Somewhat ironically, CNBC has taken a gamble on a ‘docu-soap’ about sports betting and it doesn’t look like they’ve found the winning formula. During the summer, the network announced that a new reality show would debut which would give viewers an insight into the world of sports handicapping.
The only problem was that the ‘star’ of the new show, Money Talks was Las Vegas-based Steve Stevens, hailed by CNBC as a “well-known handicapper.” It didn’t help when respected veterans of the Vegas sports handicapping scene, including Todd Furhman, a former odds-maker at Caesar’s Palace, said that Stevens is a complete unknown in the tight-knit sports betting community.
Eyebrows were further raised by a cursory visit to the website of Stevens’ company, VIP Sports Las Vegas, which claims that he has a winning percentage of 71.5 percent. Aside from the strangely precise statistic, industry experts called it an impossible winning percentage. By way of comparison, Nate Silver, rated by many as the world’s best sports bettor, has a success rate of just 57 percent on his NBA bets.
However, the real slam dunk evidence which has discredited Stevens as any kind of sports betting authority was the revelation by the Wager Minds website that he is actually a man called Darin Novaro. The use of an alias would be somewhat insignificant were it not for the fact that Novaro was convicted to a year in jail in 1999 for his part in a Las Vegas telemarketing scam which cost elderly people a total of $234,000. Although CNBC released a well-crafted press statement which admitted Stevens’ prior conviction and clarified that the show in no way endorsed Stevens’ picks, it must surely have been a source of acute embarrassment for the network. The statement optimistically pleaded “we are betting that viewers will be interested in the world of touts and handicappers” in attempt to encourage ratings.
In the end, the pilot was pretty much what you would expect. This is reality TV after all and the show focused heavily on Stevens’ high-pressure phone sales and the lavish lifestyle which is par for the course in Vegas – fast cars, women and plenty of alcohol. In many ways, CNBC was simply doing what every network does in trying to find an outrageous lifestyle on which to peg an entire reality series. This was not really an attempt to fairly depict the sports betting world. Instead, Money Talks was just an attempt to make good TV. The problem is that it didn’t really achieve this – Stevens and his colleagues spend most of their time reading sports articles and crunching numbers. Not hugely entertaining.
The other problem with Money Talks is that CNBC have done a disservice to the sports betting industry. By showcasing a dubious character such as Stevens, they have tainted all those who do earn an honourable living through sports handicapping. In reality, there are plenty of safe and sound ways to discover reliable sporting odds and to place a wager.
For a start, there is a plethora of top quality online sports which offer plenty of attractive betting markets. The truth about sports betting will never be fairly represented by a reality show more interested in ratings than accurate documentation. However, in choosing Stevens as the star of the show, CNBC has let down not only the sports betting industry, but its own network too.