By Terry Cox
We are weeks away from the start of regular season football. This is the time of year when football fans are enticed to purchase "investment advice."
In the next two months, the inundation of ads from tout services will be like a Slide Mountain mudslide. You will need a pair of hip waders to slog through all of the bull stuff.
A tout service is a business that sells advice on sports wagering. These businesses have proliferated nationwide and are totally unregulated, whereas legal sports wagering exists only in a couple of states and is fiercely regulated.
Ever since people were discovered to be gullible, there has been "caveat emptor." That is, let the buyer beware. From the frontier days of snake-oil hucksters to the computerized trading of Wall Street wealth-management corporations, there are products that often come with a pitch that sounds too good to be true.
I just "googled" sports handicapping. Among the myriad tout services that came up, I picked a website to visit totally at random. On this website, I read that this operator "specializes in BIG information direct from wise guys in Vegas."
There is a highlighted claim that he has provided better than 80 percent winners for the last five years.
That is simply preposterous.
If that was true, winning at that rate and betting his own picks, this guy should be a retired multimillionaire with his own island in the Caribbean. Why would he mess around trying to hustle suckers out of $25 a month?
Here is another story that has circulated in the industry for many years. It is about outfits with a pitch like this: "Try us for the Monday Night game between the Raiders and the Chargers. We guarantee our pick. If the pick doesn't win, you don't have to pay."
So if half the customers are told Raiders and the other half are told Chargers, then half the customers pay and the other potential customers think, oh well at least I didn't have to pay for the bad pick.
Scruples are not a requisite of this business.
The unsavory reputation of characters that populate the sports wagering advisory industry was portrayed in sordid detail in the 2005 movie "Two For the Money." There is a compelling scene as Al Pacino, the mentor, instructs his protégé played by Matthew McConaughey, "You're selling the world's rarest commodity: certainty in an uncertain world."
There is nothing wrong with seeking advice. I rely on an investment advisor for my retirement fund because he knows a lot more than I do about stocks and bonds and mutual funds.
My longtime friend and one time co-host of the Peppermill Pro Football Radio Hour is Dennis Ranahan. He is the proprietor of Qoxhi Picks (picksfootball.com), a reputable handicapping service he started in 1981.
He has many clients who have stayed loyal to him for all those years. As Dennis admits, some years were good, some not so good.
Dennis operates Qoxhi with integrity and professionalism. If you want advice on NFL wagering, you can't do much better.
For the last two seasons, he has published a weekly NFL pick in the Reno Gazette-Journal.
In 2012, his picks were 15-3, and in 2013 his picks went 12-6. That is a 75 percent win ratio.
That's not just a claim -- it's a fact.
So, do we permit Dennis and his clients to bet at the Peppermill? Yes, we do.
Last season in the NFL, favorites covered 53 percent of the spreads and underdogs covered 47 percent. That's close enough to 50-50.
In other words, whether a team covers a spread in the NFL is a toss-up. Nobody really knows. That goes for Pacino and McConaughey too.
Personally, I do not understand why people would want somebody else to pick their wager for them. I would miss the feeling of accomplishment that results from shrewd handicapping. It's tantamount to buying a jigsaw puzzle and paying someone to assemble it for you.
People ask for my picks on Sundays, but I am reluctant. I usually will tell people three games that I like. Invariably, two of them win. Also invariably, on Monday morning the only thing I hear about is the one that lost.
Besides, I've learned that people don't actually care who I like. What they really want is to tell me who they like.
Years ago, I was writing tickets on a late swing shift Saturday night. It was kind of slow, so I had time to chat with this guy from California. We went through the entire NFL schedule for the next day. He asked who I liked, and I said something about both sides. Then, I asked him who he liked.
He had a definite opinion about every game. I "allowed" myself to be convinced. Game-by –game, I agreed with every one of his picks.
Predictably, he got half of his picks right and half wrong.
But here's the thing.
Two weeks later, I was helping another guest with his transaction. Out of the corner of my eye, I see that my California friend is back. He is with another guy, and I happen to overhear him tell his friend this:
"See that guy behind the counter?" he said. "He knows more about football than anybody I ever talked to."
Terry Cox is Sports Book Manager at the Peppermill in Reno. He graduated from Dartmouth College and was a member of the 1970 Big Green football team which owns the all-time record for highest national standing in school history, completing that season ranked 14th in the nation.