If The Washington Post Is Giving Sports Betting Advice, Anyone Will
2:13 PM EDT on September 1, 2022
Thirty states and counting have legalized sports betting since 2018, and more will follow suit. There are nearly 40 sportsbooks operating legally in the U.S., comprising an industry worth $77 billion. The number of adults regularly betting on sports online doubled in 2021. These are a few of the facts reeled off when attempts are made to take stock of legalized sports betting, but the question remains: So what?
If gambling has always been part of sports, and it has, what changes when the implicit is made explicit? Does it matter that the frictionless transformation of sports media from something to inform fans into something to inform bettors is proceeding apace? Beyond worries over gambling addiction (to which I’m sympathetic but find unavoidably paternalistic), is there reason for concern that yet another sphere of public life is being given over to speculation? What jobs have sprung up around this industry, and how precarious are they? How does one begin to make sense of the lowercase-C corruption that online gambling has brought to the nexus of sports leagues, public officials, and media companies that support and partner with it? Where do you even start?
This week, the Washington Post launched Odds Against, a sports betting series that will offer, according to a press release, “a heady mix of predictive analytics, accessible advice and nuanced reporting on the sports betting industry at large, creating a go-to resource for fans each week.”
“Readers, especially younger readers, are looking for coverage that will help them better understand sports betting, and help them bet smarter," sports editor Matthew Vita said in the press release. "Odds Against will meet readers at a time that sports betting has become an inseparable part of the fan experience."
The series will aim to cover the gambling industry itself and presumably try to answer some of the questions posed above, but the project makes clear what it’s about. Here are the first paragraphs on the vertical’s landing page:
Sports betting has become an unavoidable part of the fan experience, from the incessant advertisements during game broadcasts to the odds flashing beneath highlight packages to the gleaming sportsbooks sprouting up next to or even inside arenas.
The numbers, names and notifications can be confusing and overwhelming. We’re here to help.
Odds Against will guide you through this expanding landscape with how-to advice, accountability journalism and user-friendly explanations, no matter your level of familiarity with betting on sports.
As of Thursday morning, Odds Against includes stories about the timeline of legalized gambling, betting explainers for beginners and those who want to bet smarter, and a state-by-state guide to gambling. There are also several pieces giving specific gambling advice. One article, titled “How to bet Alabama Futures this season,” includes specific wagering recommendations and advice like this:
The Crimson Tide last failed to eclipse 10 wins in 2010, and there might not be one team on this year’s 12-game schedule that should scare Alabama, much less two teams, at least until an assumed SEC championship game rematch with Georgia. You’re paying hefty juice on the over, but I’m not going anywhere near the under. Take the over or pass.
Another article, “College football best bets include Notre Dame as a serious underdog,” opens:
With no games to go on, Week 1 of the college football season presents something of a challenge for handicappers, as we’re forced to consider things such as returning production, a metric made all the more difficult to suss out thanks to the transfer portal. But pick we must, and hopefully we can all get off on the right foot.
This column will give out four picks per week: the game of the week, a favorite, an underdog and a wild card, which can be anything (another favorite or underdog in a game that might be flying under the radar, or a total, for instance). Hopefully we’ll all be rich by the time the clock hits zero in Inglewood, Calif., on Jan. 9.
There’s also this one, titled “The Dallas Cowboys won 12 games last season. This year, take the under.” It offers this advice:
The key is to think strategically and set yourself up for success by looking a bit deeper into the numbers, perhaps connecting dots that haven’t been connected yet by the public at large. Plus, depth charts and coaching schemes are clearer than they were at the start of training camp, giving you new information to shape your decision-making. Not everything you read or hear is impactful from a betting perspective, but there are always angles to be played if you know where to look.
(These articles draw odds from various sportsbooks, including DraftKings, Caesars, and VegasInsider. It's not clear how the Post decides which sportsbook they use for odds in which story, or how they decide whether to link to the sportsbooks cited.)
These aren’t the first betting-analysis stories published by the Post; it's dipped its toe in the water for years now. With Odds Against, though, the newspaper is talking out both sides of its mouth, ruing the “unavoidable” and “incessant” presence of gambling in sports and promising to cover the industry critically, while also shoveling its own betting content onto the heap. But it’s not the annoying framing of the project that makes it notable. It’s that the Washington Post is doing all this for free.
“We have no sponsorship assigned to this series and no one but The Post is underwriting it,” a Post spokesperson assured Defector, explaining that “for an increasing number of fans, betting has become almost synonymous with the sports experience, especially in football.”
This is where the project really reveals something about sports betting. The most informative aspect of Odds Against isn’t located in any of its standard gambling analysis, but in the fact that it exists in the first place.
In the last two years, practically every sportsbook and every media company in existence scurried to shack up with each other, desperate to expand their market reach and cash in on that desperation, respectively. ESPN signed deals with DraftKings and Caesars and launched several gambling initiatives, including the betting vertical Chalk; a TV show and podcast called Daily Wager; a character-driven TV show called Bettor Days, where “various bettors share upbeat, fun and comedic tales of bets with high stakes and unbelievable consequences”; and a dedicated YouTube channel, which showcases a bleak collection of videos. The Ringer signed an exclusive partnership with FanDuel to “collaborate with FanDuel's content studio to create podcasts, social media posts, newsletters, video and assets for The Ringer's website,” which is what it sounds like. Dan Le Batard’s company got $50 million to “prominently feature DraftKings’ odds, betting trends and general sportsbook and daily fantasy information” within his company’s content. Even media’s rigid grandfather, the Associated Press, hopped into bed with FanDuel, engaging in an exclusive partnership for an undisclosed amount, which means the AP features FanDuel odds in all their stories and “FanDuel widgets” are “integrated” across AP platforms.
Within the context of all these deals, it’s fair to say that the Washington Post has superior ethics, because it’s not taking money for shilling a particular sportsbook, and is instead freely creating the content of the gambling industry’s dreams. Sportsbooks once had to rely on janky websites run by scummy touts with names like “Moneyline” Iaccone to push sports fans toward the betting window. Now they have one of the nation’s leading newspapers putting out a responsible man’s betting guide designed to give prospective bettors the confidence that they are the ones, actually, who are smart enough to win. What more could sportsbooks hope for? In another sense, doing PR for gambling companies because they gave you money is at this point more coherent than doing it because you think this is the content to which hordes of readers will flock. It’s definitely more coherent than thinking that some general betting tips and a handful of college football picks can actually help readers become sharps.
The Washington Post, which as The New York Times reported Tuesday is struggling financially, is betting that this coverage will draw readers, and those readers will turn into more subscriptions and revenue. To the diminished extent that traditional ethics in journalism still matter, there’s nothing wrong with this, though it’s worth remembering that covering sports betting without offering betting advice remains an option for every news organization, especially for those with as much power and clout as the Washington Post. Odds Against isn’t an example of some great failing as much as it’s a useful bellwether: The business of sports gambling has grown to the point where one of the nation’s leading news organizations feels compelled to dive in.
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