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Suckers & Sharks

Posted 5th March 2014

Last May I discussed an example of a tipping website where the results just appeared too good to be true. Fixed-Bets.com works by motivating people - let's call them suckers - to believe that they were being sold tips on matches that had been fixed. At the time I reported their strike rate as 88.5% from 165 selections with a yield of 103% at an average price of 2.28, with a 2 in one hundred thousand trillion, trillion, trillion probability that such a performance could have occurred by chance, about the same likelihood that I would spontaneously find myself removed to the surface of the moon (as predicted by quantum mechanics) in the time it has take me to write this paragraph.

Since then, performace has slipped a little; the shame of it. Today, I calculate from reported results that strike rate is now 86.8% from 395 picks with a yield of 94.7% at an average odds of 2.24. The chances? Well, about 1 in a hundred thousand decillion, decillion, or more simply 1 followed by 71 zeros. Roughly speaking, that's about half a billion times less probable than I spontaneously find myself on the other side of the visible universe in the time it's taken me to write this second paragraph.

Of course none of this tells us very much other than that there are sharks like Fixed-Odds prepared to prey on suckers who are looking to get rich quick without much effort, who are lured by the sell of something being fixed and therefore certain to happen. Whilst totally unbelievable, there are obviously people who are suckers for this rubbish, given the fact that Fixed-Odds is still operating.

There are, however, more cleverly disguised scammers, who do their best to make their numbers look more realistic, but who unfortunately still fail to understand probability suffficiently to conceal their true motives and methods of operation. Consider the following results from Professorspicks.com, a US sports handicapping tipster: a 65% strike rate from 1360 betting picks. On the face of it that doesn't sound so unrealistic, and certainly nothing like the 87% for Fixed-Bets. But look, the number of picks is nearly 3 and a half times as large. If we then assume a typical US handicap price of -110 (equivalent to 1.91) - unfortunately the Professor hasn't published his actual picks with prices - this equates to a yield of about 24%. Again, to many that doesn't sound so large. Let me tell you that for handicap betting and for over 1000 picks that is huge, indeed too huge to be believeable, with a probability of about 1 in a billion trillion (21 zeros) that such a performance would just happen by chance alone.

Doubtless at this point the Professor would tell me: "all this proves is that he's not lucky but skilled". The numbers speak for themselves. No-one is that skilled in a market that is built around uncertainy, there is just too much inherent randomness (or noise) in sports results, especially for coin-toss propositions which is essentially what handicapping is concerned with. Unfortunately all these figures told me was that the Professor was not very good at hiding the evidence of a scam. Top performing handicappers will generally sit between 55% and 60% over the long term. Anything more will begin to look suspicious.

Some of you will now rightly say that if Professorspicks.com is not independently verified - and it doesn't appear to be - then you would be mad to buy their betting advice. That's certainly true, but it doesn't stop suckers buying it. Furthermore, if we dig a little deeper into the service we find that it is reviewed by a website called Cappertek, giving it a B+ rating, with no reviews reporting any scamming. Perhaps that is unsurprising when we learn that the both Professorspicks and Cappertek share the same web hosting ASN nummber (AS26496). Furthermore, there are additional reviewed tipster services who even share the same IP address, for example EverybodyLovesWinners.com (don't we just), which gets a B rating, and AllStarSportsPicks.com which gets an A rating.

Digging even further we find an independent monitoring service called WagerPolice.com, which has exactly the same IP address as Cappertek, EverybodyLovesWinners and AllStarSportsPicks. WagerPolice claims the following on its homepage:

"WagerPolice is a completely independent sports monitor service. Our goal is to provide a service built on trust and integrity, for both our clients and the betting public, while also helping bring success to our clients by driving bettors to their sports handicapping services. We are not associated with any other sports handicapping services."

On their handicappers page you will find a list of attractive looking names like HighRollers, InvestaWager, LuckySports, MadDogSports and DimePlays. WagerPolice doesn't even bother to link directly to the individual tipsters websites it claims it is monitoring, indeed most don't even appear to have their own domains at all, possibly because they have aleady been used and sold on. Instead, WagerPolice just sells the tips for them. How kind. A few, however, do appear to have registered domains, for example SportsBettingKings and InvestaWager although they have no active websites. Oh look, they have the same ASN numebr too. What a coincidence. Today, we won't find AllStarSportsPicks listed on WagerPolice, but check it's Wayback archived page from January 2013 and there it it. So there we have it: a tips monitor claiming independence from a tipster with exactly the same IP address.

So let's dig a little more. Running "Wagerpolice scam" through Google, we find an old Blogabet forum page on which a poster has commented on the matching IP addresses too. The poster was additionally linking WagerPolice to another service, SoccerTout. Sure enough, delving further back into the Wayback archive (October 2012) we can find SoccerTout listed too. And yes, you've guessed it, it has exactly the same ASN number as that for Wagerpolice. SoccerTout is no longer operating. It ceased acivity sometime before July 2013.

Another post on Blogabet chose to counter the claim that independence between tipster and monitor appeared to be compromised:

"I am a customer of www.allstarsportspicks.com and I love it.... Just because there are multiple sites on one ip address does not mean its one company that owns them... There are like 3 companies that design all the handicappers websites and host them on their server, you think handicappers are web designers and are technical about programming."

You don't need to be technical to manage a load of websites. You just need to be immoral to make money like this.

What Professorspicks, AllStarSportsPicks and SoccerTout have in common, apart from the same ASN number and connection to Wagerpolice, is the way they have tabulated their win/loss/% figures. For AllStarSportsPicks and SoccerTout the design was essentially identical, whilst Professorspicks has continued the theme today with only a minor subtle layout and headings change. A second, and perhaps more damning commonality, at least from a statistical point of view, are the actual strike rate percentages themselves and the number of tips they are based on. Below is a tabulated summary taken by combining figures from all three tipping services at various times in the past couple of years for the various sports they advised (mostly soccer and all the professional and college US sports). The figures for Soccertout, for example, are for each division they tipped on, whilst for Allstarsportspicks and Professorspicks, they are broken down by US sport (e.g. NFL, NBA, MLB and so on).

TipsterNumber of picksWin %
Soccertout3972%
Soccertout2972%
Soccertout2580%
Soccertout3171%
Soccertout2879%
Soccertout2080%
Soccertout3778%
Allstarsportspicks10278%
Allstarsportspicks11079%
Allstarsportspicks21577%
Allstarsportspicks30973%
Allstarsportspicks18276%
Allstarsportspicks19268%
Professorspicks17561%
Professorspicks4963%
Professorspicks41167%
Professorspicks19065%
Professorspicks17766%

Anyone with any understanding of randomness will know immediately what is wrong here. There is simply not enough statistical variance between each set of results. In other words, the figures are too perfect. This is particularly true for Soccertout's figures where the number of tips for each divisional category is fairly small. Just toss a coin 20 or 30 times and repeat the experiment 5 or 10 times and observe the spread of head and tails percentages. Whilst the expectancy would be for 50% heads and 50% tails, over the short term we will often witness fairly significant deviations from that expectancy. Indeed, the laws of probaility predict such a thing. Unfortunately, our minds our not trained to think probabilistically, which is why it is so hard to fake a random series of results. By way of example, consider the following series of wins (W) and losses (L). One is real, the other is fake. Which is which?

1) L W L L L L L L W L W L W L L L W W L L W L W W L L W W W W W W

2) W L L W W L L L W L W L W W L W L L W L L W W W L L W L W L W W

Did you pick 1) fake, 2) geunine? Did the long sequences of the same result in series 1) convince you that a pattern existed? Did you think the shorter sequences in 2) make that one look more random? If so, then you've got the two the wrong way arround. In fact, series 1) represents the 1973 to 2004 result for Cambridge University in the Boat Race. Series 2 is completely fake. When asked to create random sequences many people will switch from W to L or vice versa if they feel that one of them is happening too often.

Soccertout, Allstarsportspicks and Professorspicks have all made the same mistake. All the categorised win percentages are far too closely grouped around an average for this sample of data to be believable. Almost cetainly, the figures have just been invented, or ammended from something earlier. Had they been genuine, we would quite reasonably have expected to see a few figures in the 30s, 40s, 50s and possibly also the 80s and 90s for Soccertout where the number of picks was much smaller. But we don't see that, and this is the dead giveaway.

What's is the lesson then for punters wanting to buy tips? Well, it's pretty clear. If you don't want to be a sucker to these sharks, and your own greed, do your homework. Research the tipster, check his archive, look for evidence of genuinely independent verification, learn how spot the signs of compromise, and especially where a tipster, monitor and reviewer are all one and the same, and above all, understand when the numbers tell you that something is too good to be true.

Perhaps the biggest giveaway of all in this particular case was the Professor's reponse when I put some of these details to him:

"Your words are false, and I will find you. Watch your back"