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Are Handicappers Just That, A Handicap?
by Mickey Charles

That time of the year is finally here. It is the cause of a conun-drum for anyone north of the Mason Dixon Line, those of us who are forced to bid adieu to the summer while getting sweaters out of the cedar closet. But, it is also time for foot-ball. The NFL awaits and our prognostic powers are about to be tested.

Remember that automobile commercial of many, many years ago? The one that, I believe, Volkswagen did. It asked the question, “Did you ever wonder how the fellow who drives the snow removal equipment got there (in the storm)?” That was the essence of it. One might ask the same question of the handicappers that still proliferate sports with their incred-ible claims of knowledge, success, inside information and seers on staff whose predictive powers are as wise as those of Solomon, Cassandra or Merlin. How is it that they know so much more than you, and have opted to sell their wisdom rather than apply it to an effort of their own that would put the sportsbooks of Nevada in jeopardy of instant bankruptcy thanks to their perceptiveness? Could I not make more with a wager on a single game than was possible by divulging the insights that forecast the eventual final score to hundreds, or thousands, of others? It is indeed, a puzzlement.

However, given that enigma over which to ruminate for a while, what can a handicapper do for you and how will you ever know whom to trust? What can you expect from them by way of a winning record that does not necessitate a “For Sale” sign up at the entrance to the farm or ranch?

Over the years, there have been The Gold Sheet, Sports Reporter, Jim Feist, Marc Lawrence and a few others of similar ilk. They have weathered the onslaught of the less than legiti-mate, the claims without substance, records contrived the night before publication in an advertising delusion, and those that preyed upon the public’s need for another opinion no matter what it was. The survivors, like those mentioned, maintained a focus and actually became students of the sport, of multiple ones. They gathered statistics, followed trends, surrounded themselves with a wealth of information and retained staff that were students of the game, checking every nuance and possibility before venturing forth with an opinion. And, being brave enough to say that they had no opinion when that was the case — in the face of a nationally televised game that the players and fans out there wanted to watch and wager upon to heighten their interest.

The NFL is once a week. It is the Sunday event. It makes Monday nights, thanks to ABC, a looked forward to evening. An occasional Saturday contest is a treat but must compete with college. Now and then Thursday has been transformed into a few hours of celibacy. It is the price one has to pay for football.

We all have an opinion, some justified, some just random guessing with little more than a “feeling” for the choice made. For the average person — and that includes most of us while eliminating the “wise guy” element of Nevada and elsewhere (the pros) — it is important, probably essential, that we get another opinion. Free is good, paying for it is tolerable. If that opinion agrees with the one we have made independently, good; if it does not, then we must decide whether one of us knows more than the other or should we just pass on the particular game. If we are right and they are wrong, then the predictable “What the hell do they know?” thought rises to the surface and they never see a dime from us. If they are right and we are wrong we are left with a choice — admit that they know more than we do or just tell ourselves how lucky they were this time around.

But, in the final analysis, it is still a matter of deciding whether the handicapper of choice is a necessary, supportive, introspective, expert analyst who is right more often than he is wrong, or whether his thinking and prognosis have only served to cloud the issue of who is going to win.

Anyone who has looked at our site on the Internet, www.sportsnetwork.com, has been able to see journalists, editors, sports experts, statisticians and analysts who do not place a wager, make choices of games daily and weekly in our sportsbook section. In baseball, among eleven people listed, only four, as of early July, were in the minus column and that was minimal at best. The rest were substantially ahead and that was predicated upon the same “wager” per game. No money management, no increases when deemed to be “hot,” and no pressures. The same is going to take place in football, with the NFL. Am I suggesting that this group be your guide? No. What I am pointing out is that people who study the game can prefigure and hypothesize, with a fair degree of accuracy, who will win (and more importantly, cover the point spread, as in football) on a somewhat regular basis.

Each person, every handicapper — as with The Gold Sheet, Sports Reporter, Feist and Lawrence — has his own system, from early power ratings to establishing their own anticipa-tory line on a game to compare it to the one ultimately put forth by Las Vegas. You may have yours to compare with the handicapper of your choice — the “prophet” in whom you have placed your faith and money.

When you boil it all down to basics, you are either happy with your own expertise and have enjoyed the success that is a result of it over the years, or have found a Jim Feist or Marc Lawrence to be your acceptable, and profitable, source of information and worth the cost of same. Conversely, you can easily employ your instincts, convictions, savvy, and proficiencies with theirs to arrive at a final conclusion before kick-off. But you do not want the handicapper to be the cook that spoils the broth. You do not want him to add confusion and disorganization to the mix. Chaos with five minutes to go before the ball is in the air does not help the situation. There is, of course, always the option of enjoying the game without any investment in the outcome. What? Did I say something wrong?

Stay away from the talk show hosts, forget the guys who make choices in the newspapers every weekend, be nothing more than amused by the folks on the pre-game shows on telecasts and remember that your brother-in-law is more of a fan who chooses from the heart and not the wallet. Am I encouraging you to go for the grocery money, college education fund or the vacation bank account? Absolutely not! Will you wager for enjoyment, to have an investment in the outcome of the game and not cause anyone, yourself included, any grief in so doing? I believe that. So, as your own handicapper or a paying client of a professed professional, choose him the same way you do your car dealer, home builder, favorite restaurant, most enjoyable vacation spot, etcetera. You have the message. Shop around, check it out, make sure he is a pro with a record and get ready for the season upcoming.

This story was first published in the October - November 2002 issue of Gambling Times Magazine.

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