With football season right around the corner, prime tout season is about to get into full swing. Touts, professional sports handicappers who sell their betting advice to recreational gamblers, will soon fill our inboxes and message boards with promotion after promotion promising a profitable football season. Unfortunately, as many wide-eyed rookie gamblers have discovered, those promises are almost always empty. One only need to look at "Dr. Bob", the tout du jour the past few years who buried his followers early last NFL season by starting off on a 35% pace. Phil Steele's genius in preseason football was also exposed as fraudulent after going on an incredible run for a few years. In fact, the offshore landscape is littered with once-superstar handicappers who quickly fell into mediocrity.
Touts prey on the greed and fear of unseasoned sports bettors. Rookie handicappers, frustrated with the seeming impossibility of turning a profit against their bookie, figure they must be missing something, some vital key to winning, that more savvy gamblers have mastered but hold secret. Touts exploit those feelings of frustration by promising easy profits at a seemingly cheap price.
But as your mom used to tell you, there's no such thing as a free lunch. It's not that most handicappers are unusually bad at picking winners - they're just as bad as everyone else. Most can expect to finish the season winning somewhere around 48-52% of their bets - not enough to turn a profit for followers, and not even enough to find a profitable strategy in "fading" the selections by playing the opposite of the recommendations. Essentially, you are paying subscription fees for an automatic coin-flipper. Nonetheless, many gamblers who find themselves sinking into the hole of gambling losses will turn to a sports service hoping for a relatively painless bail-out.
What most gamblers don't realize is that under most sports service plans, they are taking on all the risk of their handicapper's selections but giving up a large piece of the potential profits. Let's imagine you're a $110 per game bettor (to win $100 on each play). A handicapper offering a season's worth of picks for $500 may seem like a reasonable investment. After all, most recreational gamblers might lose that much in a week, never mind a whole season. The service may send out something like 100 picks during the course of the NFL season. Let's say they put up a respectable 55% winning percentage on the year, going 55-45. Betting each of their selections for your normal wager amount gives you a season-long profit of $550. Unfortunately, $500 had already gone for the subscription to the service, meaning your profit is gone before the season even starts, even when you've managed to navigate the biggest hurdle in finding a "winning" 55% handicapper. And in those (most likely) scenarios where you're stuck with a losing handicapper, the season will be just that much more painful.
For many bettors, the "pay only if you win" policy that many touts offer seems a safer compromise. Unfortunately, this is a great strategy for the handicapper, and conversely a poor one for you. The client still pays for the losing selection - in the form of his lost bet. Again, let's look at the case of a $110 per game bettor, who is paying a cheap (!) $10 per selection to his sports service, refunded if the pick loses. If you receive a losing pick, you lose your $110 wager. For a winning pick, you win $100, but owe the service $10, knocking your net profit down to $90. Risking $110 to win only $90 is equivalent to laying odds of worse than -120 on each of your bets. You now need the handicapper's selections to hit at 55% just to break even. Good luck finding a service that can turn you a profit under these conditions.
Of course, even if a tout is a competent handicapper, there are considerations that make "send out" selections even more difficult to actually win with:
Grading against selective lines. While picking the "right side" is important, getting the best number is just as essential in turning a profit in sports wagering. If the service is self-monitored, they may choose to grade themselves against favorable lines (for instance, from one particular sportsbook with "off-market" lines) that don't necessarily reflect widely-available numbers to which all clients have access. Even "independent" sports monitoring services may allow for some flexibility in how their records are graded. If you don't have access to the same lines that the service is being graded against, your profit will obviously be less than the service claims as their "official" performance.
Absence of market timing. Most services will release their plays at a preset time, well before the start time of the games and often in the middle of the week. They miss the chance to grab value on the weaker early opening lines, and miss the effect of public money which becomes much stronger right before game time. They also are unable to use any late-breaking information, like injuries, changes in starters, or weather, to refine their opinions. The requirement that they release selections at set times limits the degree to which they can handicap.
Collateral line movement. It doesn't take a genius to realize that well-known handicappers can move the line, sometimes significantly. Ask anyone who has subscribed to Phil Steele's preseason NFL selections - the line would often move 2-3 points within minutes of a selection being made public. Likewise, the college betting board goes haywire when Dr. Bob's weekly selections are unveiled. Depending on the speed the information reaches you and the sportsbooks you have at your disposal, you often may not be able to get down at the same number the service did. This can turn a handful of "winning selections" into losers for those who got a worse line. Don't underestimate the substantial effect this can have on profit over the course of a season.
Of course, not all touts are bad. There are some pro handicappers whose services can actually improve your betting bottom line, and there are even some ways to exploit the selections of "losing" touts. In the forthcoming second part of this article, I'll take a look at some ways to turn tout tactics to your advantage.
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