could handle the consumer protection concerns and that registering tout services could lead to unintended consequences. For instance, if the state created a stamp of approval, tout services could take advantage of it to further sell themselves as a “legitimate” operation to customers.
Fezzik also weighed in on potential regulation.
“While regulations in the sports information business sound like a good idea, the details are the very difficult part. Just how are you going to determine on a level playing field the win rates for all who are registered? Sounds simple, but it is very difficult, as just what is “available” or “widely available” in a line is often not that clear, and requires great diligence to actually monitor.”
“Personally, I am tracked by Computer Bob, an outside independent monitor on all my plays,” he added.
Concerned that the bill would lead to a “slippery slope,” the broad measure was met with skepticism from the Las Vegas’ law community, too.
“Are the Board and the Commission exceeding their authority by regulating persons who are tenuously linked to the industry?” asked members of the Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie law firm. “Would the Better Business Bureau be more suitable to monitor such businesses? Is the next step to begin regulating individuals who write books providing advice on blackjack and poker?”
SB46 was eventually passed with unanimous support and was approved by the Governor at the end of May — but not before heeding the Chairwoman’s advice and deleting all language concerning “tout services.”
The ontology of a tout: Is touting on a spectrum?
The foresight from the Chairwoman was sharp, especially given the language of the bill.
Fair or not, you can put touting on a spectrum, and the ambiguity of what is and isn’t a tout can stir confusion. So far, most of the examples given are of people who would be defined as a “touts” without objection.
With those obvious figures on one end of the spectrum, it’s the radio hosts, TV personalities, and writers who sit on the other end. Those writers also include reporters, such as The Action Network’s Darren Rovell, who built his profile and “brand” as he calls it over an 18-year career at ESPN.
Perhaps you caught wind of a recent snafu, described in a story by Robert Silverman for The Daily Beast. Is this touting? Watered-down touting? Misleading or dishonest or just an unfortunate mishap by someone who merely “conflated” units and dollars?
Finished up the best betting week of my life. Follow me on the @ActionNetworkHQ app and my Instagram story page for picks before games. Get picks from all our experts texted to your phone. Up to 54% green now thanks to a 65% win month. pic.twitter.com/9aNnZql2RU
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) June 10, 2019
(2/x) Today, @darrenrovell went back into the app and changed those bets
— Cizzle (@CizzlingSports) June 10, 2019
In the process of recording my early bets, I conflated units with $. When gambling twitter, including the very people who now are “calling me out,” suggested this was somehow purposeful, it made sense to go back and make everything units-based without deleting any of the picks.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) June 10, 2019
“I’ve never said I was sharp,” Rovell explained afterward. “I wasn’t hired for my ability to pick games. I was hired to cover the business of betting as legalization swept the country…”
But, he was hired for his brand and social reach, which includes tweets indicating a winning record.
Elsewhere post-PASPA, at Rovell’s former employer ESPN, there’s now the sports betting-centric show Daily Wager airing on ESPN News. It’s different but similar to FOX Sports’ Lock It In. The shows prominently feature sports experts giving out betting advice.
Lock It in and Daily Wager are just the beginning as sports media transition and adapt to the era of legalized sports betting. FOX Sports and The Stars Group recently announced a partnership to launch the sports betting app FOX Bet, and ESPN partnered with Caesars Entertainment to set up a new studio on the Las Vegas strip.
“The sports betting landscape has changed, and fans are coming to us for this kind of information more than ever before,” Mike Morrison, VP of Business Development at ESPN, said in a statement from Caesars and ESPN.
FOX Bet president Matt Primeau told RotoGrinders, “FOX Bet will be integrated within the linear broadcasts and digital assets of FOX Sports. This type of deep and natural integration is different than live streaming and has numerous advantages over just porting a feed into a betting app.”
Could those on air on these programs and others writing writing “best bets” pieces for ESPN Chalk fall under the “tout” umbrella, and become subject to regulation under bills with similar language as the early version of SB46? What about Richard Jefferson, who submitted betting advice on NBA: The Jump, shortly after ESPN and Caesars’ announcement, even though he said he didn’t even understand the betting line?
Now a moment for some self-awareness: people may put me on such a touting spectrum. For the most part, I focus on writing news articles and features covering the sports betting industry for sites within the RotoGrinders Network, including this one. But I’ve also written articles containing “picks” and “leans” at the end of my analyses of games and props. I write a PGA Betting Tips article every week where I analyze the tournament, field and odds. I include where I lean on betting certain golfers.
So, some may find some of this hypocritical, but again, those articles are free. There’s no promise of a money-making opportunity. I’m a writer who likes to bet and likes putting my thoughts and picks — picks that are not for sale — on paper. You can take it and read it or leave it, but you haven’t paid for it.
“I know it when I see it…”
Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie Law Firm was right about SB 46. Nevada’s proposal was too broad and ambiguous. It could plausibly create more problems than it solves. It’s worth asking if the language had been more narrow, would there have been a case for it to stay in the bill? What would that language look like and would it provide a net benefit in regulating the tout industry?
Instead of “anyone who provides advice or opinions relating to wagering on racing or sporting events for any form of compensation, fee or remuneration,” maybe you could say “anyone who sells access to picks in exchange of a fee or remuneration.”
Even that runs a risk of complicating things for sites that hide their content behind paywalls. The Athletic is a subscription-based sports website. Most of its content is original news and feature stories, but it’s not uncommon for The Athletic’s staff writers to provide picks and betting analysis. Longtime sportswriter and broadcaster Seth Davis routinely provided his ATS (against-the-spead) picks throughout the college basketball season. You’d have to pay to access them, but Davis isn’t a tout, not the kind we want to regulate, at least, is he?
And take The Ringer, a non-subscription site for which sport betting is on the periphery of its focuses that has columnists and podcast personalities publishing picks in articles and on podcasts. Would advertising dollars constitute some form of compensation; will any pecuniary benefit do the trick? Would Bill Simmons, who cultivated his profile on ESPN Page 2 with an NFL picks column, have had to register as a tout according to the legislation as written?
There are those who explicitly sell their picks in exchange for fees, alternatively known as “handicappers,” then there are writers, who cover sports news and sometimes write or talk about betting in the process. From my point of view, those in the latter camp are not touts. There will be people who read this article and argue otherwise. They’ll point toward pieces I have written that contains picks, and the PGA Betting Tips article as proof. We can argue semantics, and both sides would have a reasonable case, but semantics it would be.
One thing both sides can agree on is the undeniable difference between touts who package their picks in $$$-themed wrapping paper and the “public touts” — the radio hosts, TV personalities, writers — who cover the sports industry with a sports bettor’s lens, mainly for conversation’s sake.
— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) November 2, 2018
In the 1960s and ’70s, obscenity and the free speech clause was the topic of many Supreme Court cases. Of those, no opinion may be more famous than Justice Potter Stewart’s in Jacobellis v. Ohio. Foregoing the attempt to define material (“hard-core pornography”) unprotected by the First Amendment, Stewart simply wrote “I know it when it see it.” The same common sense approach can be used in this discussion: I know a tout when I see one.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t get us any closer to reasonably policing the tout industry. An objective test, one that defines a tout as person who sells access to picks in exchange of a fee or renumeration, could easily be circumvented. A tout whose website and business is centered around selling picks to buyers would add the minimal amount of sports news to their sites to dodge existential threats of regulation.
Ambiguity and loopholes aren’t the only impediments standing in the way of effective tout regulation. While Nevada is the gold standard of gaming regulation, many states and lawmakers have shown a complete lack of understanding when it comes to sports betting. It’s difficult to expect a new state to come up with a solution that Nevada hasn’t. New Jersey regulators may have such aspirations.
State regulation of the tout industry may be too ambitious, but that doesn’t mean any effort to hold touts accountable is in vain.
There are the Twitter vigilantes, often professional sports bettors, like “Spanky” and Peabody, who try to raise public awareness while brainstorming possible solutions.
“I think what we all (well, most of us anyway) want is more transparency in the business. If there was a trusted third-party site that independently monitored and verified touts’ records, it would be in the best interest of every winning tout to allow him/herself to be monitored,” Peabody tweeted last November.
One of the entrepreneurs looking to capitalize in the new legal space while bringing accountability and transparency to the tout industry is Brett Richey, CEO and founder of BlitzPredict, a betting exchange built around the blockchain technology known as Ethereum.
BlitzPredict hopes to bring accountability by incentivizing touts use the platform with “time-stamped predictions against real market odds.”
Additionally, Peabody has mentioned on podcasts and Twitter that he is exploring creating a consumer protection-oriented non-profit for bettors.
Whether BlitzPredict or a future non-profit can successfully fill in where legislation hasn’t is yet to be seen. There’s a long way to go, and there will be others who try to fill the void.
In the meantime, the touts will stay in business, more will look to join, and the Twitter vigilantes will be busier than ever.
Update: A response from Rovell:
This is really embarrassing. That you guys rehashed an obvious hit piece from the Daily Beast with no basis in fact. I’m a phone call, text, DM away. The controversy was created by gambling twitter and they didnt succeed.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) July 10, 2019
No, it's not merely a "rehashing."
You said you "conflated" (a friendly interpretation of events) units and $ in representing a record before an audience of 2 million when you were promoting your "for picks before games."
— Sports Handle (@sports_handle) July 10, 2019
That you think this is unimportant to consider this in a wide-ranging piece about tout regulation is curious given your platform covering the business of betting.
— Sports Handle (@sports_handle) July 10, 2019