Update (January 16, 2019): In June 2017, RJ Bell and Pregame filed a defamation lawsuit over this article. The parties agreed to settle the case and, as part of the arrangement, Deadspin is supplying a link to Bell’s response to the allegations in the article: RJ Bell’s Response to This Article. Deadspin stands by its coverage.
Complete wagering is illegal in 49 countries, but sports gambling is big business, with billions wagered each year–and everyone knows it. Lines and motions are discussed publicly on TV, and covers are all cited right alongside game stories. Media outlets nationally turn to a couple of people for insight and predictions into point spreads and odds. And the guy they seem to over any other is RJ Bell, a self-proclaimed modern-day Jimmy the Greek.
Numerous names, some others and generous outright untrue –betting specialist, professional handicapper, Vegas oddsmaker–are utilized to identify Bell when he’s interviewed, but his role as head of Pregame.com is always contained and seldom clarified. Pregame, which Bell began in 2005, sells sports-betting picks. Bell doesn’t market his own selections any more–they did really well–but rather oversees a revolving cast of two dozen guys who do. Bell says they’re winning expert bettors, and by paying to get their advice, the implication is that you will triumph, too. In the end, they do so for a living.
From the industry or even in the media, Bell’s army of handicappers are known, generally derisively, as touts, and Bell is principal harmonious of the most visible and very possibly the most lucrative pick-selling operation.
But unlike his forerunners–notable loudmouths from the’80s and’90s like Jack Price and Stu Feiner who came across like professional wrestlers–Bell isn’t braying on TV infomercials, promising to bury your bookmaker. He doesn’t have to. Mainstream media now brings the heads of those services on atmosphere and passes them off as analysts, devoting people like Bell flows of new customers and free advertisements a salesman could barely imagine.
Scribes and sportscasters alike present Bell as the oracle of Las Vegas. You can hear him on Stephen A. Smith’s Sirius show, KROQ in Los Angeles, ESPN radio in Las Vegas, Yahoo’s national networks, NBC Sports Radio, and Colin Cowherd’s nationally syndicated Fox Sports 1 show; see him at primetime on SportsCenter, CBS, ABC, CNBC, CNN, or even in South by Southwest; and find him quoted regularly in the New York Times, Associated Press, Bloomberg, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and any neighborhood rag or site that calls him. A number of years back, he wrote a regular betting column for Grantland. His followers more than 117,000 to variety. After him, he says, is like having”a seat in the sportsbook.”
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