Friday, July 25, 2014

The Long Con of @RJinVegas: Bet Like A Pro (Part One)


RJ Bell is the founder and CEO of Pregame.com, a sports betting website that includes forums, odds, contests, and picks (both of the free and for purchase varieties). It is one of the most successful sites of its kind, in no small part due to the popularity of Bell, who has accumulated over 80K Twitter followers and established himself as the mainstream media's go-to "expert" for stories involving gambling on sports.

An American success story if there every was one. That's only one side of it, though. In some corners of the internet (including this blog), there is a feeling that Bell has not found his success in a legitimate way. This is the second post in a series detailing the reasoning behind that particular feeling. If you'd like to start at the beginning, it's here.

When we last left off, RJ Bell was essentially admitting that his touts are not long-term winners, and explaining that yes, he was defending his operation in exactly the same way any scam artist would, but Pregame doesn't have ANY element of a scam, so he is clearly no scam artist.

As good as Bell may be at deflecting and giving non-answers, it's probably not realistic to run a large pick-selling operation without ever being able to claim that any of your touts are long-term winners. Fortunately, about 18 months ago, Bell found a way around this issue. You be the judge regarding whether the following contains "any element of a scam".

Step 1: Bring a famous tout on board as part of an overly complex, completely impractical program.

(Unless otherwise noted, the screen shots in this post are from this thread introducing Bet Like A Pro [BLAP].)





















Speaking of "LESS OBVIOUS BET TYPES":














That cliche is, of course, entirely logical. Having information that allows you to win betting on sports is essentially a license to print money, so why would you then have any need or desire to turn around and sell that information?

And even if you did, you run into logistical problems, since any winning gambler -- and certainly anyone who's been winning for as long as Fezzik supposedly has been -- is going to move lines every time he bets, making it extremely difficult to effectively follow him. Complicating things even further are the "LESS OBVIOUS BET TYPES" that BLAP is supposedly taking advantage of, as those markets have less liquidity, and the lines move even more in response to a wager by a respected bettor.

Regardless of bet type, any time a tout tries to reassure you by explaining how the line doesn't move after he bets, that's probably not a good sign.

Anyway, now we've established the impractical structure of and thought behind the program. Who's going to be the pro that gets us started?



To summarize, Steve Fezzik's (possibly somewhat correlated?) credentials are that:
  • He is a pro;
  • He has won the Hilton contest twice (in a row!!!);
  • He is famous.
There is no mention of a) how Fezzik's career has gone since his Hilton wins in 2008 and 2009, or b) any non-contest credentials of any sort, during any period.

I wonder why?

Step 2: Claim tout has no history that is relevant to what you're currently selling (except the thing he's famous for, obviously).

So, we heard about his contest wins. Does he have any other public track record?























(Johnny Detroit is one of the co-founders of Pregame, and was Bell's main carnival barker for years. He recently left the company.)

Detroit's response here makes it seem like Fezzik does not have any public history other than his contest wins. And if he does, it certainly couldn't be anything more relevant than his back-to-back contest victories, three and four years prior, respectively.

But that's just not true. As various people commenting in that thread are clearly aware, from 2009 through 2012 Fezzik was a "host" at the LVA Sports forum. At LVA, he didn't technically "sell picks", but gaining access to Fezzik's sections was clearly the primary reason anybody would pay the monthly fee to view the message board.

For the first two years, that fee was $25/month. Fezzik's results were:

2009: -33.3 units
2010: +8.36 units

Not great for a "55% site", but hey, what can you expect for $25/month. Prior to the 2011 football season, LVA increased the monthly price to $100, and Fezzik really got serious:














Alright, no more messing around now that we're charging serious money. Which brings us to his results the following two years:

2011: -66.4 units (weighted W/L record of 47.7%)
2012: -55.9 units (weighted W/L record of 49.0%)

Oh, well I certainly see how that wouldn't be an especially effective way to advertise a $1000/month service!

So, with that knowledge at our disposal, back to the BLAP thread in question:




























It really does seem like we're relying quite heavily on 170 picks made against stale contest lines years ago, doesn't it?

Hey, 2007 Fezzik, what do you think of this marketing strategy?













(LeRoy's is a football contest in which Fezzik did well in 2005 and 2006.)

So, Mr. Bell, what was that about people being "unable to prove any element of a scam"?







































And with that, I think we've finally come full circle.

In truth, the BLAP kickoff was nothing short of a classic tout scam. Fezzik made money off his name at LVA for as long as he could, then when that was no longer tenable he jumped to Pregame. At that point, Bell and Detroit did everything they could to ignore Fezzik's documented record over the past four seasons, instead bringing up his contest wins as often as possible.

While it's easy enough for the Pregame folks to abstain from advertising Fezzik's 2009-2012 record themselves, that's not sufficient, as there are plenty of unhappy LVA customers who wouldn't approve. Not a problem, though, when you can prevent dissenting replies from ever being seen.

That's only the beginning though; what do you do with Fezzik's records when he inevitably fails to "win long-term" at Pregame? We'll save that lesson in creative accounting for Part Two.

Previous Long Con post: Defining Value
Next Long Con post: Bet Like A Pro (Part Two)

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