Time to separate sports betting fact from fiction

Jun 11, 2013 3:00 AM

“Floyd Mayweather bets $5.9 million on Heat over Pacers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals”…

The headlines spread across the Internet last Monday like a Lindsey Lohan drug rumor. I heard the first rumblings walking out of the ESPN radio studios after guest-hosting our 10 a.m. “First Preview” show. My cell phone rang: it was a San Francisco station wanting a statement regarding the Pregame.com report about Mayweather’s bet.

There is no such report from us, I told him. This fact didn’t slow down his questions.

Back to the beginning. Early on Monday, a little-known Twitter account tweeted that a source they trusted told them Mayweather had bet $5.9 million on the Heat. Calling into question the truth of this report is easy – but such clarification is most certainly the less important lesson from this incident.

For starters, Vegas does not like humongous sports bets – especially on events that do not generate that kind of handle. An outsider may question this, making the logical case that a sports book has a positive expected value on most bets at 11/10, and thus the more handle generated, the more money earned.

This is true, in the long-run – but Nevada casinos are notorious for being unwilling to consider sports betting results on a long-run basis – rather, they want the book to turn a profit “every day.”

This conservative approach puts Vegas at a bookmaking disadvantage to the biggest online sports books – and it makes the idea of one guy getting down almost $6 million on an NBA game nearly impossible.

Now is a good time to dig below the surface of Floyd as a sports bettor. What most people know is he tweets big tickets, sometimes with hundreds of thousands at risk. People also know he seems to tweet only winning tickets – with the conclusion that somehow this makes him a fraud. Most certainly this makes him selective in what he shares with the public, but it doesn’t change that these big tickets are real.

The typical conclusion is Mayweather is a rich dude with bad habits – nothing more than a sucker the sports books salivate over. Another theory is Floyd is a “front” for a professional betting syndicate.

Sports books have publicly stated limits, but many books are willing to allow a perceived sucker to bet even more than that. Celebrities and sports stars are just the type of suckers the books will make a big bet exception for. So it makes sense syndicates would recruit people able to bet big money to move big money for them.

Whatever the truth behind Mayweather’s sports betting, the $5.9 million story was extremely unlikely to be true. But hey, why let the truth get in the way of page views? And heck, the websites figure, we can report that a Twitter account said so – it’s really not coming from us.

Thus the snowball started – with a few smaller blogs quoting the Twitter account, and then bigger ones quoting the smaller blogs. Then national sites quote the bigger blogs, till finally so many people were reporting the story so it must be true.

This original Twitter account, by the way, had “pregame” in its name, and stole the “P” from the Pregame.com logo. That’s all it took for multiple media outlets to report Pregame.com was behind the Mayweather story.

Wow!

And from where I sit, that’s the biggest takeaway: websites that, on the surface, seem like news organizations, while lacking a professional editorial process, should be looked at skeptically – because they clearly don’t care enough to even make the effort to report the truth.

RJ Bell is the founder of Pregame.com - and co-host of FIRST PREVIEW, heard Monday through Friday at 10 am on ESPN 1100/98.9 FM. Follow on twitter: @RJinVegas. Discussion of this article continues at Pregame.com. Contact RJ at [email protected]

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