Bloomberg Article: "I Used a Handicapping Service to Bet on Sports and Won a Whopping $63.60" (Jambo Picks)

#1
I Used a Handicapping Service to Bet on Sports and Won a Whopping $63.60
Jambos is designed to give gamblers a leg up. It’s not clear it’s a great way to build a business.

ILLUSTRATION: KATI SZILAGYI FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK
By
Ira Boudway
January 23, 2020, 2:00 AM PST

My experiment as a Jambos bettor began on New Year’s Eve. It didn’t get off to a great start.


Jambos is a handicapping service, known to sports bettors as a “tout,” that sells picks for a fee; I paid $250 for a week’s worth. Every day around 11 a.m., Jambos would alert me that the day’s betting suggestions were available. There might be a handful or dozens, depending on the season and the schedule. On this day there were 13, including that the Kentucky and Virginia Tech football teams would score fewer than 47 points combined in the Belk Bowl.


Picks in hand, subscribers place the suggested wagers with bookmakers of their choice. Then, in theory, because Jambos has crackerjack statisticians running elaborate models, bettors win more often than they lose.


My plan was to bet on every wager that Jambos suggested in a week. Bloomberg Businessweek would cover any losses, and profits would go to charity. I sold this to my editors as a firsthand exploration of the mainstreaming of the handicapping business, and, somehow, they said yes.



Sports betting has come out of the shadows in the U.S. since a Supreme Court ruling in 2018 that opened the way for the industry outside of Nevada. Fourteen states now allow sports gambling. Together, they’ve taken more than $15 billion in wagers since the ruling, according to the American Gaming Association. Sports leagues, which fought against legal betting for years, are signing marketing deals with casinos.
When Jambos began selling picks in August, it promised to be a new kind of tout for a new era of sports betting. Would I, a novice, be able to execute the Jambos system? (Sorta.) Would Jambos live up to the hype? (Kinda.) Would I make money? (Yes.) Would I find myself frantically scrolling through my phone for a bookie that would give me under 47 on the Belk Bowl? (Yes.) Would it be any fun? (Do you like spreadsheets?)
For all of sports betting’s progress toward legitimacy, handicappers retain a reputation somewhere between personal injury lawyers and pawnshops. Throughout the years, touts have gone from selling picks by newsletter, to 1-900 numbers, to the internet. Twitter is full of accounts that offer picks, as are Snapchat and Instagram. Scams abound. In one common one, touts tell half of their customers to take one side of a bet and recommend the opposite bet to the other half—and then, for the half that wins, repeat the process until a small group of customers think the tout is infallible.
One of the more famous handicappers is David Oancea, aka “Vegas Dave.” Known for a series of long-shot winners, Oancea has a sports “consulting” firm that sells picks for hundreds of dollars each. In 2017 he was indicted on 19 felony counts stemming from the alleged use of other people’s Social Security numbers to open gambling accounts in Nevada. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for falsifying records last year, agreed to forfeit more than $550,000, and was banned from Las Vegas sportsbooks for three years. He’s still selling picks.

Michael Schwimer
PHOTOGRAPHER: CHRISTOPHER LEAMAN FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK
“If I was on the outside looking at me, I’m unbelievably skeptical,” says Jambos founder Michael Schwimer, a former relief pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies and a regular guest on ESPN’s gambling show, Daily Wager.
When he launched Jambos from Bethesda, Md., Schwimer promised it would be different. It would publish a record of its time-stamped picks and pay refunds, plus more, when its advice didn’t pan out. It could do so because it had $23 million from backers including Bill Miller, founder of Miller Value Partners, and former Goldman Sachs & Co. partner Steve Duncker.
To lead the Jambos life (legally), I stayed in New Jersey, where I live, for seven days. New Jersey happens to be the state that broke Nevada’s stranglehold on sports gambling. In 2011 it challenged the federal law that barred other states from entering the market, and seven years later it won. New Jersey now vies with Nevada for the title of biggest betting state in the U.S. In December, according to New Jersey gaming regulators, bettors laid more than $550 million in wagers with more than a dozen operators.
A couple of days before my Jambos subscription began, I put $150 each in accounts with three sportsbooks: DraftKings, FanDuel, and Caesars Casino. The bets offered aren’t the same at every book, and I wanted to have options. Jambos recommends that subscribers wager about $300 per pick. At roughly 100 picks per week, that would require a bankroll of at least a few thousand dollars, depending on how my early bets panned out. I didn’t have the stomach to front that, even with Businessweek’s backing, so I decided to place $30 bets and multiply by 10 when it came time to assess the results.
On Day 1, the Jambos alert email went to my spam folder. I didn’t see it until almost noon, at which time I’d scheduled a haircut. Two picks were for games starting in minutes. Before I got in the barber’s chair, I laid a bet with DraftKings—that Florida State’s men’s basketball team would beat Georgia Tech by at least 11.5 points—but the line for the Belk Bowl had moved. Jambos said to bet under 47 points total for the game, but I was seeing only offers at 46.5, so I didn’t make the bet. Of the 13 picks that day, I wagered on 6. For the others, I couldn’t find the numbers that Jambos suggested because bookmakers were offering either different lines or different odds.

On most wagers, sportsbooks take a small cut of winnings. The size varies according to the odds. The standard at most books is that a bettor needs to wager $110 to win $100, commonly expressed as “-110.” But prices vary from book to book and bet to bet. In some cases, I passed up bets because the odds offered were considerably worse than what Jambos suggested. My low success rate was mostly my fault. I was searching for some bets more than an hour after the picks had posted. Hopping between apps and frantically scrolling through numbers, I may have missed some opportunities to bet.
Yet my struggle was indicative of a fundamental problem with handicapping. Betting markets are fluid. If more money comes in on one side of a bet than the other, especially if it’s from “sharp” bettors who have a history of winning, books adjust their lines and/or odds. They tend to move together, but not always, and not in lockstep. The more successful Jambos became, in other words, the harder it would be for subscribers to make money with the service.
On Day 2, I was more prepared. I stuck to the Jambos line, but I was more flexible on odds. If Jambos said to bet -110 and I saw the same bet offered at -115, I took it. There were five picks, and I bet all of them within 20 minutes of posting. My bumbling the day before had turned out to be fortunate: Five of the six bets that I made were winners. The seven that I didn’t make were all losers. So I was 5-for-6 on the day, but Jambos was 5-for-13. It was a tiny sample size, but it also made me wonder if there was any method to this madness.
I couldn’t begin to say how Jambos decided that Georgia would beat Baylor by at least four points in the Sugar Bowl. An algorithm, presumably, had taken in reams of data from past college football games and spit out that result. Schwimer isn’t much more helpful. “It is so much more complicated than you could ever even dream or imagine,” he says, adding that he’s not at liberty to say much more.
 
#2
Gambling With Jambos
Results of betting 111 picks from Dec. 31 to Jan. 6

Data: Jambos, Bloomberg reporting

Schwimer, 33, pitched in 47 games in 2011 and 2012 before a shoulder injury ended his career. “All my pitches were well below average,” he says. To compensate, he modeled which ones to throw and when, spending hours watching video of hitters’ preferences. When his playing days were over, he thought that his pitch-sequencing system could be adapted to predict the success of minor leaguers. In 2015 he began trying to sell investors on a fund that would pay minor league players in exchange for a share of their potential future major league earnings.
A serendipitous meeting with Paul DePodesta—a main character in Moneyball in his former role as assistant to Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, now part of the Cleveland Browns front office—led to a sit-down with Miller. Not long after, Schwimer had secured $26 million. In 2016 he founded Big League Advance and invested in 77 players. He says that 38 of the original signees are in the big leagues, with a dozen likely to follow.
In 2017, Schwimer raised an additional $130 million to add to his roster, which now numbers about 230 players. He took the management fees from that round to assemble what he calls “the world’s best private data analytics team” in sports, and Jambos Analytics LLC was born. The name is a bro-tastic acronym of six original members. There are now about 15.
Jambos decided to sell picks in bundles: 17 weeks for $3,000, 4 weeks for $900, and 1 week for $250, which is what I signed up for. Each bundle came with a payback guarantee if the system wasn’t profitable. It pays $10,000 to full-package customers, $2,000 to monthly customers, and $300 to weekly customers. And if Jambos was up, but not enough to cover subscription costs, it would make up the difference, plus $100.

Day by day, I got better at using the service. Still, because of discrepancies in the lines and odds, I wasn’t getting bets in on about a third of the games. So what was the point in using Jambos? My results would have more to do with which bets I placed than with how well the company’s models worked. I wasn’t alone. On New Year’s Day, Schwimer tweeted, “We will have to stop selling picks very soon.” Professional bettors and books, he said, were building bots to react to Jambos picks and moving lines before customers could act. “The vast majority of our recommendations were moving very quickly,” says Schwimer. The last bundle of Jambos picks will end with the Super Bowl, after which it will continue to publish some online for free.
Schwimer expected this to happen, he says, but not as quickly as it did. He was, in his telling, a victim of his own success, and I saw anecdotal evidence to back his claim. On a couple of occasions, lines moved against me in the time between entering my bet and tapping to confirm it. But more often than not, I could get my wagers in, and I didn’t have bots working for me. On 19 bets, despite my hunt-and-peck method, I got better lines than Jambos recommended.
Schwimer had another reason for shutting down the subscription service, which he describes as only a small part of the larger company. There were a “handful of people,” he says, who didn’t have the bankroll to continue betting after sustaining heavy losses early. Most customers, he says, reported making money. (He declined to disclose subscriber numbers or detail company finances.) The most satisfied customers, he says, were those who had a sizable bankroll and treated Jambos like a financial product: “They understood that this is an investment. This is not like betting where it’s a fun thing.”
He was right about the fun. Around the time on a Saturday morning that I was searching in vain for the Jacksonville State vs. Eastern Kentucky basketball game at under 146 points, I began to regret volunteering to be a betting degenerate. I was mostly updating spreadsheets. It felt a lot like work.
In the end, I made money. Of the 111 bets Jambos recommended, I made 75. Of those, 40 were winners and one was a push—a 54% success rate. Three times, since I found more favorable lines, I won bets that Jambos pushed on. Of the 36 I didn’t make, only 16 were winners for Jambos. This proved to be my salvation. Jambos’s record for the week was 53 wins, 54 losses, and four pushes, disastrous for most customers. In my case, betting at just $30 a pop, the rebate padded my $63.60 in winnings, leaving me $113.60 ahead.
What do these results indicate? Not much. Before my experiment, I was confident that Jambos’s algo jockeys knew the betting markets better than I did—and doubted they knew more than everybody else. After a week, I felt the same. Does Jambos have good algorithms? Probably. But so do a lot of people. Together they create a fairly efficient market. As for entertainment value, no one needs help from Jambos, or anybody else, to blow money betting on Winthrop University basketball games.
With the death of Jambos as a pick-selling service, the tout industry remains a swamp of small-time operators. But Schwimer says Jambos isn’t done yet. He has big plans coming in the spring. “We’re about to make a huge splash in the industry,” he says. “People won’t believe until they see it.” —With Eben Novy-Williams
 
#3
I don't like this article from the idea that it was only 7 days.

Anybody, yes the best, can have a bad 7 days.

I wonder how this article would have been written had Jambo gone 72% for this week.
 
#4
Schwimer is spinning this article in his favor stating the reason they are shutting down is due to people not getting their lines.

He ignores the idea that this person was able to get much better lines on plenty of his releases.
 

kane

EOG master
#5
The guy's a tout running a service, the fact he's on the ESPN show only gives him more credibility to those who don't know any better. I said it before, the only one on that show worth listening to is Preston, and I wouldn't blindly tail him either, but he knows what he's doing, he's a pro, Kezerian, Fortenbaugh, Schultz and the others are as square as it gets
 

winkyduck

TYVM Morgan William!!!
#8
The guy's a tout running a service, the fact he's on the ESPN show only gives him more credibility to those who don't know any better. I said it before, the only one on that show worth listening to is Preston, and I wouldn't blindly tail him either, but he knows what he's doing, he's a pro, Kezerian, Fortenbaugh, Schultz and the others are as square as it gets
Slightly disagree. I pay close attention to what Anita Marks and Jordan Schultz say. I then FADE their picks or pass. Playing ON them is bankroll suicide
 
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