Read the first five parts of Bankroll Management and the rest of the Sports Betting 101 series.
On May 14, 2018, everything changed in the sports betting industry. This was the day that the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to overturn the federal ban on sports betting known as PASPA, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. It was watershed moment that opened the door to states legalizing sports betting across the country. In just a few short years since, we've seen nearly half the country legalize betting with more to come in the following years.
Despite this widespread legalization, the sports betting industry remains largely unregulated outside of legal casinos and sportsbooks. It's tightening up, but a gray area still exists. This means that almost anyone can start a company or website and call themselves a handicapper. A handicapper is someone who studies games and makes an educated guess on which team is the smarter bet.
Many handicappers are in the business of selling picks to the public. This begs the question: Should you buy them?
The short answer is no. Handicappers are a dime a dozen and only a small minority are legitimate, transparent and successful long term. The vast majority of handicappers that sell picks cannot be trusted and should be avoided at all costs.
The dirty little secret with handicappers who sell their picks is that their number one goal isn't to win bets for their members. It's to get people to buy their picks. Once you've purchased their picks, the handicapper has already won. It doesn't matter if the pick wins or loses, the handicapper keeps the payment.
Sure, the handicapper wants the picks to win. If they win, that increases the likelihood that someone will continue to buy them, which benefits the handicapper long term. However, many handicappers just concentrate on the here and now. If the picks lose and someone stops buying them, there will always be someone new willing to sign up and take their place. As the famous showman, businessman and godfather of the circus P.T. Barnum once said: "There is a sucker born every minute."
Handicappers who use over-the-top tactics to get people to buy their picks are popularly referred to as "touts" or "scamdicappers," which is a four-letter word and just about the worst thing you can be called in the gambling industry.
However, they won't call themselves this. Instead, they will label themselves as "advisors," "experts" or "pro-cappers." Consider them the con-men of sports betting. They promise the word and always oversell and under deliver. Also keep in mind that true professional bettors and wiseguys aren't in the business of selling picks. They don't want to or need to. True pros are in the business of earning money from the sportsbooks, not their fellow bettors.
Touts will go to absurd lengths to get people to buy their picks. They often appear as used-card salesmen, using faking names, fancy cars, throwing around wads of money and showing off scantily clad women to get new bettors' attention. Almost all touts lie about their won-loss records. They pretend to be industry experts, promising and promoting unrealistic win percentages with any documentation of past performance. Some might claim a 75% win rate of 90% win rate, or claim that they've won their last 20 bets in a row and you have to get it on it now! They hope you take them at face value and accept their wild and outrageous claims as truth.
Right off the bat, if a tout doesn't show a complete and honest record of all of their picks, be suspicious. And even if they do, who's to say the record is real and hasn't been doctored? As the saying goes, don't believe anything you see on the internet.
Another red flag is hearing touts call their picks "guaranteed winners" or "locks," which don't exist. After all, there are no guarantees in betting. You might also hear terms like "five-star lock," "play of the month," "play of the year," "50 unit bomb" or "whale play" in an attempt to sucker in new sign ups and clicks. They will list an 800 number and say "call now! we're only selling 10 more memberships. don't miss this guaranteed opportunity!"
To illustrate just how sneaky and deceitful touts can be, consider this. Touts will have a list of members who have signed up and purchased their picks, typically via email or phone number. One of the most notorious games touts play is sending out one side of a bet to half of their member list and the other side of the game to the other half of their member list. This is called "double-siding" and is considered the other trick in the tout playbook.
Think of it this way: the Boston Red Sox are playing the New York Yankees in a Major League Baseball game. The tout has 100 members paying for his picks. He sends the Red Sox as a pick to the first 50 members in his list and then sends the Yankees as a pick to the second 50 members. No matter what happens, half of the member base is guaranteed to win, which means at least half of them will stick around and continue to buy picks.
In a 1991 Sports Illustrated expose on sports betting touts, Rick Reilly summed them up like this: "In a world of cheats, cons, grifters, swindlers, carnival barkers, and people you would not want to change your fifty, the brotherhood of so-called sports advisers is a gutter unto itself."
But what if you locate that diamond in a rough handicapper who documents all of their plays truthfully, is honest with their records, doesn't oversell their performance and turns a consistent profit? That means you should buy their picks, right?
Not exactly. Even if the handicapper is legitimate, the deck is already stacked against you as a picks purchaser.
For example, let's say a handicapper is selling a picks package for $500. You've set aside $1,000 dollars for betting and you spend half of it on the handicapper's picks. This means you are automatically starting off $500 in the hole before ever placing a bet. Then you risk $30 per game.
Even if the handicapper has a profitable season, you may not even be able to offset the initial cost of the subscription. If you bet $30 per game and the picks profit $400 over the course of the season, which by the way would be an incredibly successful season, you are still down $100 dollars in the grand scheme of things. If the handicapper has a mediocre, average or below average season, you are down even further.
Another negative about about buying picks is the fact that unless you bet the game immediately once you receive the pick, the line could move and you could miss the number. For example, let's say a pick is released at 7 p.m. on the Broncos -2.5. Unfortunately you are busy and can't bet the game until 7:30 p.m. By now, the line has moved to Broncos -3 and the value is gone. If the Broncos win by 3, you push your -3 bet even though the picks service counts that as a win at -2.5. Even if you find a legitimate, successful handicapper, you need to be tied to your phone and email at all times awaiting picks.
The idea of buying picks makes sense in theory. Maybe you like having action on a game, but you have a day job and busy life and don't have time to do the research on your own. So why not pay someone else does all the work for you? They send you winning picks and you bet them and make money. Unfortunately that just isn't the case.
Touts and scamdicappers really started to pop up in the 1990s with the advent of the internet. Following the 2018 Supreme Court decision to strike down PASPA, millions and millions of new bettors are entering the market for the first time. This is a gift to touts and scamdicappers, who now have millions of new bettors to try to prey upon and dupe. In a way, it's like the Wild West of the early internet days all over again. Throw in the fact that touts and scamdicappers can promote themselves endlessly on social media like Twitter and Instagram and it becomes a perfect storm that new bettors can we swept up into.
The safest and best course of action is to avoid touts and scamdicappers entirely. Instead of paying someone else to make your picks, devote that time, effort and capital into learning how to make smart bets on your own. It's a long and arduous journey, but you can get there.