Sports bettor Dan Gordon discusses how to choose winning touts or sports pick services. He also shows how to detect the false claims of the phony touts or sports pick services. Dan Gordon has been a consistently winning sports handicapper/bettor for over 25 years.
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Sports Picks: A Consumer's Guide

By Dan Gordon
© 2004 Blackjack Forum

[Dan Gordon is the author of Beat the Sports Books]

Understanding NFL Sports Pick Services

As sports betting has grown, so has the tout business. A tout is someone who gets paid for bet selections that are supposed to make the bettor money.

The question I hear many sports bettors ask, even about legitimate sports handicappers, is why don’t these guys, if they know what they’re doing, just bet for themselves and make tons of money? Why do they take on the aggravation of running an advice business?

The answer is that to support yourself just betting on the NFL takes a huge financial stake because your edge is relatively small. Finishing 20 bets ahead after the 11-to-10 odds you must give to the sports books is tough over the course of an NFL season. But even if you can win at this rate every year, you’d need an average bet of about $1,000 per game to make a meager $20,000-a-year living.

Since you have to be prepared to ride out losses (even the best sports handicappers can lose—even have a losing season— because of bad luck over the short term) you need a stake of many multiples of your bet to avoid losing it all. The exact amount depends on your winning percentage, the number of games you bet, and other factors, but for a pro who depends on his bankroll for his living and has no other way than sports betting to replenish it, a very substantial betting stake is required.

To make a decent living, there is nothing wrong or inconsistent with a capable handicapper selling his selections to those who prefer others to do their handicapping.

To Pick A Winning Sports Picks Service, You Need Realistic Expectations

I sell NFL and NBA sports picks myself, though contrary to what sports bettors believe, it is not an easy way to earn a living. Most bettors expect a sports picker to win a huge percentage of the time. They don’t like to hear that realistic long-term win percentages will be in the 55-60 percent range for the most talented handicappers. This is despite the fact that virtually every handicapping tournament has shown that the best anyone can do selecting NFL or NBA games over the course of one season is in the low to middle 60 percent range.

I know of no sports service that has done better than about 60 percent over a number of seasons. And those that consistently reach 60 percent are very few. Yet, despite all the evidence available, customers still want someone who claims to win 75 or 80 percent against the point spread.

Many potential customers are turned off when I tell them not to expect those percentages from me, especially when other services out there are making those claims. But just remember this: if someone knew he would win 80 of his next 100 bets, he could turn $1,000 into $15 billion by proper proportional betting—all over the course of one season!

Other would-be customers are often under-financed. This doesn’t mean that I pick more losers than winners, but that these bettors are not ready for the long haul—some of which will contain losing streaks.

Let’s use dollar amounts to show what I mean. Let’s say I charge $600 for an NFL season. Let’s say my customer does well that year, going 58-42 ( a respectable 58% win rate) on my picks. To keep things simple, let’s also say that all of my customer’s bets are the same. This would mean that the customer ended up 11.8 bets ahead after paying the 11-to-10 odds the sports books require. If my customer was betting $100 a game, he’d end up making $1180 minus the $600 for my fee.

Over the course of the season, I would have to end up more than six bets ahead just to cover what this person paid me. Over 100 bets, I would have to win almost 56 percent (56-44) before a person betting $100 per game saw any profit. As for a bettor who can only afford to bet $50 a game, he is betting far too little to be paying me for advice.

I remember one year in the NBA playoffs where I lost nine bets in a row. Because I had the money to continue betting, I ended up hitting just over 60 percent for the playoffs, or nine bets to the good. However, if I had used too large a betting unit, I would have tapped out before I got to my win.

In 1997, I had one week where I went 0-5. Despite this horrendous week, I ended up the season a winner. Someone who was under-financed, however, might have tapped out that week and never seen the profits.

What’s even worse is that it is not at all a sure thing that I—or any other handicapper—will come out ahead over the course of a single NFL or NBA season. Many bettors don’t want to hear about the possibility of losing over the course of a full season, but not wanting to hear it doesn’t make the possibility of its happening go away. Just as bad weather, an injury, a bad call, or bad bounce of the ball can turn a winning bet into a losing one, a number of bad beats can turn a winning season into a losing season. For a truly winning handicapper, an entire losing season is rare. But it always remains a mathematical possibility.

Other potential customers are hampered by not having access to early- and late-week lines. The lines are most valuable early in the week when professional bettors are pouncing on mistakes made by the odds makers in their attempt to read the betting public. Unfortunately, most bettors who follow touts like to bet at the end of the week, and often have betting access only then. Not betting early takes away early-week plays for bettors following me, and will often cost them wins. What’s even worse is when they bet the games against my advice even after the early numbers have changed. This may not only deny them wins, but turn those wins into losses.

I remember a time I gave a bettor just one selection for the week. It was the Falcons +6 over the Bengals. I told him not to take fewer than six points on the Falcons. He followed my advice and took six points early in the week.

However, as the week went on this man craved more action. But no matter how many times he called me for more picks, I kept telling him that the rest of the games that weekend were not good investments. Still, at the end of the week he bet more. First, he increased his bet on the Falcons. However, now he was taking 4 1/2 points instead of six. Then, he bet two games that were on television. You can probably guess what happened. The Falcons lost by exactly six points and the two television game bets lost. A week that should have ended with a push bet ended up 0-3 for him.

I have noticed through the years that many bettors who use touts crave action. To get it, they are willing to take the worst of the betting line after it has changed during the week. Giving up the 11-to-10, betting with the moves, and taking the worst of it costs money. Passing on games that aren’t worth giving 11-to-10 odds saves money.

The Way The Fakes Are Able to Claim Those 80% Win Rates

I know many NFL touts. Some are able to win but most of them have been consistent losers when they bet. Many have actually gone broke betting and are looking to get money from others to make up for their poor selections.

Many touts have multiple services within one service. This way they can almost always truthfully claim that at least one of their services is doing well. For instance, a tout may operate the following services:

a) An early-week newsletter (giving selections on each game, emphasizing two or three);

b) A midweek newsletter (giving selections based on "new" information);

c) A weekend phone service (giving selections over the weekend);

d) A late phone service (giving selections in the two hours before game time that have the latest "inside" information); and

e) An exclusive phone service (giving the absolute top picks within a half-hour of game time).

Typically, the last option will cost bettors the most and the first will cost bettors the least. Typically also, as the week goes on, the tout will switch sides on some games because of "new" information. In this way, the tout can truthfully advertise that one of his services had the winner of the game.

In addition, by systematically switching sides, the tout makes sure that at least one of his five services will have a good week. That the expensive phone service, charging $200 a week, might go 1-4 that week, while the cheap newsletter (costing $75 for the whole season) might go 3-0 is of no concern to the tout. In his next ad, he will brag about going 3-0 the week before.

If, on the other hand, the exclusive phone service has done the best, the tout advertises the phone line’s great week to try to get customers to upgrade.

To top it off, some tout services are owned by others. If one service of the empire is doing poorly, another within it that is doing well can mail a flier to the disgruntled customers of the poorly performing service.

Other sports services give out selections on 900 numbers. With these services, there is a charge-per-call that can vary from as little as $5 to as much as $50. Sometimes there are additional charges for extra minutes.

Sports services use the 900 numbers in various ways. On a five-dollar call, they may offer just one selection and tell the caller to call back in ten minutes for another selection. These calls can add up to much more money than the caller might realize. An average Sunday might mean six calls to the 900 number, turning a five-dollar call into a total charge of $30, or three $50 calls into a $150 charge.

Other services have a practice that might be called "withholding the best." Touts who offer several different levels of services frequently call one a "best-bet" service. On their other less-expensive services, they give out their "regular" selections (without the best bet). In effect, "regular" customers are paying for not getting the best games.

Then there are the services that offer a money-back guarantee on any pick that loses. A monkey throwing darts at a game schedule should pick 50% winners, and that is about the win rate you can expect from these touts--a win rate that neither covers the 11-to-10 nor the cost of their fees. But these guys aren’t aiming for long-term customers. The way they make their money is the weekly fees on the picks they win by luck.

Sports services realize that most people who sign up with them are insecure about their knowledge and believe they don’t really know what is happening in the sports world. To try to bamboozle potential customers, many services make claims about having scouts all over that give them "inside" information. A number of the more aggressive services even make veiled (and sometimes, not-so-veiled) references to fixed games. This usually sounds good to the customer until the service loses a few "sure things." When this happens, the service always has another, better "sure thing" coming up.

Other services advertise "lock" games, meaning games that can’t lose. How they can sell such games is beyond me. It would seem to me that if someone had a game that could not lose, rather than share it with many others through a sports service, he should bet it himself and put on it everything he owns. Since the game "can’t lose," this would not be over-betting!

Anyone who has watched sports for about a month realizes that the difference between winning and losing (especially against the spread) can be infinitesimally small. In the NFL, a game will often be totally turned around by one or two plays, or even a single penalty call. There are an almost infinite number of scenarios that can happen. The best anyone can do in handicapping is come up with a side that has a slightly better than 60 percent chance of covering the spread. This still means that almost four times in ten the game will lose—which makes any talk of a lock complete nonsense.

The only locks that exist are those that need keys to open them.

The business of touting actually tends to worsen the quality of selections because of customer pressure to make or avoid certain picks. I remember when, in 1983, I was on a Las Vegas radio show on which I gave selections. One week I liked Tampa Bay as a 5 1/2-point underdog at Green Bay. The Bucs got killed in the game, 55-14. In fact, the Packers scored 49 points in the first half—still an NFL record.

The next week Tampa Bay played in Dallas. They were 14-point underdogs. I thought the Bucs were an outstanding bet in this game. Someone else on the radio show also liked the Bucs, but said he couldn’t give them out as a selection with his sports service. Why? Because he had given them out the last week against the Packers and his customers "wouldn’t stand" for being given them again. This handicapper had to pass up an excellent value for his customers because of the abnormal result of the previous week. In this game, Tampa Bay lost to Dallas by three in overtime but more than covered the spread.

I remember another example early in the 1996 season. In Week 5, the Packers were playing at Seattle. They were coming off a loss (their first) the previous week in Minnesota. To me, a bounce-back seemed likely.

But another tout I knew said he couldn’t give out the Packers since they were "too easy." What he meant was that his customers could come up with this selection on their own. What they expected from him were tips that were more "creative."

This tout’s "creativity" led him to pick the Seahawks in this game. The Packers won and covered, 31-10.

Some of the more laughable tout ads are those that are printed a month or more ahead of time. These are often found in NFL or NBA betting schedules. The ads will claim that this service has winners in games that are to be played a month or more after the ads were placed. But there is no way to know that far ahead whether the right factors will be in place to make a particular game a good bet.

An ad by a tout in the New York Daily News went even further on claims for an NCAA tournament. The ad claimed that the tout had gone 6-0 in the previous round. But the round in question wasn’t even played until long after the ad had been written up!

In summary, the only touts you should even consider using are those who talk about the long haul and realistic winning percentages (in the upper 50% to lower 60% range). These touts are to be commended not only for their win rates, but for their honesty and strength of character. Believe me, it is hard to act this way and survive for long in this field. ♠

For more information on Dan Gordon's book, Beat the Sports Books: An Insider's Guide to Betting the NFL, see Blackjack Forum's Recommended Gambling Books.

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  Dan Gordon's Guide to Sports Picks Services
Dan Gordon discusses what sports handicappers can actually achieve for clients, and how to distinguish between a winning sports picks service from a phony tout.