Are tout businesses about to inundate sports viewers in the U.S.?

With sports betting becoming legal and regulated in the U.S., it's just a matter of time until handicapper and sportsbook advertising will inundate the airwaves and social media.

Touts have been a part of sports betting for as long as one can remember. According to the Oxford English dictionary a tout is any person who solicits business in a persistent and annoying manner. To anyone who has been harassed by gambling touts they’ll probably tell you that the definition describes touts to a tee.

Touts started in horse racing when a group of prognosticators would approach horse bettors and offer tips on which horses to bet. They still offer that service today and some touts expanded into sports betting. Unfortunately, many touts, (or as they prefer to call themselves tipsters or handicappers), are scam artists and have a very modest winning or losing record, but the way they sell their services guarantees they will be paid. These less-than-honest tipsters don’t actually make a pick, but will tell one group “for free” that a certain side will win a game, providing reasonable analysis for the picks and will tell another group the other side will win also offering reasonable analysis. When the game is over the tout will approach the group he gave the correct pick to and say that if they want another winning pick it will cost money. In horse racing, they will give different groups of people alternate horse numbers.

Some touts, however, are more legitimate and put a lot of research and time into making picks and will have a modest winning record. Any tout that claims to pick more than 60% winners against the spread is a liar. Successfully picking that many winners straight up is conceivable, but not against the spread.  After all picking the New England Patriots to beat the Buffalo Bills at home outright probably will produce a high winning percentage, but in the long run they will not be profitable, given the juice required on straight odds to win.

sports betting touts handicappers

Touts for sports betting became popular in the 1970s when people like Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder would sell their picks for the purpose of betting at Las Vegas sportsbooks. Snyder was the quintessential salesman and advertised his services on TV, radio and in newspapers. Snyder became immortalized on CBS pregame NFL shows where he had a segment indicating the “Best Bets’ of the day. Not surprisingly Snyder’s overall record against the spread on the pregame shows was just over 50%, but because he was a character, people still followed his advice. While Snyder and other touts claimed they were trying to beat Vegas, the majority of followers were using the picks to bet with illegal local bookmakers. After Snyder, services like the Gold Sheet and Vegas Insider became popular and individuals like Walter Abrams, who was featured in the movie Two for the Money, aired TV shows prior to NFL games where he would employ different “professional handicappers” to provide their picks. Two for the Money was about Brandon Lane (although in the movie they named him Lang), who started out very strong as a handicapper, even going 12 for 12 one week, but in the long run he turned out to be no better than an average prognosticator.

Tout services really blossomed in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the Internet became a popular means of communication and offshore online sportsbooks began popping up like weeds. Names like Jim Feist, Lou Diamond and Junkman Sports started picks businesses and many purchased names of players from offshore marketing lists taken from sportsbooks and gambling posting forums, and they started to hound those players to use their services via phone and email. These tipsters also advertised heavily online and in newspapers, although they were generally disallowed to advertise on TV or radio since advertising gambling services was not technically legal, so most stations limited or banned it. Interest in those services plummeted following the passing of the UIEGA because U.S. facing sportsbooks began closing and the amount of clients dwindled. Of course those touts still have clients who are willing to pay for the picks, since many of those players still have accounts with the sites that still take U.S. action, such as 5Dimes, BookMaker, BetOnline and Heritage Sports.

But now that the Supreme Court has struck down PASPA one has to wonder how many of these touts are going to come out of the woodwork to offer their picks in a legal environment? The restrictions placed on them previously will no longer apply in states like New York or New Jersey, which legalized sports betting and this will not only open up avenues on TV and radio, but may actually bring in new advertising opportunities. They almost certainly will advertise during game telecasts and undoubtedly will advertise at the stadiums as well.

"Currently there are hundreds of so-called handicappers on Twitter and YouTube."

Jim Quinn, the CEO of Off Shore Gaming Association indicated his concern that Americans may be bombarded with advertising worse than what was happening with Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars prior to Black Friday:

"Currently there are hundreds of so-called handicappers on Twitter and YouTube and to think that anyone with an Internet connection can advertise picks now, only leads us to think that this will end up becoming main stream and novice players will end up losing their shirts betting on sports, and to dishonest touts."

But it’s not just tout services that Quinn and others worry will innundate sports watchers, but also the sportsbooks and casinos themselves. No doubt MGM, William Hill and Caesars will all be telling New Jersey residents why they should sign up and play with them and wiill be shilling promotions, cashback offers and various comps. And if the same thing happens in the United States as has happened in Europe teams will display the logos of sportsbooks on their uniforms. Many teams in England and Germany quickly learned there was more money to be made fom advertising Bwin or Bet365 than there is from Reebok or Nike. And anyone who lives in a state where DFS is legal knows you can’t watch the game for more than 5 minutes without seeing some sort of advertising or promotion for FanDuel or DraftKings. This will be a huge benefit for the teams and media who will rake in a lot of money from all the new advertising revenue and it may be welcomed by sports bettors who may not mind and may even like news and offers for sports betting.

But for casual fans who simply want to watch the games and root on their teams without a vested interest, they will no doubt agree with the Oxford English Dictionary that sportsbooks and particularly touts are not only persistent, but annoying.

Read insights from Hartley Henderson every week here at OSGA and check out Hartley's RUMOR MILL!

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