On May 14, 2018, everything changed in the sports-betting industry. This was the day the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to overturn the federal ban on sports betting. 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 industry remains largely unregulated outside of legal casinos and sportsbooks. It’s tightening up, but a gray area still exists. This means 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 who 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 No. 1 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.
Sure, the handicapper wants the picks to win, which increases the likelihood someone will continue to buy them. 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.
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 “advisers,” “experts” or “pro-cappers.” Consider them the con-men of sports betting. They always oversell and under-deliver.
Touts will go to absurd lengths to get people to buy their picks. They often appear as used-car 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 without any documentation of past performance. They hope you take them at face value and accept their wild and outrageous claims as truth.
Another red flag is hearing touts call their picks “guaranteed winners,” which don’t exist. You might hear terms like “five-star lock,” “play of the year,” “50-unit bomb” or “whale play” in an attempt to sucker in new sign ups and clicks.
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.”
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-the-rough handicapper who documents all of their plays truthfully, 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. Even if the handicapper has a profitable season, you may not even be able to offset the initial cost of the subscription.
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.
Find VSiN’s Josh Appelbaum on Twitter: @Josh_Insights