You’ve seen the growth of the sports betting industry from a front-row seat since you arrived here from Michigan in 1998. How has it surprised you?
There’s a lot more mainstream acceptance of sports betting now. I do a lot of radio, and 15 years ago you weren’t even allowed to mention the point spread. Now the point spread’s on the crawl underneath ESPN’s College GameDay. It’s a huge difference. The acceptance of point spread vernacular into the American lexicon has gradually and consistently increased the handle. … The true explosion has been in-game wagering. That was a market that didn’t exist, and now it’s an enormous part of the handle. The ease of betting [on apps] has been a big part of the increase.
What compelled you to move to Vegas and bet on sports for a living?
The 1997 football season. I had a great year. In the NFL, you can get a sense, “Hey, this is a week that this team’s going to show, this is a week they’re not; this is a step-up spot, this is not a step-up spot.” That year was the first time I found that rhythm. When you’re just seeing the games and seeing stuff before it’s gonna happen, it’s really empowering and you feel [like you’re] king of the world.
What can a casual fan do to protect himself from unscrupulous touts?
No. 1, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. When somebody tells you they hit 87 percent last year in the NFL, they’re lying. Period. No. 2, this is not a get-rich-quick scheme. If you’re looking to double or triple your money by tomorrow and you have to get your five-team parlay in, I wish you luck, but your chances of success are slim. Slow and steady wins this race. No. 3, be very wary when somebody is offering you something for free. When you “call now for your free pick,” what they want is your phone number, and then you will be called by boiler rooms.
Has fantasy sports betting reached a peak?
Fantasy numbers have attracted extraordinary investment dollars. As someone who’s seen the ebbs and flows, you can easily project fantasy to have a boom and bust cycle similar to the poker boom and bust cycle, which may not be too far off. The better players have done very well the last few years, and the recreational players have gotten eaten up, much like in the heyday of online poker.
Will the popularity of fantasy sports betting accelerate the adoption of sports betting outside Nevada?
It lowers some barriers and makes people more comfortable with some concepts. When sports betting is going to be legal around the country is a demographics issue. If you’re under 40, you’ve bet. You have friends who bet. It’s not something that is viewed as being in any way immoral. I would compare it to marijuana maybe 20 years ago: [Members of] the younger generation smoked pot or hung out with other people who smoked pot, and eventually those people grew old enough to become lawmakers. Maybe in the next 20 years, we’ll see that in sports betting.
Any NFL team a good bet on the season win total?
The Philadelphia Eagles at 9½ games. They’re not going to win that many. If you look at any other team lined at nine wins or higher, you’re going to find elite quarterbacks. [Eagles QB] Sam Bradford is not yet an elite quarterback. When you look at the success Philadelphia has had in the first two years under coach Chip Kelly, with back-to-back 10-win seasons, you forget this team is 3-10 against opposing playoff teams—they’re not beating any good teams. Strength of schedule this year compared to last year is tougher. [There have been] enormous offseason changes. This team has question marks all over the offensive line and secondary. And you have a clear issue with departing players, one after the next, ripping the organization.
In our Football Issue last August, you correctly called Ohio State (50-1) to win the College Football Championship. How about this year?
I’m going to stay in the Big 10 and go with Sparty! Michigan State (20-1) is really good. They have Oregon at home, they have Ohio State on the road. They beat Ohio State in Columbus the last time they went there; they beat them in the Big 10 Championship Game two years ago. If their secondary’s good, Sparty is absolutely live. They have a loaded offense; they’re going to outscore some teams.
I’ve got $100 in my pocket. Which way do I go on the season win total (2½) for the Rebels?
Keep the $100 in your pocket. When you look at their schedule, you don’t see three wins. That being said, the Mountain West stinks this year. UNLV has a quarterback in a league where no one has a quarterback. So that makes them live to pull an upset here, an upset there, maybe steal one. I’ll say this much: UNLV isn’t going to win more than two or three games.