Deadspin’s 28 Attempted Deceptions Against Pregame.com
Deadspin published a story featuring Pregame.com last week. Pregame’s attorney, Charles J. Harder (who is also Hulk Hogan’s lead attorney in the case that bankrupted Deadspin’s parent company, Gawker Media) has sent Gawker this legal demand letter. Gawker’s actions constitute, among other claims, libel, false light invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and intentional interference with actual and prospective business relations.
The media can lie like crazy, and still it often does not rise to meet a legal standard (it’s a shocking indication of how badly Deadspin lied that my attorney’s demand letter is 9 pages long). In addition to these many legal issues, Deadspin’s story attempted to deceive in at least 28 separate ways in an effort to write a sensational story that would maximize page views. It’s true that few trust the media these days, and even fewer trust Deadspin, but you’ll still be shocked at the depths this story sinks to …
The story starts by building up Pregame.com and me:
“America’s Favorite Sports Betting Expert”
“Oracle of Las Vegas”
“American success story”
“Most visible website of its kind”
I guess making the case that I’m big enough to make lying about me acceptable.
The criticisms do not start strong – contradicting themselves right off the bat. First saying that “Bell demands that Pregame customers trust him” about records. But then, in the next paragraph admitting that it’s true that every pick ever sold on Pregame is archived and available for review.
That’s Deadspin Deception #1. We’ll be keeping count for 12 pages!
Next, the writer starts throwing out broad accusations (“gross misrepresentation of records”). Ok, the proof must be coming next.
Claim: Systematic use of “out-of-date or nonexistent betting line”
Pregame.com most certainly has the strictest line grading policy in the industry – with the promise that your record following picks will be AT LEAST AS GOOD as the results archived and promoted at Pregame
The details of this admirable policy are not even mentioned by Deadspin. Instead, the story reaches back to a debate from last year regarding the best way to grade picks released overnight. The story claims feedback on this topic was repressed. Yet, that exact feedback resulted in a further strengthening of our already strict rules over one year ago. Think about that: the story claims there was a problem and feedback was repressed. The obvious truth is that as a result of that very feedback, the rules were made stricter in May 2015. Once again, the story is not only wrong, it’s the opposite of the truth. Deadspin Deception #2.
Additionally, there’s an account of one former Pro mis-entering the spread for one game.
That’s it. For a story that took one year of research; for a story that prints out to 48 pages! Obviously the claim of “out-of-date or nonexistent betting line” is far from proven. Deadspin Deception #3.
Claim: Systematically mis-graded games in the Pregame.com pick archive
Pregame.com’s pick archive automatically makes every pick entered into the system available for review soon after the game starts. That way, those watching can be certain that all picks are included.
The story provides one example of a mis-graded 1st-half CFB play from October, 2015.
That’s it. Out of thousands and thousands of archived picks, they point to one error and claim “systematic” abuse. Hard to believe. Deadspin Deception #4.
Claim: Bonus picks systematically accounted for in a way to improve records.
As noted earlier, all major sports and pick types are automatically graded and archived by our pick system. Picks in non-major sports (e.g., golf, MMA) and niche pick types are NOT automatically tracked by the system (we are hoping to add this soon). These make-up far less than 1% of picks. Most Pros have been adding these non-standard picks to the analysis area of standard picks – which means these extra picks ARE being effectively archived, but it’s not always obvious where.
The story claims “Some touts embed “bonus” plays into their write-ups; these will only go into their records if they win, not if they lose.”
This time, he didn’t brother to include even one example. Zero proof. I guess it’s hard to blame them, since you can’t prove what isn’t true. Deadspin Deception #5.
The story also fails to mention Pregame’s public reporting area (via dedicated forum thread with 400 posts and 100,000+ views) empowering anyone to alert the entire community to any possible Win Streak or Game Archive errors. Which means undebatable transparency for all record keeping fidelity questions. A fair story would certainly mention that. Everything Pregame does is open to anybody's feedback right here in our forums. And perhaps that's the most convincing point ... read through the Pregame forums and you'll see a healthy amount of disagreement (so it's obviously not repressed), while the overall feeling is one of a community having fun with their sports betting.
After a full year of research, that’s the only “evidence” to back up the attention-grabbing “gross misrepresentation of records” claim. How could the author think any knowledgeable reader would take this seriously? Deadspin Deception #6.
Now get this … the writer goes on to present W/L results calculated from the public archives provided by PREGAME. He couldn't possibly doubt the accuracy of these Pregame archives and then use them as the basis for a big chunk of his remaining article! Wow - usually a hatchet job isn't so obvious. This contradiction is nothing short of a big middle figure to the reader's intelligence.
But, as you can guess by now, the conclusions this article attempts to pass off about the picks are woefully biased. Many Pros are attributed records worse than their true records. Deadspin Deception #6. (This topic is a major portion of the legal demand letter Pregame’s litigation attorney has sent to Gawker Media.)
The many negative calculation inaccuracies were not enough for Deadspin. They additionally misrepresented …
By combining all results without accounting for the real-world fact that picks on the same game from different Pros will often be opposite sides. No customer would ever bet both sides and automatically lose the juice. For example, if Steelers were playing the Ravens. Let’s say you brought two picks. One had Steelers. One had Ravens. (BTW, Pregame fully refunds any customer who buys opposite sides of the same game.) Would any sane person then bet $110 on Steelers and $110 on Ravens and take an automatic loss? Yet, that’s exactly how Deadspin’s accounting assumes it happens! They could have easily removed those opposite games from their calculations. Instead, they tried to dishonestly slip by this insane assumption (hoping no one would notice) because it would make Pregame look bad. Deadspin Deception #7.
In addition to the calculation errors and the opposite side drag, Deadspin also skews the reader’s impression by presenting results as if followers are blindly betting every pick no matter what. Such an approach by customers is uncommon. Deadspin totally ignores the many instances of superior results if a Pro’s highest confidence picks are considered – and the many instances of superior results if a Pro’s best sports are considered. That’s the way the vast majority of pick buyers play. Deadspin Deception #8.
All of these inaccuracies and misrepresentations are still not enough for Deadspin. In addition, they fail to make clear which Pros are currently active with Pregame. Instead, they mix up active Pros with inactive Pros – many of which were removed from the site years ago! Deadspin Deception #9. And here’s why: Even after all the effort to unfairly make the results look bad, the majority of Pregame’s current active handicappers are shown to be profitable!
Even worse, the writer explicitly said that most Pregame pick sellers have records well short of the break-even point. Apparently not caring that the data in his own story contradicts his statement! Deadspin Deception #10.
Keep in mind this same article referenced a study saying that only about 5% of public pick sellers achieved a profitable lifetime win rate. That a majority of active Pregame Pros have a profitable lifetime win rate – even by Deadspin’s negatively biased accounting – seems noteworthy. But such facts would have ruined the anti-Pregame narrative that Deadspin had seemingly already invested so much time and money in. Soon we’ll expose how desperate Deadspin became later in the story to maintain this narrative – deception Pregame’s renown attorney believes reaches the legal level of libel and defamation.
When it comes to the cost of premium picks, Deadspin so overestimated it’s hard to imagine it wasn’t intentional. For example, they assume that five picks (two 3*s, two 2*s, and one 1*) released on a day would cost $60 … while the fact is that no normal day’s picks from any Pro at Pregame even costs HALF THAT. And that’s without considering no discounts (which the story admits Pregame offers liberally). For example, our Bulk Dollar program easily allows for a 50% discount. So, for a daily buyer, Deadspin doubled the price twice, resulting in a price estimate 400% too high! Even worse, since subscription buyers can easily pay less than $3 per day for complete access to a pick seller, in those common cases Deadspin overestimates cost by 20 TIMES! Claiming something costs $20 when you can easily get it for $3 is despicable. Deadspin Deception #11.
Then the writer says that I claim our Pros win 55% of the time. But his link to the supposed proof goes to a forum page on which I say nothing about win percentage at all. Deadspin Deception #12. What I often say is that the best a professional bettor can hope for over the long-run is 55% winners. But even the most successful sometimes fall short of that. If 55% winners were commonly available, everybody could quit their jobs and buy any Pregame Pro and bet every pick blind. No reasonable person could believe it was that easy. No reasonable person thinks that’s what Pregame is saying.
It’s important to know that Pregame NEVER tempts with easy money schemes, nor do we encourage get rich quick dreams. Spend any time at the site and you’ll clearly see how strongly we stress the difficulty of beating the bookie. Winning over the long-term is hard. Edges are earned a half-point at a time. There’s no claims of "locks" or "inside info." We're clear that the best any expert or site can do is improve your odds. These warnings are repeated by us again and again.
The story quotes me saying: “Winning is a headache” – and then purposely misleads the reader about what I meant. Well before the publication of this article, I provided the writer an explanation of the context: “Winning does come with its own special problems for Pros. As Pregame always stresses, it’s difficult to beat the book. When a Pro gets on a big winning streak – or wins more than usual over an extended period of time – his followers start thinking that winning is easy. So they start betting more. Often too much. And then when the inevitable losing streak comes, a bettor can go broke fast. Yes, I often stress to the Pros – and I stress it publicly - that it’s a Pro’s job to manage expectations during good and bad times.” There’s no reason for the writer to have left out this explanation that shed light upon this out-of-context quote unless he cared more about making Pregame look bad than the truth. Deadspin Deception #13
Next, from a cookie-cutter email reply we send to those soliciting Pregame to sell picks, the writer pulls the quote: “Winning – especially in the short-term, is not the issue.” Nearly every aspiring pick seller who emails Pregame includes his recent hot streak (e.g., 27-15) as proof of his merit. Hot streaks can be noteworthy, but they are far from enough. In this standard reply email we explain that recent short-term streaks are not enough. In fact, even longer term performance claims are difficult to rely on because it’s hard to verify if they are legit. Instead of praising Pregame for caring about more than short-term streaks, the writer attempts to deceive again. Deadspin Deception #14.
The story also posted short audio snippets of questionable origin obviously edited to deceive. The gist is once again that winning is difficult, and as a company we must make every effort to accept and address that reality. That is the only way for the company to provide maximum value to our customers. It’s the same theme that runs through all of these winning-related topics. Pregame knows winning is hard, and we make sure our customers know that. Winning streaks can be impressive and fun, but winning in the long-term is even more difficult. We feel strongly that our honesty in this regard is one of the key reasons Pregame is different than our competitors. It makes no sense for critics to blame us that winning is hard; instead, they should be praising Pregame for being candid about it.
When this story’s writer started asking me questions, one that was worthy of immediate action concerned three Pros we had removed for cause in the past. Initially, we treated their inactive accounts like any other former Pro. Some time later, I got feedback that leaving up their inactive pages was allowing Pregame to benefit from related Search Engine traffic. Respecting this feedback, I had tech delete their accounts from the system (which automatically wiped their pick archives). When the writer questioned this, I posted every pick ever from those three Pros at Scribd.com. Making the picks available for review without any benefits for Pregame. As you might guess, even after being informed of the reasoning, the writer failed to explain that the original removal of the logs was my effort to act upon constructive feedback; and he didn’t explain that Pregame providing the removed logs was in response to his feedback. Once again, the writer denied the reader the truth. Deadspin Deception #15.
Now two quickies about promotion:
The writer claimed Pros “are required to promote the site’s other touts, regardless of performance.” Once again, 100% false. Once again, no proof is provided by the writer, just another unsubstantiated claim. In no way are Pros required or even asked to promote any Pro they don’t want to. Deadspin Deception #16.
The story also says the Pros were encouraged to create a many picks like “Games of the Month” as possible. Not only is this incorrect, it’s often the opposite of the truth. Such high confidence picks are only effective if they are used genuinely. Pregame warns about both releasing too few and too many. The objective is always releasing a genuine number for that Pro. Deadspin Deception #17.
That’s it when it comes to picks. 17 deceptions from Deadspin instead of honest reporting.
Next, the Deadspin story shifts to online sportsbooks. If you can believe it, there is even less truth on this topic …
The story first explains that some sportsbooks pay affiliate revenue of 20% to 40% of a bettors’ losses. Then it’s stated that 5dimes compensates in this fashion – and in the same sentence saying that “Bell and his site have routinely publicized” 5dimes. Notice they do not say we receive any money from 5dimes. Because we don’t. Nor does the article say that we advertise 5dimes. Because we don’t. Instead, he attempts to connect Pregame providing worthy news info from 5dimes (with attribution) to revenue based upon bettors’ losses. There’s no facts, just innuendo. BTW, if we provided odds from 5dimes without attribution, we’d be blasted for that. Also note that ESPN reports on online sportsbooks with the same type of attribution. Deadspin Deception #18.
Then, the story uses the way Pregame did right by Fezzik’s customers after a bad run last year as proof that we must make money from sportsbooks – why else would Pregame be so customer friendly? The article didn’t bother to connect such efforts to Pregame’s seven straight years with an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. Deadspin Deception #19.
Earlier, the story quoted a “successful” bettor – and affirmed his success by linking to a bio touting having won the SuperContest. Yes, the same contest that Steve Fezzik is the only person in history to have won TWICE. But not one nice word about Fezzik. No mention that his Bet Like a Pro program has profited for customers every year. No mention that it’s the only program in the industry that only charges after you profit enough to pay for the service.
The article goes on paragraph after paragraph explaining all the ways Pregame is customer friendly. The writer hints that it’s part of a secret plan to make money from sportsbook. Except Pregame (or me personally) or any company Pregame (or me personally) have any ownership in, has not received a single penny from any sportsbook since 2008. And, it’s been over four years since we were paid by any website that even advertised sportsbooks themselves (the lone instance of this was an advertising deal with PregameAction.com).
So then the writer makes up a quote, saying: “Winning really isn’t the issue. Losing is.” No one from Pregame ever said that. Deadspin Deception #20. At this point, the entire story has become premised upon Pregame’s business model relying upon receiving a percentage of bettor’s losses. But zero actual proof is offered. And perhaps that’s why the writer finally needed to go further than hints on this topic. Usually tabloid types are good are giving an impression without actually saying it. But, perhaps out of desperation, the writer made a big mistake. (Here is the legal demand letter sent from Pregame’s attorney, Charles J. Harder, who was the Hulk Hogan’s lead attorney in the case that bankrupted Deadspin’s parent company, Gawker Media.)
I told the writer before the story was published that he was in error. I offered to provide information on background to correct him. He declined. In the story, recounting this exchange, the writer quoted an email from me supposedly saying the writer was making a “clear mistake.” This is another lie. I dare the writer to provide proof of this. It would be as simple as producing the email. He won’t, because he can’t – because it’s not true. Deadspin Deception #21.
The only “evidence” offered for the sportsbook accusations were cached versions of old webpages stored on the Pregame.com servers. Anyone who has operated a website understands that outdated pages often stay stored on the server. One of these old pages was an advertising kit from 2006 (the kit still had references to BetOnSports.com, which was shutdown July of 2006). These pages were not active, promoted, or linked to – nothing but old pages not cleared off the servers. Another page was a PregameAction promotion from 2011. Nobody would have even been able to find these pages if they weren’t specifically hunting for them. All we have found have now been removed. It’s hard to imagine that the writer doesn’t understand that outdated pages are often stored on a site’s servers. Deadspin Deception #22. BTW, right now on Deadspin there’s pages that say Will Leitch is the editor-in chief. He hasn’t been since 2008.
Pregame has had no financial dealings with any online sportsbook since 2008. At that time, the combination of an emerging legal gray area plus possible conflicts of interest between advertising sportsbooks and bettors led Pregame to cease any such relationship. Notice how the writer’s comments carefully avoid contradicting this fact. “Based on the rates Bell was charging sportsbooks just to advertise on Pregame.” Writer uses the past tense, but is not clear on exactly when he’s referencing. Then a quote from an oddsmaker “from major offshore sportsbook that had an arrangement with Pregame …” Once again, past tense – once again not clear on when. There is zero proof anywhere in the entire article that Pregame has had any sportsbook deal since 2008. Exactly as we explained to the writer before the story was published. I know there are varied journalism theories, but it seems basic that you should be required to provide proof if you are going to make damaging accusations. Deadspin Deception #23.
But the writer wasn’t as careful when it came to PregameAction.com. A defunct website that was owned and operated by a Canadian company (Big Juice Media). This was a contractual advertising arrangement between the Canadian company and Pregame.com, carefully prepared by one of Nevada’s most respected gaming attorneys. Their site advertised multiple products and services, including Sports Authority and the NFL’s official merchandising shop – and they also promoted online sportsbooks, which is legal in Canada. As an added layer of caution, the footer of their site persistently urged visitors to check on legality in other jurisdictions. Pregame received the final advertising payment from this Canadian media company over four years ago.
Nothing in Deadspins story comes close to disproving these facts. Occasional, regular, or daily Pregame.com visitors reading this are all thinking to themselves that they can’t remember us advertising sportsbooks in recent years. That’s because we don’t.
Ok, now here comes a doozy. First the story says “Pregame Action’s website was operated by Big Juice Media, a marketing company registered in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia …” But then the story, responding to one of my statements from years ago about Pregame not dealing with online sportsbooks, said: “Bell’s comment specifically mentioned Pregame.com. It did not mention Pregame Action or Sharpbettor.ag or any of the other services run by Bell, services through which Pregame customers are funneled when they want to deposit money at sportsbooks.”
BOOM. THIS IS THE LEGAL NIGHTMARE FOR DEADSPIN. No longer hinting and deceiving, no longer hiding behind anonymous quotes … rather slipping up and saying it straight. No proof. Untrue. A big mistake.
This accusation is contradicted by the story itself! Having first said that Pregame Action is operated by a Canadian Media company, and then saying it was run by me. It would have been cheaper to pay for a competent journalist than all the lawyers they’ll need now.
Then, adding insult to injury, that same statement says I ran Sharpbettor.ag – a company I have had ZERO dealings with in any way. Then, vaguely implying there are other companies. More lies. Zero proof. The writer likely understood the entire premise of the article had yet to be proven, so in desperation he stated as fact what he was unable to provide any proof for – hoping it would be convincing, but this time he didn’t hint at it or couch it with quotes from unnamed source. No, HE straight said it. The kill shot. Deadspin Deception #24, #25, #26.
We will end with two examples of just how personal this writer made it. A person I have never spoken to in my life. Perhaps demonizing me was the only way for the writer to rationalize his deceit.
The story talks about me having a losing record over the course of 30 picks loaded into the Pregame system, the last of which was 2010! Yet, no mention of the only picks I’ve consistently made public in recent years. The last two NFL seasons, on the syndicated Kevin & Bean morning show, I’ve given out picks every Friday. Winning both seasons. 61% winners overall. Yet, somehow a handful of picks from six years ago warrant mention, but not a word about my monster results listened to by millions over the last two years. Deadspin Deception #27.
Finally, the most laughable: the story includes the fact that I graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in Business Administration from The Ohio State University. When the New York Times Magazine profiled me in February of 2014, and they asked about my academic background, I included the fact that I finished #1 among my fellow Finance graduates (out of ~200 graduates). When NYT wrote up the story, they described me as being the “Valedictorian” of my Finance class. I had never used that description, but since I understood Valedictorian to equate to number one in class and since the NYT choose it, I had no reason to doubt that it was a correct usage. So I added it to my bio. The Deadspin writer dug so deep as to reach out to Ohio State to verify. OSU told him that the school doesn’t officially have Valedictorians. The writer notified me of this, so I publicly announced my mistake without delay, and changed my bio. This was before the story came out. Here’s what the story said: “Bell admitted to inserting this ‘valedictorian’ claim into his bio in 2014 despite its falsity.” Once again, not only untrue, but the exact opposite. I thought it was accurate, and removed it when I found out it wasn’t. The writer contradicts me, claiming I knew that it was inaccurate. What proof did he offer? None.
Deadspin Deception #28 is the perfect ending to Deadspin’s deplorable dishonesty. As you can guess, there are many more deceptions of greater nuance I won’t bore you with.
To understand Deadspin’s motivation, it’s important to be aware that most our competitors do exactly what they lied about Pregame doing. All you have to do is visit their sites to see sportsbook promotions, to see that they only archive a handful of picks for review. (Here are 7 important facts that make Pregame.com different)
But none of these sites have anybody that could be reasonable labeled “America’s Favorite Sports Betting Expert.” They told all these lies for a few more page views.
We will get legal satisfaction. Pregame’s litigation counsel, Charles Harder - Hulk Hogan’s attorney who bankrupted Deadspin’s parent company – is confident enough to take this case. You can’t do better than that.
Some were deceived by Deadspin’s lies, but most clearly saw how empty the accusations were. The entire Pregame team feels redeemed that professional investigators could dig for so long and find so little. Not a single one of Deadspin's major claims survive the truth. That does not mean Pregame is perfect. We're far from it - but we work hard every day to improve. For every site visitor, including the 95% who never buy a single pick. Our goal is to improve your odds, while making sure you know that beating the bookie is hard. We've faced resistance every step of the way. I had no idea way back when how big of a job it would be to move this industry beyond its checkered past. The best way to see the progress we've made is to read through Pregame's public posting forums on any given day ... we are so proud of the appreciation the community shows for our efforts.
But that doesn’t change that Deadspin published, and this writer wrote, with little regard for the truth. The writer’s name is Ryan Goldberg. His career is obviously struggling. But that shouldn’t excuse him. He’ll continue having the support of the envious bettors and desperate competitors who feed him this garbage. But now, with his dishonesty exposed, he’ll have trouble being trusted by others.
And that’s as it should be. Dishonest journalism is worse than useless. It must be rejected. I know there are much bigger problems than mine in the world. But the 10+ years I’ve spent building something the right way matter to me. And sports betting’s move into the mainstream matters to millions. Allowing greedy liars to get in the way is not ok. - RJ Bell