Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Long Con of @RJinVegas: Defining Value


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 first post in a series detailing the reasoning behind that particular feeling.

When selling sports betting picks, most touts have a fairly standard approach: they claim that the picks will win. This ranges from stating that a game is lock, to advertising how hot they've been over their past 12 3* releases, to saying they'll win in the long-term. Regardless of how they get there, the idea is the same: they're selling winners.

Certainly, Pregame employs some aspects of this approach. But the weird thing is, its founder and CEO doesn't seem to have ever totally bought in.


Bell implicitly supports the standard way of hawking touts just by allowing this nonsense on his website. But it's fairly clear that he doesn't actually think any of his touts are long-term winners. And rather than argue that point, he much prefers to deflect, and attempt to move the conversation in another direction.

This shows through in a variety of ways. One of the more revealing public conversations Bell has had was with another pick seller, Right Angle Sports (RAS). It started, as it always does, with Bell's non-answer in response to a question about the long-term success of his "Pregame Pros". Bell essentially argued that RAS was not looking out for its customer base because its "free content is nearly non-existent".

Eventually, Bell and RAS ended up going back and forth on this topic on Twitter, which led to this wonderful exchange:


RAS is claiming that their *free* picks have more +EV (positive expected value) than anything available at Pregame, for any price. This would seem to be quite a bold assertion. It is met with no direct resistance or disagreement.

And Bell's deflection sure does sound familiar:


This wasn't the only time Bell has brought up allowing customers to define value. Rather, it's his consistent justification for the existence of his product:

(I'm not even sure if @Lance0333 was implying that Bell doesn't sell winning picks, or simply observing that in most of the US you can't legally use the information he's selling. Not that the distinction really matters for our purposes.)

Just based on these tweets (and this, and this), it seems quite clear that Bell does not actually think his customers have any chance of winning money in the long-run by betting the picks sold by his Pregame Pros, and he is not comfortable arguing otherwise. Which is certainly concerning, but also honest in a way...I guess?

The non-sports gambling comparison doesn't even really work, since there aren't any roulette touts (that I know of?). But the implication seems to be that even if the information he sells causes his customers to lose money, its value cannot be questioned simply because the customers chose to buy the information in the first place.

Which is obviously an iffy proposition. But if you were completely transparent about what you were selling, I suppose to some extent you could argue that you're on the up-and-up, and your customers have only themselves to blame. This is quite clearly how RJ justifies it:


Of course, this isn't really how it works. If your product lacks any intrinsic value, you'll inevitably need to start cutting all sorts of corners to be able to actually sell it.

"Unable to prove any element of a scam"? We'll get to that.

Next Long Con post: Bet Like A Pro (Part One)

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