Professional Bettors Now Carry the Responsible Gambling Torch - OZY | A Modern Media Company
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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

They're trying to save ordinary sports bettors from gambles they can never win.

By Andrew Mentock

  • Major sports bettors like Gadoon Kyrollos, Rufus Peabody and Jeff Ma are launching podcasts to educate sports fans about bets they should avoid.
  • Peabody and fellow professional bettor “Captain” Jack Andrews are launching a sports betting advocacy nonprofit.

The major sports leagues are biding their time during the pandemic, with all games postponed. That means media outlets like Barstool and the Action Network can’t produce content where presumed experts pick sports teams to bet on in upcoming games.

Gadoon Kyrollos doesn’t mind.

Better known as Spanky, Kyrollos is a professional sports bettor with decades of experience who started his own podcast, Be Better Bettors, in November 2019. He doesn’t pick lines or propose parlays. He instead focuses on the nuances of what has made him consistently successful over his career, such as bankroll management and finding an edge. “If you’re trying to turn a profit, you don’t have to bet what the public is talking about, what all these shows are talking about, what everybody’s advising you to bet,” he says. And because his podcast isn’t about a game two days later, unlike most sports betting rival offerings, it has longevity and relevance months later. 

Baseball betting

The Supreme Court’s 2018 decision allowed individual states to legalize sports gambling.

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Spanky — who contracted and recovered from COVID-19 in March — is part of a growing section within the sports betting community that considers it an injustice that so much media is dedicated to touting gambling expertise and assurances in instances where the house may have a clear advantage. That’s why more and more professional bettors and industry experts have started a countercultural movement, pushing back against the most popular forms of content with their own foray into the medium.

It was our chance to sort of talk about sports betting the way we want to — to talk about the process behind it and the ‘why’ not just the ‘what.’

Rufus Peabody, professional bettor

Professional bettors Rufus Peabody and “Captain” Jack Andrews are in the early stages of launching a sports betting advocacy nonprofit called the American Bettors Coalition, which will include an educational component. Peabody and fellow professional Jeff Ma launched another podcast, Bet the Process, in September 2017. The pair first started working together as predictive analytic experts with ESPN.

“We both were frustrated by the fact that we had to give quick sound bites and tell people what to think and not how to think,” Peabody says. “So the podcast stemmed from that. It was our chance to sort of talk about sports betting the way we want to — to talk about the process behind it and the ‘why’ not just the ‘what.’”

National sports betting content really exploded with the U.S. Supreme Court decision of May 2018 that overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 and allowed each state to regulate sports gambling. But the pros worry that it has gone too far.

Unlike Spanky, Peabody and Ma did offer some picks, but more as discussion tools to explain why they chose a particular team to cover. Peabody also acknowledges that most picks, at least those that have an edge over a bookmaker, aren’t worth much because as soon as they’re made public, that information gets factored into the line.

Another concern is when casinos and bookmakers influence, even indirectly, the production of sports betting content, which can happen in some instances with affiliate advertising — where publishers are paid for each reader they get to sign up or deposit money into an advertising sportsbook. In some instances, these websites can even profit off of a user’s losses, a strategy that Noah Szubski, former CEO of sports gambling website the Action Network, seemed interested in trying. “If I have 8 million qualified users spread around the country, and each one can legally bet through a book and there’s an affiliate fee and a percentage of lifetime money, it’s like happy fucking birthday,” he told Slate in 2018. It does not appear the Action Network ever used this strategy, and Szubski was replaced as CEO later that year, but affiliate marketing remains a lucrative part of the sports gambling media landscape. The casino operator Penn National Gaming now owns 36 percent of Barstool, adding to concerns about their influence over the media firm.

In addition to starting an educational YouTube channel, Andrews frequently calls out what he sees as reckless betting advice on social media. “The goal of these media sites is to drive engagement, which then drives either revenue share or cost per acquisition from the sportsbooks,” Andrews says. He cites the example of an Action Network podcast called The 9-Team Parlay during the fall of 2018. The show, he says, “never explained that they were advising a bad wager or how much of your bankroll you should risk.” He sees this as encouraging an unsustainable “lottery mentality.”

Chad Millman, head of media at the Action Network and a respected figure in the sports gambling industry, disagrees and says that most of their content is designed to educate bettors, even if The 9-Team Parlay didn’t. “That was a shitty podcast that we did for one football season,” he says. Andrews agrees that the Action Network has improved the educational aspect of its content since then.

These pro gamblers trying to educate the public face the criticism that the average sports bettor isn’t really interested in digesting in-depth material on this topic. But there’s evidence that challenges that notion. Famed poker writer Ed Miller and professional poker player and sports bettor Matthew Davidow teamed up to write The Logic of Sports Betting, which detailed the ins and outs of the industry. The book, targeted at the everyday gambler, has been near the top in the “Sports Gambling” category of Amazon’s best-seller list for months.

“Our theory is basically that the longevity of sports betting actually requires a bit of education for the customer base,” Miller says. “It’ll be more sustainable and better for everybody if everyone has a base level of knowledge about how it all works.” Others like Spanky, Peabody, Ma and Andrews are making the same bet, which also gives them a way to pass the time while they’re stuck inside without games to gamble on.

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