Touts have been an ever-present part of the sports betting industry, purporting to sell winning picks for probably as long as there have been avenues through which to bet sports. Some have good intentions and some may even win long term. But, there’s a dark side to the tout industry, one highlighted in a recent federal investigation.
A couple of weeks back, news broke via U.S. Department of Justice press release. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York, had arrested former World Series of Poker champion Cory Zeidman in connection with a fraudulent tout service that spanned more than a decade. He allegedly stole more than $25 million from unwitting customers.
The story piqued my interest. I read a lot of industry news that comes across the wire, but this one held a special significance because of my background formerly covering the poker industry.
Cory Zeidman: A Different Angle On Touts
Most touts will claim some long-term betting record, often fictitious, that has powered them to untold riches thanks to their handicapping skill.
Zeidman took a different approach. He claimed to have inside information that would make sports betting virtually risk-free.
“As alleged, Zeidman preyed on individuals who were led to believe he had inside information that would lead them to easy money,” said HSI New York Acting Special Agent in Charge Ricky J. Patel in the press release. “In reality, he was selling nothing but lies and misinformation— bilking millions from victims along the way, leaving their lives in financial ruin and their bank accounts empty.”
Sports betting having zero risk? Long-time bettors will automatically roll their eyes, knowing such an idea to be silly and far-fetched. But, enough people believed Zeidman that he collected more than $1 million per year from 2004-2020.
Why Cory Zeidman Story Is Scary
It isn’t known what kind of fake inside information Zeidman and his co-conspirators peddled. Most likely, they could claim to have unreleased injury information or knowledge of teams’ game plans that might help a bettor wager and win on player props.
What makes the claims so alluring — and therefore scary — is I believe people really do have inside information at times about sports. It’s tough to recall specific cases, but I definitely recall seeing rumors on sports betting Twitter that turned out to be true.
One I do recall involved last year’s Hawaii vs. Fresno State college football game. As the line steamed toward Fresno State, rumors swirled that Hawaii’s starting QB wasn’t playing. Sure enough, that turned out to be the case; although, the team still managed an outright win as double-digit underdogs, no doubt costing steam chasers untold hundreds of thousands.
I remember at least a couple of rumored team-wide COVID breakouts that turned out to be true. Players sitting out bowl games comes to mind as well.
I’ve also seen some really fishy early NBA lines, ones that didn’t make any sense unless a star player (who was ostensibly healthy enough to play) sat out. Sure enough, that player would wind up sitting. The line would move anyway and you could often get value on the other side.
But, that’s beside the point, which is that inside information that affects betting markets exists.
Don’t Fall Prey To Touts Selling Snake Oil
Unfortunately, while folks can use inside information to beat the market in sports betting, access to that information is mighty difficult for almost everyone to come by. Certain high-profile winning bettors are rumored to get info about key injuries in advance of the public. But, for the average bettor, gaining an edge through inside information remains a fantasy.
Bettors who can get this information can use it themselves to beat the closing line, which essentially means they have a money printing machine. Why would they waste time and money selling it to you?
Even if someone hypothetically had this information, by the time they sold it to anyone else, they have likely bet some or all the value out of the line. Not doing so would mean costing themselves countless theoretical dollars. The customer would just bet at a worse price, paying for expensive leftovers.
Leagues Can Help
Remember that touts like Cory Zeidman and the other thieves involved in this story stole tens of millions of dollars. That sort of thing gives sports betting a black eye. And anything that gives sports betting a black eye is bad for the leagues, since they have millions of dollars in partnerships with sportsbooks now. Some NCAA member schools have even followed suit.
Luckily, leagues can help. More injury transparency could go a long way toward leveling the playing field for all bettors. High-profile athletes remaining “questionable” right up until game time creates a situation ripe for exploitation.
I get that teams and coaches feel they can gain an edge by holding their injury cards close to the vest. Creating ambiguity in the mind of the opponent forces them to plan for all possibilities.
But, transparency should just be the cost of doing business when leagues rake in countless piles of dollars from sports betting.