All’s well that ends well with the Upick debacle By David G. Schwartz, CDC Gaming Reports March 2, 2021 at 8:18 pm You probably have already heard the story. It raced across Twitter in a brilliant blaze last week before sputtering into dust over the weekend. The Vegas Golden Knights inked a sponsorship deal with UpickTrade.com, a “sports pick recommendation service.” Cue the unanimous uproar from the broader sports betting community, head scratches from industry experts, and the Golden Knights ending the agreement without comment on Saturday. Everyone familiar with the sports betting and tout industries had a visceral reaction to the partnership. Why? Those who didn’t know the business — which apparently included members of the Golden Knights team responsible for partnerships — were confused by all the fuss. Touts have always occupied a curious place in the sports betting ecosystem. To begin at the beginning, the object of sports bettors is to correctly pick winners, whether it is on futures bets, prop bets, the money line or against the spread. Each kind of bet is different, but they all boil down to the same thing: players making a pick and backing it with their money. Touts serve as Sherpas of sorts, advising bettors on how to bet. There have long been questions about the legitimacy of touts. After all, if they know how to pick winners so well, why don’t they make their money from betting picks instead of selling them? But enough players seem to want their services that touts do not appear to be going away. Once, sports betting and the ancillary tout business were on the margins of public consciousness. Now, with the explosion of legal sports betting post-PASPA overturn, it’s hard to read about or watch sports in any market without being inundated with advertisements for sports books. Sports leagues and teams, once loathe to acknowledge that, yes, people do wager on their games, have rushed to ink a variety of sponsorships and partnerships with sports betting and daily fantasy operators. The Vegas Golden Knights, for example, list over 100 marketing partners on their website. More than a dozen of them are gambling operators and suppliers, from Wynn Resorts and BetMGM to IGT. Yet none of them provoked an outcry, because people accept that games will be bet on. It doesn’t make a difference to the bookmakers how you bet on any one game, just that you choose to do it with them rather than a competitor (assuming you haven’t been “too lucky” for their liking). Well-run operators don’t have a stake in the outcomes of games: Over time, they should be good enough at setting lines that they divide player money equally enough to come out ahead no matter what the results on the field (or ice). Touts, though, aren’t judged by how well they can split the action, but on how accurately they can pick winners. A successful tout should sell winning picks. A tout whose players lose more than they win faces some tough question — and probably few repeat customers. So a tout service has a direct interest in the outcome of a game. Which explains the mix of dismay, outrage, and confusion at the announcement that the Golden Knights had partnered with a tout service. Selling ad space to sports betting operators is one thing; taking money from a company that purports to tell its players (in the words of the Upick website) “what and how much to bet on each pick” is another. If Upick suggested betting against the Golden Knights and the Knights came up short, there might be some uncomfortable questions. For example, did the touts have insider information? Did the team take the night off? Clearly, an arrangement that can raise such questions — and more — has no place in a sport with even a semblance of integrity. So the Golden Knights’ quick, almost wordless, retreat from their Upick partnership is understandable. But what seems like a debacle actually has a few winners. Upick got a stratospheric marketing boost. Two weeks ago, they were an obscure service; now, millions of people know exactly who they are and what they sell. Whatever they paid for the sponsorship, they got more than their money’s worth. Sports teams in all the major (and minor) leagues learned something valuable: In an era where space on jerseys is for sale and seemingly nothing is off-limits, some lines shouldn’t be crossed. While it may be tempting to forge as many partnerships as possible, it’s important that no deal undercuts the integrity of the game — or even appears to. Finally, the broader sports betting community of both operators and bettors won. It’s seen dizzying change over the past few years and many may have felt that they were adrift in a world where none of the existing rules still stood. The widespread repudiation of the Upick partnership and its quick dissolution proved that there are limits even in this brave new world of ubiquitous legal sports betting. It’s a sign that the landscape hasn’t entirely changed. As Wayne Gretzky — or was it Michael Scott? — famously said, “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.” As legal sports betting matures in the United States, we will likely see more missteps. Those growing pains will remind us that you can never know the outcome until you play the game.