For bettors, it’s about wagering creativity

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A first-leg three-way soccer semifinal in Belarus? Steve Beaton in Darts at Home in England parlayed to table-tennis ace Aleksei Yanshaev in Moscow? Play Ball, Nicaraguan style?

Since the global coronavirus pandemic zapped the sports-wagering menu five weeks ago, Tom Barton’s clients have been peppering him in his Long Island compound with such far-flung inquiries, including virtual and simulated options on these shores.

“My god, people are thirsting for action,” said Barton, 43, who has run a handicapping service for 10 years. “Betting on virtual-game outcomes? I will not go down that road, pushing plays just to have action. I won’t gamble just to gamble.

“I would not bet on a sport that I don’t think I have an edge on. I don’t have an edge on video games or Ping-Pong, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving out client plays on them.”

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Regarding the person who turned $50 into $9,676.20 by hitting a 10-player Ukrainian Ping-Pong parlay, all favorites, on William Hill’s Nevada app on March 29, Barton said, “The most absolutely ridiculous story.”

He hesitates when informed of my late-March parlay of Canberra (minus-433 at home) to Parramatta (minus-250 at home). He relaxed when I told him I’ve followed Australia’s National Rugby League since visiting Sydney, and seeing a Roosters match in 1999.

Friends in pine-lined Manly Beach, a ferry ride west from the Opera House, placed the wager. Barton applauds upon hearing the winning ticket’s 72.3 percent return on investment. Homework that leads to an inkling of an edge that leads to profit is a magnificent recipe.

Strange days indeed

During these strange days, Barton and several other professionals have been stressing patience. He has three stocked refrigerators, two young children and a wife who continues her career, in hospital administration, from home.

Three of his revenue sources — wagering on sports, supplying keen plays to clients and operating a bar — have all evaporated. However, his nationally syndicated SportsGarten radio show, on which longtime football coach Wade Phillips and former baseball player Billy Ripken have guested recently, continues, and he inked a podcast deal before sports disintegrated.

He has saved astutely and devoted extra time to excavating football resources. He believes he has struck futures gold with Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady, on whom he’s bet to run for more than 27 yards and pass for at least 4,100 yards in 2020.

In 17 of Brady’s past 18 years, not including surgery-shelved 2008, he covered at least 28 yards on the ground. In 10 of his past 14 active seasons, he’s thrown for more than 4,099 yards; he accumulated 4,057 in 2019.

“Wetting my beak,” Barton said.  

He further quenched his futures appetite by playing Alabama, at 6-1 odds, to win the college football title. The Tide “Lost Tua (Tagovailoa) and didn’t have a great season, but LSU lost (Joe) Burrow and I don’t believe Florida is ready … I’ll take a shot that ’Bama gets into the Final Four, then hedge.”

Different Animals

In his high-rise apartment in the center of the Las Vegas Strip, Van Smith taps into the Costa Rica-based BetUS app on his phone, reviews offerings in the Czech Republic and Kazakhstan, and, he chuckles, “a cricket Quarantine Cup.”

Folly, says Smith. That’s his alias. In my book “Sports Betting for Winners,” he took me so deep into his records and operations I gave him anonymity — which others receive in this space.

“I guess, for (certain sports-betting outlets), the more they offer the better off they are,” said Smith, 61. “I’m sure they’re limiting the amounts that can be wagered because in Russia and other places, if they want to fix something they probably could.”

After decades of betting with no rudder or reason, burning through a quarter of a million bucks, Smith devised a regimented routine that has been very profitable in recent years. It’s deliberate, with various plays in three major sports and three minor; when certain angles produce certain designated units, he stops.

“I haven’t felt the pressure, but I’m a different animal,” he said. “Many are probably saying, ‘I’m (bleeped) if I don’t start betting, making money.’ A lot of people have that pressure, but I’m not jonesin’ for it. I have enough money to live on for 20 years, so, if I never make another bet …”

The sporting landscape now includes race car drivers competing from their living rooms, consoles in their laps. Longtime punter-handicapper Dave Cokin, 66, notes that eSports’ popularity was ascending even before this clampdown.

Still, those proponents were punched in the nose when underdog Derrick Jones Jr. upset Kevin Durant in a recent tape-delayed NBA online event. Jones received inordinate betting action. A third-party firm was blamed. Money was refunded.

A film noir fan, Cokin has been revisiting Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart and Jimmy Stewart movies. Charles McGraw, his favorite actor, shone in 1946’s The Killers, in which he and fellow villain William Conrad terrorize a small-town diner in search of Burt Lancaster.

Discovering horsepower

Cokin has been speculating on four legs. The Providence, R.I., native frequented in-state Narragansett Park and Lincoln Downs in his youth, and Suffolk Downs (in East Boston) when Lincoln shifted to greyhounds in 1977 and Narragansett shuttered in ’78.

He landed in Las Vegas in 1987. Like Smith, Cokin could survive without income for 20 years thanks to a healthy nest egg. He has been favoring Fonner Park in Nebraska and Will Rogers Downs in Oklahoma, two of the few U.S. horse tracks still running. He posts his selections on Twitter.

“I need something to do,” says the man whose own gravelly voice has been a Vegas radio staple for decades. “I actually like smaller tracks. I think they play truer to form; Gulfstream’s fields are a lot tougher.”

Last week, Fonner became a social-media hot spot after an inquiry disqualified a winner.

“A pretty bad call,” Cokin said. “Fonner Park had never gotten that much attention in its history. They had a huge Pick 5 which, I think, ended up being well over a million dollars. That’s enormous. These are glory days for Fonner Park. It has to be benefitting tremendously from this.”

In Texas, James Ridell (also an alias) reckons he had bet on something every day for the past 30 years, until the shutdown. The bettor-capper has been digging deep into college football, hoops research and golf, his fortes.

Like most veterans who have been taught hard lessons, Ridell prides himself on being an advantage player. With no advantage, he avoids betting just for the sake of action. He has added an element to his repertoire.

“I have been betting offshore on the closing price of the Dow Jones Industrial Average,” he said. “I feel like I have some insight, and the limits are relatively low.”

Patching Leaks

On a distant shore that he didn’t care to name, Conner Streeter(again, a moniker) rails against what he views as grossly irresponsible behavior of markets posting lines on slapstick carnival events to poach thrill-seekers.

Seeking such action ekes into leaking, which counters the main goal of investing smartly with a proper bankroll.

“A good bettor constantly tries to eliminate leaks so they can fine-tune, or best optimize, their bankroll,” says Streeter. “What I am seeing now, it’s shameful and embarrassing, on both sides of the aisle. Badminton? Table tennis? iRacing? What the (bleeping bleep). Most operators and books wouldn’t ever offer this stuff in a normal situation, yet, some are serving it right up.”

Streeter accomplished his goals before college basketball conference tournaments started, as this pandemic gripped the globe. He views the NCAA Tournament only through the lens of a fan. The college hoops regular season is his wheelhouse, five months that provide him with funds for the entire year. He has no leaks.

“Let’s face it, many bettors operate in the black market and money isn’t flowing in,” says Streeter. “(But) resorting to Ping-Pong and fake NASCAR racing isn’t smart. For those who are trying to learn or are being taken advantage of because they don’t know any better, it’s sad to see. Very unsettling.”

July 4 return?

Barton believes sports might return in June, but he circles July 4 as a symbolic national-celebration starting point.

“Even that might be a little optimistic,” he says. “In August? Okay, then we’ll have sports back.”

Cokin said: “Popular theory seems to be July first. I bow to the scientific people; I don’t listen to the politicians because they’ll get it wrong almost all the time, anyway.”

When it returns, Streeter hopes some will have used the downtime wisely, to organize, review past indiscretions and shed leaks, preparing to keep beaks wet in certain specific instances.

“Versus betting on cockfighting, or Chris Paul playing HORSE against Trae Young. If you’re constantly chasing sport after sport, you shouldn’t be betting because you aren’t going to win,” he said. “The (bleep) going on right now is completely (bleeping) stupid.”

About the Author

Rob Miech

Veteran sportswriter Rob Miech covers soccer and does features for Gaming Today. He has written about college hoops for the Las Vegas Sun, CBS SportsLine and the Pasadena Star-News. He is the author of four books, including Sports Betting for Winners.

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