Sports Betting in West Virginia: Controversial Tout Bill Fails

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The West Virginia Mountaineers logo on the floor before a college basketball game against the Baylor Bears at WVU Coliseum. Mitchell Layton/Getty Images/AFP.

A bill that would have created a regulatory body to evaluate sports handicappers has failed in the West Virginia State Senate. But is this the last thing U.S. sports betting has seen of the tout bill in Mountain State?

The Business of Buying Picks

There is a legal term called puffery that essentially allows sellers to puff up their product or service without legal liability. Something along the lines of someone selling their car and saying it was only ridden on Sunday by their dear, departed granny.

Whether or not granny only rode the car on Sunday, as opposed to any other day of the week, or if she was indeed the only one to drive the car, cannot be confirmed or denied. And even if it weren’t true, there is no legal breach because it is essentially puffery. However, if that same car seller stated the vehicle only had 35,000 miles when it in fact had 135,000 miles before they rolled back the odometer, that is clearly illegal.

Professional handicappers or paid touts fall into that grey area. Those who are not new to sports betting view most of them as nothing more than carnival barkers. A mild annoyance but nothing to take seriously. That is not to say there aren’t some sharps out there who sell their picks but most of them would prefer to strictly bet on their games rather than reveal them.

A Threat for New Sports Betting Enthusiasts

Now that sports betting has gone mainstream there is a deluge of new sports bettors who are not hip to the game…the paid handicapping game. They are fresh meat for the veteran cappers who sell their picks and it’s like shooting fish in a barrel when they pump up their records and “guarantee” winners. The squares line up and can’t believe their good fortune to have found such a sports-handicapping savant.

Well, it’s not long before they realize that paying an “expert” is not a panacea for sports betting prosperity. What they thought was their ticket to financial freedom turned out to be a license to steal. But then again, it’s not stealing if the guarantee the touts promise is a free pick if their 100K Platinum Play of the Millennium goes down in flames.

The victim, er, customer is out whatever they paid for the “guaranteed” play and all the tout has to do to live up to their end of the bargain is to simply give out another pick. If that pick loses the tout will likely be a swell guy and give the increasingly disgruntled customer another “free” pick.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day so once one of their picks hit, the guarantee has been fulfilled and they will likely try to talk the customer into signing up for a day, week, month, or season of sports picks. Most of them are nothing if not shameless and it’s just the way it is.

Consumer Protection

And now that you know how the tout industry works, West Virginia legislators were determined to regulate it. It’s a comical notion to many because it would be like trying to blow out those fake birthday candles. They seem to go out, only to light right back up.

A West Virginia bill, HB 3232, was introduced by Rep. Clay Riley whose intentions were good, adding transparency in what is mostly an opaque industry, but perhaps a bit naive. “The people who are really good actors and doing good things and handicapping really well, they should be rewarded. The people who are skewing results and not being completely honest, that’s not good for the industry.”

Chris Adams, the founder of SharpRank — a company that evaluates sports betting handicappers – said, “It’s no different than a financial statement audit or a health inspector grade, whereas performance isn’t what it’s after — it’s really after the consumer protection. Are people who they say they are? Are they acting appropriately? And if so, great.”

But getting a straight record from the veteran cappers who know the con inside and out is impossible. Even if they have to enter their picks in a central database you can be certain they will find a way to refute the data, assuming said data reveals a losing record, and continue to market as though they’ve never lost a game. It’s the way it is and will always be.