Friday, June 24, 2016

"If you had bought and played all of Pregame’s picks since 2011, you’d be down $1,359,432."

Back when I cared about football more, I used to have a sports blog and then posts on this site called "Nonsportsmanlike Conduct," the idea being that I knew very little about sports but liked them anyway.

One of the things I would do almost every week is make picks for the NFL games, and compare them to the so-called 'experts' picks. My picks were based on rules I would invent before seeing that week's matchups; I might say I'm going to pick to win the team which has a home city closest to the Mason-Dixon line, while the 'experts' on ESPN and the like would use their years of analysis and involvement in the game.

As you'd expect from the fact that I'm mentioning it, random chance and weird rules tied or beat the experts many weeks, and my overall record hovered around 60% correct, based on nothing more than picking based on, say, which team had a quarterback with a more quarterbacky name.

As it turns out, the 'experts' are still no more right than random chance, (and in fact are probably significantly more incorrect.  This article from Deadspin shows that "" makes money selling its sports-betting picks despite being wrong more often than not, and also makes money by being paid based on how many bets its customers lose.

In just about every sport, college or pro, Pregame’s picks are losing money. The data covers 49 touts who sold their plays during this period (not including those whose existences have been completely expunged from the archives, likeDavid GlisanMike Hook, and Stan Sharp), and of those 49, only 11 of them showed a profit. Of those gains, most were marginal and would be wiped out by standard fees. If Pregame’s experts followed their own betting advice, as Bell claims they do, most would be penniless.

Last season, "Daily Fantasy Football" leagues were exposed as rackets in which employees used insider knowledge to bet on other sites, making thousands of dollars at the expense of people like you.  Once the lawsuits started, laws started being passed legalizing the corruption. (Daily Fantasy ended up as exempt from Internet only through a misunderstanding of how popular it would be and a bit of chicanery on the rulemaking that got it exempted, partially involving a lobbyist lawyer who had helped get the exemption then taking a leave of absence from his firm to work for the Bush White House drafting the rules that would affect the law he'd just lobbied for; the entire story about that is fascinating and you can read it here.)

I'm not anti-gambling, although I'm not much of a gambler. I play the lottery from time to time and once spent $20 in Las Vegas on the slot machines.  I still sort of regret spending that money, though, since I view gambling as entertainment and the money as being disposable: if I gamble I no more expect to get my money back than I would if I paid the $20 to see a movie or buy a book. I expect, rather, to get $20 worth of entertainment, which is why I do it so rarely: I don't find it entertaining enough, dollar-for-dollar.

But the bottom line is that's advertising, as well as the claims made by Daily Fantasy leagues and the hidden machinations that make it almost impossible to win mean that they are not 'gambling' and should be illegal.  They aren't gambling because you really cannot win; they should not be legal because there are numerous prohibitions on false advertising, deceptive trade practices, and swindles.

Pregame’s picks are sold with a suggested bet size, either one, two, or three units, where in this case one unit—in gambler-speak—equals $100. So Pregame’s total loss equates to nearly 3,100 one-unit bets. Take out the pushes (where you neither win nor lose) and free plays, and despite numerous examples of fudged records, Pregame’s roster picked around 51.67 percent against the spread, not enough to beat the vig. Flipping a coin would have been a more cost-effective strategy.

Generally speaking, you can't win.  ALL gambling is set up to favor the house: Vegas slots, Indian casinos, state lotteries, and and Daily Fantasy included.  The odds are against you, so don't count on it for money.  Even if the daily fantasy sites weren't a racket using insider information to scam you (at least last year), the top players are people who wager in the hundreds of thousands and use sophisticated algorithms to trounce you. The top Rotogrinder player last year was a data scientist who bet $140,000 a day.  Most winners field dozens of different lineups, playing the bets like hedge funds are supposed to work -- betting on the longshot that makes thousands rather than the predicted winner.

If you want to bet on sports, bet on sports. Don't pay 'experts' to steal your money from you and give you advice. If they knew enough to win regularly they wouldn't be manning phones on Saturday morning telling you to take Tennessee with the points. They'd bet themselves into paradise.

Instead, they're doing what hucksters and snake-oil salesman have always done: playing on your gullibility and trust of 'experts' to get you to give them the money they can't earn honestly.

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