Tune into the popular sports betting podcast while you formulate your NFL picks on a given week and you’d swear that the two hosts are a bickering married couple that has engaged in frequent heated arguments for the better part of two decades.
On this particular evening in late-December, the hosts, John Murray and Kelly Stewart, are arguing about Jameis Winston’s gunslinger mentality inside a back office at the Las Vegas Westgate SuperBook. Days earlier, the enigmatic Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ quarterback recorded his 11th 300-yard game of the season, but he also tossed four interceptions in a 23-20 loss to the Texans, a common Winston statistical cocktail. Winston later became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw at least 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in the same regular season, in the process taking Bucs’ bettors on a wild rollercoaster ride.
“Jameis is a mind—-,” Stewart, a Bleacher Report betting expert, exclaims.
“You can’t say that on the show,” Murray retorts.
“Well, I’ll bleep it,” Stewart says with a laugh. “I can’t think of any other way to describe Jameis.”
Competitive banter has been a staple of sports talk shows for nearly 40 years, dating back to the rise of Mike and the Mad Dog on WFAN in New York. Those who perfect it can deliver a rich, entertaining product over the airwaves, thereby developing a loyal following. Those who fake it risk sounding awkward, at times trying too hard to elicit a laugh. The public, for the most part, can see right through it.
Over the last five months, listeners of the “Kelly and Murray,” podcast have come to expect the former. The banter is genuine, according to a member of the show’s production staff, much like a passionate conversation you will hear from two close friends arguing at a bar. Despite the frequent bickering, one dynamic shines through when you listen to the podcast: the mutual respect the two have for one another.
“Whether you’re listening on your phone, driving to work, or on an airplane, you feel like you’re in the room with them,” the producer said. “That’s what makes this podcast more special. You feel like you know them, but you also want to learn more about them.”
Murray, sportsbook director at the Westgate SuperBook, informs bettors on weekly trends and line movements from the perspective of the house. Take this month’s AFC and NFC Championships, for instance. During the podcast, which was taped at its usual spot on Wednesday evenings, Murray predicted that the handle for the NFC title game would dwarf that of the AFC Championship. His rationale stemmed from the simple fact that the Titans do not generate as much interest as household names such as the Packers, Cowboys and Steelers – each of whom boast a large national following.
By Wednesday evening, Murray noted that bettors backed the Titans by an 8-to-1 ratio on moneyline wagers. The disparity, he predicted, would be even more pronounced for the Packers-49ers matchup in Santa Clara. While bettors typically parlay the favorite with the over in big games, they also have a proclivity for taking the underdog at the moneyline regardless of the price. Murray cites the 2016 NFC Championship, when the public pounded the underdog Packers – an eventual 44-21 loser to the Falcons – as case in point.
🎙 EP 40: Casanova Murray, Kelly is off to Costa Rica, K-State > WVU, Cowboy Cerrone is cooked, Championship Sunday, Patrick Mahomes, Niners’ play calling, Super Bowl LIV is all set https://t.co/TWYvLD5xlf
— Kelly and Murray (@kellymurrayshow) January 20, 2020
Stewart, known popularly as “Kelly In Vegas,” provides perspective from the view of a handicapper. A native of Manhattan, Kan., Stewart broke through in 2012 when she hit a $100, 3-team college football parlay on Kansas State (+475), Rutgers (+320) and Oregon State (+250) for $8,352. Stewart’s beloved Wildcats slowed a potent Oklahoma offense featuring Sterling Shepard and Kenny Stills in a 24-19 win. Around the same time, she also landed a weekly gambling spot on a local ESPN Las Vegas radio affiliate and a regular column in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Stewart’s most humorous bet of her career arguably occurred during the 2013 papal conclave, following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. As the field narrowed, Stewart received a tip from a golfing buddy that Argentine cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had a strong chance of becoming the next pope. Stewart’s friend, a major donor to the University of Notre Dame, heard from those in the know that Bergoglio was a virtual lock to become the first pope elected from the Southern Hemisphere.
“He was basically told it was going to be the guy from Argentina, he was very matter of fact,” Stewart said.
When Stewart’s friend discovered that an offshore sportsbook offered lines on the next pope, they decided to put $100 on the cardinal at 20-1, a bet that cashed in mid-March, upon the election of Pope Francis. Stewart promptly received a barrage of angry tweets on social media from users who relayed “God’s disappointment,” in her for placing the wager.
“I tweeted back in all capital letters God doesn’t care if you bet on horses, dogs, people or anything,” she said. “If gambling is a sin, it’s a sin whether you’re playing cards, rolling dice or betting on the pope.”
In response, Stewart donated $100 to a Nevada church on St. Patrick’s Day just in time for the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament. In a twist of fate, Stewart received a Good Karma payout when she went on a hot streak during March Madness.
The show’s target audience comes from novice bettor types who are interested in broadening their knowledge on the industry. The show is neither a full-on educational podcast, nor a full-on entertainment podcast, but an amalgam of the two. Although Murray prints out a list of items to stay on topic during each show, the broadcast is almost completely ad-libbed. The hosts still transition through each topic seamlessly, operating unscripted like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
While hitting picks at a reasonable clip is critical, there are other aspects of a gambling podcast that are a necessity for retaining an audience.
“At the end of the day having winners is very important, giving good information is very important but if it’s not entertaining, people will just scroll to the very end and listen to the picks,” Stewart said.
To that end, neither is shy about leaving details from their respective personal lives out of the show especially if an anecdote can draw a few laughs. Just before Christmas, Murray volunteered at a holiday party for the children of Westgate employees, where he tried hard to avoid his best Scrooge impression. Earlier that month, Stewart set off Murray with an innocent comment on their travel plans for the holidays. Murray, who had plans to travel to the Washington D.C. area on a redeye from Vegas, edited the comments out of the show over concern that his mother would learn of his surprise visit.
“Just in case she listened, I didn’t want her to ruin the surprise,” Murray said. “Kelly called me a word that we can’t print, I don’t know how wanting to surprise my mother makes me that word.”
Whether it is an old betting story or a light-hearted moment about their lives outside of a sportsbook environment, almost nothing on the podcast is sacred. The on-air persona of the hosts is virtually identical to their personalities in “real life,” Stewart explained. In that respect, the duo offers an alternative to shows with polished, talking heads that avoid controversial topics to a fault.
“I can’t watch that kind of stuff,” she emphasized.
Future of the podcast
As the football season draws to a close, it is easy to forget that both hosts had practically zero radio experience before the debut of the podcast last fall. Over the first four months, Kelly and Murray received more than 150,000 unique downloads, including at least 10,000 downloads a week for a six-week stretch during a crucial period of the season.
“Their growth has been better than we could have imagined in a very, very short amount of time,” the producer said.
And We’re Off! 💥
🎙 EP 1: Andrew Luck aftermath, a KSU-WVU side bet, Thursday CFB, a Friday night sprinkle, the Saturday slate and The Card.
— Kelly and Murray (@kellymurrayshow) August 30, 2019
Both hosts navigate through a hectic schedule during football season and are in need of a break. In some weeks, Stewart can work an excess of 65 hours. For his part, Murray spends about as much time each week at the SuperBook, where you will find him from dawn to dusk on a typical football Sunday.
The podcast will go on hiatus in mid-April after The Masters, before returning again next fall. Both are unsure, for now, whether they will add a video element to the show in the near future.
Unlike certain touts who are hesitant to admit when they are wrong, Stewart believes she has gained a certain amount of credibility throughout the industry by spending more time discussing her losers than winners. While Stewart nailed season win-total bets on the Browns, Cowboys, Jets and Bears this season, she didn’t hide the fact that she lost a wager on the Jaguars with the over.
Though sports betting experts can go on a hot streak from time to time and even produce numerous seasons with a 60 percent win rate, both caution that it is difficult to achieve long-term success for a period of 30 to 40 years.
“Ultimately whatever you decide to bet on is your choice,” Murray said. “We can pull in all this information, it’s up to you on what you do with it.”