Apr 9, 2020
Apr 9, 2020

The journey to becoming a successful bettor - Pinnacle Betting Podcast

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The journey to becoming a successful bettor - Pinnacle Betting Podcast

Professional bettor Rob Pizzola joins Ben Cronin on the Pinnacle Podcast to discuss his journey from struggling to make money from betting to doing it for a living. Read and listen now to find out what it takes to become a professional bettor.

Ben:

Hello and welcome to the Pinnacle Betting Podcast brought to you by Pinnacle.com. The online bookmaker that bring you the best odds, highest limits, and unique winners welcome policy. So you've had a bit of time away from these long-form interview episodes, but I'm delighted to say that joining me today is a man who's well-known within the betting community, we've waited a while to get him on and I know it's going to be worth the wait. Hello to Rob Pizzola.

Rob Pizzola:

Hi Ben, how are you doing?

Ben:

I'm very good, thank you. I'm glad to have you on the show. Been following you on Twitter and looking forward to the insight you have to share today.

Rob Pizzola:

Great. Thanks for having me.

Ben:

Cool. So, I mean, as I said there, you're well-known within the betting community, but for anyone that doesn't know you, can you just maybe give us a little bit of background, maybe what you did before betting and exactly what it is you're up to now?

Rob Pizzola:

Yeah, it's been a complicated history of things for me. I'm probably most well-known because I started in sports media in Canada. I live in Toronto right now and I used to work for a large media company called The Score, and I started out in the radio department there, Hardcore Sports Radio, which I was, at first, a producer and then eventually an on-air host where I hosted a number of shows that were centered around sports betting. From there, I moved on into a behind-the-scenes role, working in the digital department at The Score. I was the product manager for The Score sports app, which is a pretty large sports app in North America and actually, they just ventured into sports betting themselves in New Jersey recently.

And then I made a call at one point in my life to stop and give up the day job. At that time, I was big into daily fantasy sports, DFS, and left there, pursued a career in DFS, which then evolved into a career in sports betting. So, it's been a complex history of a number of different paths that I've taken over the years, but that's where probably I gained my biggest following.

Ben:

And obviously working in that kind of job, I'm assuming that the interest or passion for sports was there. Was there an education path that led to betting or was it just the sports that was the main driver for you?

Rob Pizzola:

It's really complex. I mean, it's more luck more so than anything because I've been a sports fan my whole life and any career cantered around sports, whether that's just in media or in betting, that's something I'm going to be passionate about. And for me, I've always wanted to work in places and work on things that I'm passionate about, I just find it much easier to live day-to-day when you're doing something that you like. But the sports betting thing, it was dumb luck. Again, I was building my own social brand for myself, I've developed a pretty big following on Twitter and that was when I was into mathematical modelling.

So I started posting my numbers publicly on a regular basis and then that just opened the doors and led to other opportunities with people reaching out to me saying, "This stuff's good, we'd like to bet it", and so on and so forth. So, I mean, the sports element definitely helps. I'm not glued to sports, so to speak, I'd love to work in different environments and different industries, but just having that passion certainly makes things ... It just really helps in the day-to-day essentially.

Ben:

And as you say, you said it's been a bit of a long road, as it is often for people and sometimes a difficult one to navigate, which I'm sure we'll talk in detail a little bit later. But was there any points from those early days of betting that stand out, where you changed your approach or you learnt a really important lesson about betting?

Rob Pizzola:

There is definitely many of them. I started betting when I was in high school, I was in grade 10. And I grew up in a community where pretty much everyone bet. In grade eight, even elementary school, I knew of people that were already betting. And being such a passionate sports fan and someone who, at that time, was literally watching sports all day long, it just seemed natural to me to bet on sports. I mean, you develop this ego of I'm a huge sports fan, I know what's going on, I should be able to win. And then over the course of time, you learn that that's really not the case. And when I was young, I fell on hard times because I built up quite a large debt when I was in high school and when I was in early university, betting on sports and those were rough times for me.

And then eventually you just get to the point of, "I can't do this anymore. Either I need to stop altogether or I need to figure out some other way of doing this." And at that time, I was studying statistics and computer science at school, so I started to apply some of those practices to sports betting and that's what led me on to the positive path. But it was several years, it was like five or six years of me just constantly losing before I actually learned my lesson, more of a stubbornness than anything. But I honestly wouldn't change it for anything because I think I learned a lot of valuable lessons in that time. And the money from when I was younger is not the same amount of money that I'm making nowadays, so it's just a blip on the radar. But it taught me a lot of things about sports and taught me to learn the right approach.

Ben:

And in learning that approach, is there ... Obviously there's a lot of motivation that's come from yourself and a willingness to learn and change, but are there any people or books or resources that you think have been influential in that stage where you were in debt and essentially not very good at betting to where you are now?

Rob Pizzola:

Yeah. I mean, there's a few things. I say this all the time to people who are asking me questions about, "Oh, where did you learn these things?", and so on and so forth. And I basically tell them Google was my best friend for a long time, I google everything. If there was a question that I had, I mean, I wouldn't always find the right content, especially 10 years ago, it was a lot tougher to find good betting content than it is nowadays, but I just search for it. In terms of a book or a resource that helped me, there's a book called Trading Bases by Joe Peta. If you are an experienced sports bettor, you're not going to learn anything from it, but just reading that book, it really helped me with my process, so to speak.

For those who aren't familiar with it, it's a very easy, light read about baseball betting. And essentially, Joe Peta was a Wall Street trader that got into a severe car accident and he was forced to work from home for a long time. And while he was at home, he was trying to apply a lot of the principles from the stock market to the baseball betting market and then developed his models and started betting that. And again, I don't think that I really learned much in terms of actually how to model gain, so to speak, but just the process and going through someone's logic over the course of a summer in betting baseball, I found that to be a really interesting read and it opened my eyes. So that's a really good light read. Again, you probably won't take away a whole lot from it, but I would say that that certainly changed the way that I looked at sports as a whole and I probably owe a lot of what I have just to simply reading that book.

Ben:

Yeah, I can definitely back you up on that, I've read the book myself. Joe's actually written a couple of articles for Pinnacle, he's been on the podcast. But I mean, it does a really good job of ... There's a bit of narrative underlying there, but it really teaches you the basics of using data to inform your strategy and everything like that. So yeah, I completely agree on that one.

Rob Pizzola:

Yeah. I don't want to say I didn't think it was possible to that point because I was already using data, but I was using it in a different type of way and then that just shifted my aspect to the whole modelling aspect of things. Whereas what I was doing before was more systematic and situational type of betting. So yeah, it was just a whole new lens on things and I was in my mid-20s at the time that I probably first read that book and it was eye-opening for me. In hindsight, I look back on it and it's really simple concepts, but when you're not used to thinking in that capacity, it really changes the scope of things for you.

Ben:

I mean, it's one thing to get to that point and learn those lessons and stuff like that, but obviously we try to make no bones about it, it's a very difficult task to succeed in betting and it takes a lot of motivation. After reading that book or the resources and using Google and stuff like that, what was the motivation to keep on pushing through and bet yourself in terms of betting? Was it the monetary value that you could get? Was it the fact that you wanted to beat the market? What exactly was it?

Rob Pizzola:

At first, honestly, it was just a hobby. I got to a point in my life where I'd lost so much money betting on sports that it was ... Again, I was looking for a new way to apply myself, but I really wasn't betting a whole lot at the time. It ended up becoming entertainment money more than anything else. If I won, I won, that was great. If I lost, it was only a little bit, it wasn't going to affect my day-to-day. So I was only doing it as a hobby because again, I'm very passionate about sports, so it was something that was challenging for me. I'm very numbers-driven, I'm an analytical guy, it was just something I did in my spare time. What really opened my eyes, like I said, was when I was first started posting my numbers publicly and I did so for about a year in both baseball and hockey to my Twitter profile.

And then one day, somebody just reached out to me via direct messaging on Twitter and basically said, "You're posting your baseball numbers every day and then somebody's immediately betting them onscreen." And I had to ask them what that even meant because I was very novice at the time and basically somebody said, "Your stuff is being valued by someone in the community. You're getting nothing out of it, they're just betting it. Would you be interested in coming aboard with this group on a freeroll type of basis, where we'll actually give you a large bet on the game when we bet it?", and so on and so forth.

So, that was the first time I was actually aware that I actually have something of value. Until then, I wasn't really sure and then over time, I've learned the basic concepts of closing line value and things of that nature that have just solidified to me that I have an edge in sports and that's when I slowly started ramping up, assuming a lot more risk on my end to the point where I've gotten to today.

Ben:

Well, I think we've done a good job of setting a backdrop into who you are and what you're about. I think now we can maybe dig a little bit deeper into what it is you do exactly now, so could you maybe talk about the ... You mentioned baseball and hockey there, but are those the two sports you bet on, is there more than that? And is there any specific markets that you bet on?

Rob Pizzola:

I pretty much do everything except for basketball at this point. So I'm a pretty big football bettor. I mean, hockey is my bread and butter, I would say probably just because there's not as much competition in the market right now, that it's probably a little bit easier to beat and it's still fairly decent limits on hockey, which is nice. I've, I don't want to say given up on baseball, but it's not as big a part of my betting repertoire as it used to be. I find it significantly more difficult to beat now than it was five years ago. But in essence, I really try to do as much as I can without overloading myself.

It can certainly get difficult and we're going to get into hockey season next week, which I'll have hockey ongoing with football at the same time, which is always a little bit of a struggle and I do work a lot more during that time. But I'm not a big basketball guy. I do some golf as well. Wherever I think I can find an edge, I'll try to apply myself to that or apply that, I'll do some back-testing to confirm whether I have an edge or not. But I do try to keep my options open and I would say that one thing I'm particularly good at is evolving my craft and trying to just bet where I'm getting the best ROI.

Ben:

You said there, you're dropping away on baseball. Do you then feel like I need to pick up another sport to pick up that slack, or is it just maybe you put more into the hockey, or is it just you want to fill your time with betting on something and you need to find that edge somewhere?

Rob Pizzola:

I'll be completely honest with you, I dropped a lot of baseball this year just so that I can pick up golf, actually playing golf, not betting on golf. Just because, I mean, it's difficult and it weighs on you. You can bet on sports and you can have losing months where you put in a lot of effort into that month and it's emotionally draining. And when you're betting sports throughout the year, all year round, it can get tiresome at some point. So I'm trying to keep myself sane is essentially what I'm getting back to and taking up more hobbies. So golf is one of them. I play the guitar, so I'm practicing a lot more like when I was younger and so on and so forth. I'm just trying to keep myself busy with items outside of what I consider work.

So, more of a personal decision. My edge has certainly decreased in baseball, don't get me wrong, I would not have made this decision if I was turning a 10 percent ROI in baseball. But the reality is I've bet baseball for half a year this year and turned just over a one percent ROI, which, to me, is not worth the time. So, I've decided to go another route and I've picked up golf as a hobby and I've become addicted to that over the course of the summer.

Ben:

You said the edge there was dropping away in baseball. The other sports, I'm guessing the edges are different for different sports, but is that because of the quality of the data you have, or the amount of time you've spent refining the model, or just the amount of time you put into it in general?

Rob Pizzola:

It's a combination of factors. I think the largest factor is that there is much sharper overnight action than there used to be. When I bet baseball three or four years ago, I would wake up in the morning, get ready for limits to come off and I would have a dozen baseball plays on any given day. I was finding this year, I'd wake up and a lot of the edges were steamed overnight and I was finding myself with two or three plays in the morning. And then the majority of my action came as a result of fading someone else's steam. Which, I mean, I'll do that because I trust my numbers, but for the most part, somebody is putting a lot of money on a baseball game because they believe, with a fairly high degree of confidence, that they have an edge and they're moving that number, and then I'm playing against that number. It makes you question things a little bit more, but the reality is the volume just wasn't what it used to be.

I started having this internal debate with myself this year of whether I just start betting overnight into smaller markets, would the increase in edge offset the amount of money that I'm able to get down? It's tough questions. But that would be the biggest factor. Certainly, I think there are some sharp people in the market. I do try to adapt every off season. I mean, I'm not using the same baseball model and the same metrics I was using five years ago, I think if you do that, you're going to be in serious trouble in any betting market. So, I've tried to keep up with things over time, I've tried to automate things a lot more than they used to be in terms of the amount of manual work that I'm willing to do. But I think the biggest edge, and it's not really only in baseball, it's really across all sports and why the edges are decreasing is the amount of sharp early action.

Ben:

Well, yeah, it's a bit weird to say, isn't it, because back in those days where you were struggling in terms of your betting and not winning a great deal, it's almost as if you've got better, but in a way, it's become harder as those markets get more efficient?

Rob Pizzola:

I would totally agree with that. This'll sound pretty narcissistic, I don't mean it to come across as arrogant or whatever, but I wonder if I was born 10 years earlier, what my life would be like now. I mean, there are obviously a lot of things that have impacted my life altogether, but I just feel like at this time, I'm at the best point that I've ever been in terms of my modelling and just my process overall. But it's at one of the toughest points ever, arguably the toughest point ever, to actually profit off of that. So timing, not so great.

I mean, I left this out at the beginning, but I played poker for a living for a year as well, towards the end of the poker boom. And when I first started that, I was having a huge ton of success and then towards the end of that, I noticed that people start to catch up and the games start to get harder. So, I'm seeing the same thing with sports now. That doesn't mean that they're not beatable, because they are, but you have to be a little bit more creative in the way you think. And also looking into alternative markets as well, things that ... Where edges, sizeable edges still exist.

Ben:

And with the statistical background and using data and stuff like that, is it fair to say that your approach to betting is 100% model-based?

Rob Pizzola:

I would say 95% model-based. I run numbers on every game, I tend to trust the numbers for the most part, but I'll just give you an example of what I mean. My model shows an edge on the Miami Dolphins every week in the NFL for the first three weeks of the year, but to me, this is the Miami team that ... I question their motivation, I can't accurately quantify their motivation as a team. So there will be instances, rare instances, where I will do some subjective analysis and I'll just lay off a game, even if I have a mathematical edge on that. Some people agree with that, some people disagree with that, it's all a matter of personal preference, that's just my personal preference. But yes, the vast majority of it, for the most part, is mathematical modelling.

Ben:

And then obviously someone listening to this who wants to replicate that approach, they need to get hold of the data to do it. And I guess when you start out, I mean, you can go from collecting your stealth, you can scrape it, and then maybe as you get more successful, you can pay for it. Is that a progression you've seen or are you still gathering your own data, are you scraping it?

Rob Pizzola:

I'm mostly scraping my own data. I've paid for data before just to test certain sports. I mean, that becomes significant cost, right? And it's one of the reasons that I don't do soccer or European football is because of the amount of data that I would need and the amount that I'd actually have to pay for in order to be successful at that. With the size of the football markets or soccer markets, I know you have probably a mix of North American and European listenership, but with the size of those markets, you're competing against the best betting groups in the entire world, who have access to a ton of data. You can't get away with just scraping whatever's publicly available, you need to have those same datasets. That's not the case with some other sports. Hockey, for example, everything that you could possibly need is publicly available right now and with some other sports as well, baseball, I would say. So, I guess it depends on the sport, but for the most part, I'm using all data that is publicly available.

Ben:

And then obviously once you've got the data, you need to actually model it. If we're talking about programming languages here, are you using R, Python, or Excel?

Rob Pizzola:

Okay, so I went to school and I learned Python, but what ended up happening is, naturally, moving into sports media and not practicing Python for many, many years, I developed into a pretty bad programmer. I consider myself an Excel guru. Everything I originally built was in Excel, but then you get to a point where it's just ... In order to automate a little bit better and do things a little bit better, I needed to move over to a programming language. Rather than code it myself, I actually contracted people to build it for me in Python.

I'm still skilled enough to go through the code and make changes as need be, but in terms of being an efficient coder, I'm pretty terrible. It's probably my biggest liability as a sports bettor is that I'm reliant on other people to do that stuff for me, and I've never found the time to just pick things up again and become proficient at coding. But I'm very good in Excel, I tend to build things in Excel first and then port those over into Python. But I will readily admit that I've not built any of those models myself.

Ben:

Well, I guess it's a strength to know when to invest in the strengths of other people to help you out, I guess, isn't it?

Rob Pizzola:

Well, it is. And that's the thing, I talk about efficiency all the time. There's only so much time in the day and in the year and if I was to manually have done all these things myself, I would've suffered in other aspects of my betting. I wouldn't have been able to keep on top of logic changes that I make every year and a number of other aspects. So, I agree. I mean, one of the things I'm pretty good with is knowing where my strengths are and where my weaknesses are. And in this case, I mean, I'm fully comfortable admitting that coding is not a strength or is certainly a weakness and I mean, I just explored alternatives from that perspective.

Ben:

And you just mentioned there, hours in the day. I'd be interested to know, as I'm sure people listening would, say we're in the midst of the NHL season, the NFL season, everything's going on, a day-to-day life of a bettor, how much time are you actually investing in this?

Rob Pizzola:

It's dependent on the day. I'm lucky enough where I work with other people, so we can split workload. I'm also very lucky in that I have a lot of things automated. So, for baseball, for example, I really don't even need to be at a computer at all because I'm constantly scraping different websites to see when line-ups become available and when an MLB line-up comes in, my model's going to automatically re-run the games of that line-up. If there's a play that comes into range, I'm going to get a message shot to me on a social app on my phone and basically, I just confirm the play and someone will bet it for me.

Hockey's a little bit different because you don't have the same level of line-up information available and if I was to wait on a website to update line-ups for hockey, I would lose numbers, people would beat me to market. So, hockey is typically a tough point of year for me because I'm at a computer or at least bringing my computer with me everywhere I go to stay on top of things. So I work pretty long days during the hockey season. Other sports, not so much, it's much more of an automated process. So it really depends, but I mean, hockey season, I could be working 12 hours every single day.

Ben:

And when it comes to the parameters that you're feeding into your model and refining your model and stuff like that, I mean, I'm thinking, as a soccer fan and someone who follows soccer quite in-depth, stuff like expected goals, which I know you have in hockey as well, it's relatively new metric to use. Obviously I'm assuming that's got to be part of your model, but how does that work in terms of a new data point and how to feed that into the process?

Rob Pizzola:

Yeah, it's a good question because this happens every year. Well, not every year, but there's always some sort of new metric available. I shifted to expected goals in hockey three years ago, whereas I was more reliant on other possession-based metrics prior to that. And essentially when these new metrics become available, what I tend to do is I apply them how I see fit and then I back-test it compared to my previous model. So, that's one thing that I'm very glad I have in place, is a good back-testing infrastructure for all the sports that I have, so that I can apply changes and test them against what my previous model outputs were.

So that's how I go about it. Any time I see something interesting, I play around with the data, I look to see if there's any specific flaws and how potentially I can improve that metric. And then I go about applying that metric, but also ensuring that by applying that metric, I am reducing my error rates and making my predictions more accurate than they were previously.

Ben:

So if we imagine you've refined this model, it pings a notification to your social app, it says this is a good bet, this is a good play, whatever it is, you then place that bet. Are you then going to go and watch these games? Do you still see it as an entertainment, do you watch it to analyse it, or are you someone that just wants to be removed and not sweat those points on the board or anything like that?

Rob Pizzola:

This has changed over the years. I used to watch every bet I made for the most part. I mean, obviously that's difficult to do on a college football Saturday when you have a ton of bets and games are going off at the same time as one another. But I've made it a personal goal of mine, starting a couple years ago, to not let it, the sports betting, influence my life as much as it was. So I'd be that guy that was lying in bed and I'd wake up in the middle of the night and I'd have to check scores on my phone. And my wife always used to constantly say, "The scores aren't going to change if you check them more. The outcome is not going to change if you're watching the game", and I've tried to apply that. But the reality is I'm still a sports fan, so I do still like to watch sports.

To answer your question, it's just completely random. There'll be days where I bet on a game and I'll watch the game, and there'll be days where I bet on it and I don't even check the scores and only check the final afterwards. I'm more living the cycle of a sports fan now than I am a sports bettor. I will say I do still like watching games because I do think that you do pick up on things that maybe the data is not picking up on yet. Or at least you can come up with these hypotheses in your head of certain things that are happening and go back and test them. So, I think there is an advantage in actually watching sports, as long as you don't become extremely biased from watching one particular game and seeing one player play bad or something along those lines. So there is an advantage there, that's why I still like to do it and I'm just a passionate sports fan. But yeah, it's a random thing for me, I don't make a point of emphasis of doing it one way or the other.

Ben:

And I guess, in addition to that advantage of being able to work on things from watching the game, some people will claim that being a fan from the start can have a positive impact, other people, obviously things like The Green Lumber Fallacy and stuff like that, suggests that perhaps sporting knowledge can almost work against you. So where do you sit on that? Do you think being a hockey fan helps you as a hockey bettor?

People ask me that quite regularly and I definitely do. I've seen a lot of sharp people try to model hockey and fail at it. Frankly, they can't win. I hear this all the time, to be completely honest with you. People are always saying to me, "You're one of the only people I know that bets real money on hockey because ..." Now I don't know the reason for that, but I do think that my knowledge of the game allowed me to come up with a strong way of modelling it. And I do think that there's little things that I pick up on as I watch games, I'm a big hockey fan, that allow me to improve my models as well. So, I'm in the camp that it is an advantage to be knowledgeable about the sport. I mean, there's tons and tons of examples I could personally think of, of just teams of mathematicians and quants failing to apply that logic properly to sports because they're just unfamiliar with that sport. So, I'm definitely on the team advantage there.

And when we say betting here, I guess could've covered this off a little bit earlier, we talking ... Are you just pre-game betting, do you bet in play or anything like that?

Rob Pizzola:

So I do bet in play, but it's not anywhere to the degree that I'm betting pre-game right now. I will say that one of the personal goals of mine is to shift ... A couple of years from now, I'll expect that I'll have as much live handle or in-game handle as I do pre-game because that's just where I see the market heading. I think NFL live, NFL second half markets, I mean, they're already quite big, but I think they're going to be huge at some point. And just with the amount of engagement now with live sports going on, I'm gravitating to that.

And in fact, a lot of people ask me, I get this message on Twitter quite frequently, I mean, at least a couple times of week of, "I'm new to sports betting", or "I want to start betting on sports. I don't know where to begin. I have a good solid math background. Good statistical background. Where would I start?" And I tend to lead these people towards live markets and second half markets because I really think that that's the way that it's going. And because I see the pre-match and pre-game market's edges are slowly diminishing over time, that's a personal goal of mine. So I don't do a whole lot of it now, couple of years from now, I hope to be pretty good at it.

Ben:

Yeah. I mean, given the figures that are quoted between splits of in-play and pre-game, it could be that there's almost a gap to be exploited there. You said baseball and stuff like that, maybe pre-game has been hammered in to be so efficient that switching focus, you never know, there could be an edge to be had in-play.

Rob Pizzola:

And when you also look at the ... I mean, what sportsbooks are reporting in terms of hold or pre-game versus live, I mean, there's still a lot of inefficiencies in the live market. Now that obviously lends itself to having lower betting limits as well, but for the most part, I don't think the sportsbook live algorithms are really accounting for everything that needs to be accounted for. I'll give you an example. I'm not going to mention what sportsbook it was particularly, but last year, for live hockey betting, they were not accounting for the fact that goalies are being pulled earlier in games. So this is like an analytical discovery that was made in the NHL a few years ago, but typically in the past, if a team was losing by one goal, they would pull their goalie to get an extra player on the ice in the last minute of the game.

Analytics are saying that this should've happened much prior to the last minute of the game, four minutes, five minutes, six minutes. So we're seeing teams do that now, but the live algorithms that a certain sportsbook was using were not accounting for that. So you'd get some very good prices on puck lines and overs and things like that, and it took months before they recognized that that was a flaw in their modelling. That's only specific to hockey. I think this applies to many sports, where there's these little flaws that can be picked apart. Since we're still in the fairly early stages of live betting, it's certainly not an efficient market yet.

Ben:

Well, that's it, isn't it? I guess, from a sportsbook's perspective, they're not going to invest time and resource into refining those in-play models if there's no interest there. And it almost seems like now there's just been this ... The switch has been flicked and there's just an influx of volume and all of a sudden, they're almost having to play catch up into what's coming into the market.

Rob Pizzola:

Exactly. Exactly.

Ben:

I mean, with betting, there's some things that are obviously black and white. I mean, when you very first start out, things like line shopping, it's pretty straight-forward, you know what you have to do, you obviously do get better at it. But then there's other things that ... And you touched upon it earlier, like dealing with the inevitable losses and the psychology of betting. So I know you touched upon finding a hobby, finding a release in golf, but how have you found the experience over your career of dealing with those ups and downs?

Rob Pizzola:

It's been difficult, to be completely honest with you. I'm always someone that's not dealt with stress and anxiety well, ever since I was young. I was medicated for anxiety as well, so that doesn't really lend itself towards wagering large amounts of money on games. So it's been a struggle, but I've learned to deal with it over time. I do some meditating as well. And like I said, there's certain behaviours that just really help me calm down a little bit, especially in times of stress. But I'm certainly not immune to stress. I mean, just a personal life example for me is December of last year would've been my worst betting month of all time. I was a -18% ROI in NHL, despite beating the closing line on pretty much over 90% of my wagers in that month. So I chalk a lot of it up to bad variants, lot of overtime and shootout losses in hockey. But regardless, even knowing that and even knowing that it's just a bad run of variants, it still weighs on you.

So I don't really have a perfect solution to that. I still find it's something that I'm getting better at, but I still struggle with at times. And I don't think I'll ever get to the point where I can completely just dismiss that and get that out of my head. I've tried a number of more relaxing techniques to help me with that and I've found some success with that, to the point where I feel like I've come a long way in five years.

Ben:

I mean, my perception is that people almost ... They're so intent on, whether it's researching these new metrics or learning a programming language or whatever it might be, they spend so much time devoted to those kind of materials that they potentially neglect the psychological aspect. So, do you spend time researching and reading about the psychology and how it can impact your decision-making process, especially when it comes to betting?

Rob Pizzola:

Oh, for sure. I mean, I'll openly admit this and I mean, I don't really care because I think if it helps you, you should use any resource that you have access to. But I've done therapy before, which has really, really helped, just talking to someone about the stresses that you're facing on a regular basis. There's a number of things that I've done, but I mean, I think it has just as ... There are certain people that this is not going to affect. I mean, I know of sports bettors that they tell me, "Well, I'm just immune to the ups and downs of this sport", or "I'm numb to the ups and downs." I don't have the personality traits that can make me immune or numb to the ups and downs of the sports betting aspect of things.

I also, just from a personal level, I'm married to a wife, who I mean, I love very much, but is one of the most risk-averse people on this planet. Someone that has very, very low risk tolerance, which I obviously have high risk tolerance. But that leads to some stresses as well at times because that's your personal life and you don't want to disappoint someone that you obviously care about a whole lot and things of that nature. So for me, I don't want to say I spend equal amounts of time on it, but I'm much more cognoscente now of when I am going through periods of stress or anxiety, a poor psychological state, and I'm much more willing to do something about it now. And I mean, I would say that it doesn't cripple me anymore and in the past, it certainly would have.

Ben:

No, I'm really glad you shared that because I think people ... I mean, a lot of people on Twitter are trying to spread that message of how much of a challenge betting is, but that doesn't just mean it's difficult to beat the market because it's efficient, it's a challenge because of that daily grind and everything that comes along with it.

Rob Pizzola:

Yeah. You can feel the weight on your shoulders a lot, at points, and it's not always easy. Like I said, I mean, there's times where I put in a lot of work, 250 hours in a month into sports betting and I might lose money in that month. And that's not an easy pill for me to swallow, but for a lot of people to swallow. So, it's just trying to stay in that right mindset and understanding that, I mean, the edge does exist and there's always volatility and you're always going to be subject to these, either short-term bad runs, it's even sometimes some long-term bad runs, but over the course of the time, it balances out.

And when you do have that mentality and you're doing things to help you from a psychological perspective, I think ... I mean, I can't even think of what I was like four or five years ago, but I just ... Biting my nails, stressing games constantly all the time, like I said, constantly refreshing my phone for scores and it's just not healthy. And once you realize that it's not healthy and you need to do something about it, then that's the first step and it's worked out for me, luckily.

Ben:

Well, I'm sure that's given some great insight into what it's like to bet for a living and the day-to-day life. Now we can move onto the betting industry in general and, I guess, the current betting landscape. So, I mean, one of the hot topics at the moment is this whole tipsters, touts and selling picks and stuff like that. Again, it's by no means a new phenomenon, but I'm just interested to know what are your whole thoughts on this selling picks stuff and things like that?

Rob Pizzola:

So I'm inherently biased on this because at one point, I did sell picks. So I'll just give a little brief background, but I ran a website called PredictionMachine.com, which was a pretty large website in North America. And when their owners sold it, I signed on a one-year contract to run the website. Now I'm going to give a little caveat here. My goal, when I took this over and other members of management were fully onboard with this, is I wanted to run, what I call, a pick site in the right way. Too often, I see handicappers just giving out picks on either stale lines or lines that aren't widely available. I wanted a plethora of tools on the site that would actually be beneficial. Essentially, I wanted to run a website that I, myself, as a bettor, would be comfortable paying for and using.

I found that there's not a lot of demand in the market for that. I mean, the reality was I would really try to educate people and post a lot of content on the fact that ... If I recommend betting the Toronto Blue Jays at -120 and you go to bet the game and it's -150, the value has probably gone in that game. And that's a very difficult concept for people to understand and a lot of people just don't want to hear it, they just are ... "I want the pick, just tell me who to bet." And the whole concept of line movement and what numbers to bet at, it falls on deaf ears. I think we have an education problem in the market and I think that there are a lot of touts that take advantage of that, and that's where I don't really like to ... 99% of the tout industry is absolute garbage. It's people that can't win at betting, that are not really even offering a service. You'd be better off just flipping a coin at home and betting on games and paying for those.

But I do think that there are some people that do it right or some people that actually provide value, so I won't say that they don't exist. But for the most part, from what I saw in my time, one year of doing that, there's just a lot of people that are adamant of, "This is specifically what I want", and there's a big market that is catering to that. And I don't really know how we get away from that, other than just educating people better on what matters in the betting world. But there's also an inherent problem with doing that, especially when you bet on sports for a living, because you don't really want everyone to be educated because they can turn out to be your competitors. So, there's a lot of things that play into the equation. I'm not an anti-tout guy, per se, I'm anti-most touts because I don't feel that most provide value. But I see why they do it because there's certainly a large demand for it in this industry right now.

Ben:

Yeah, I completely agree. And I think the education comment there is really the key, isn't it, and just trying to let people know what's involved and what you might not see behind someone's record or something like that. Obviously, sometimes the ROI looks great, but there's often more than meets the eye, survivorship bias or whatever it might be.

Rob Pizzola:

Yeah, there's a number of factors. I mean, honestly, I think the biggest piece of advice I give to people all the time, especially novice bettors, is the concept of closing line value. And your goal as a bettor is obviously to win. I mean, everyone wants to win betting on sports, but the best predictor of whether you're going to win in the long-term is whether or not you're consistently beating the closing line and by how much. And that's just a piece of advice I give to all my friends and others as well is, keep track of all your bets and keep track of the closing prices and if you are not consistently beating close, then go back to the drawing board because you're not going to win in the long run.

And vice versa, if you are, then good job, keep doing what you're doing. But I mean, the concept falls on deaf ears to a lot of people. I mean, I post publicly about this stuff on Twitter all the time and I'd say probably 75% of the comments I get are positive and people who are genuinely interested, but there's still a portion of the population that doesn't want to hear it and thinks that it's complete garbage and it's nonsense. And as long as there's people that are still posting that stuff publicly as well, it's very difficult for someone who doesn't know to understand what's real and what's not. So, that's another challenge, I think, that we face as a whole.

Ben:

And just to touch upon closing line value there and assuming you can't subscribe to the efficient market hypothesis and things like that, when you talk about, say, the edge you have over the goalie getting pulled in NHL and the puck line and stuff like that, that could be seen as potentially an edge that, if the market is behind and hasn't incorporated that, then would that potentially reveal itself in closing line value? Do you consider those things as well or is it just you stick with one measurement method and that's the way you go?

Rob Pizzola:

That's actually a really good question. So I wouldn't consider that in closing line value. So when I tell people about closing line value, I'm referring to really large markets for the most part. So all the major sports leagues essentially pre-game markets. Live betting I still don't think is efficient yet, so I really wouldn't value closing line value all that much in a live betting market. Plus, it's very difficult to really see what the closing line was at a specific time just because of all the movement that's happening during live betting.

Props markets are another one, to me, that are not really all that efficient just because the limits on props are generally so small. At the majority of books, you can only really bet a couple 100 dollars, maybe 500 dollars, on a specific prop. So you're going to tend to have less sharp bettors focused in on that market. But for the major sports leagues, NFL, college football, any major Euro soccer leagues, NBA, NHL, MLB, closing line value is a very, very good indicator of whether you're going to win or not in the long run.

Ben:

And then just going back to the betting industry in general, I mean, obviously we've had the PASPA repeal, it's still quite fresh. Do you think we've seen a shift in the perception of bettors and bookmakers from the general public?

Rob Pizzola:

In terms of how they're perceived, so to speak? The perception of sports betting as a whole is much different than it was five years ago. It's now more widely accepted than it was, if that's what you're asking me.

Ben:

Yeah. Yeah, that's what I was getting at.

Rob Pizzola:

Yeah. So yeah, it's definitely more widely accepted. I mean, it's becoming much more mainstream, obviously all the big outlets in the US, whether it be ESPN or Fox Sports, are producing gambling content now, Bleacher Report. It's become an arms race to produce gambling content, which also comes with its inherent problems now because you see a lot of the faces of who ... People are getting massive audiences when ... I mean, it can be questioned whether they're qualified or not to really talk about gambling as a whole. Maybe they understand betting and how it works, but probably not necessarily how to beat sports and how to profit off sports.

But in terms of perception of the market as a whole, certainly, it's much more widely accepted now. I think there was a stigma on it. And I'm Canadian, we're not experiencing the same regulation as of yet, as in the US, it will come eventually. But even in Canada, I can say that 10 years ago, I'd be ashamed to tell somebody that I was betting on sports, it was negative stigma. Nowadays, it's pretty open and people are pretty open about that and it's not as negatively viewed.

Ben:

And when you were talking about these people that DM you on Twitter or when they reply to this stuff about closing line value and they're negative and things like that, do you see shades of your old self in those? And do you get frustrated or are you hopeful that eventually these people will learn and listen to the information that's out there?

Rob Pizzola:

I don't get frustrated, unless it comes with a negative tone, so to speak. I leave my DMs open on Twitter because I'm actually very willing to answer those questions because I don't want to make this seem like I'm some great person, so to speak, but I remember the struggles that I faced when I was younger to find good content and accessibility to people who actually understand what they're doing and know what they're doing was not easy to come by. And that was one of the biggest struggles for me when I was younger and trying to seriously get into this. So that's why I allow people to ask me those questions and I do these Periscope videos to give a little bit of insight into my process. It's a fine line between giving away what gives me my edge and giving away little titbits that people can take away, but I do try to educate as much as I possibly can.

It's frustrating when I get challenged on things that I'm certain that I'm right about, that's one thing that bothers me quite a bit. The second thing that's frustrating that I find is when people will challenge me because I don't publicly post my picks or I don't publicly post my records. I mean, for anyone who bets professionally, they'd understand ... It's very obvious why we don't post our picks and why we don't post our records, but that's very tough to relay to an average person who doesn't really understand much about the betting market. So, I get a lot of questions of, why should I trust you when you're not publicly transparent about your record? Which, I guess, is a fair question, but that can be frustrating.

Ben:

And then on the idea that the markets are getting more efficient, do you think that's down to bookmakers doing a better job, having better quality data? Is it a small segment of sharps that are getting sharper? Or do you think it's actually the general betting population that's not as square as maybe they used to be?

Rob Pizzola:

I think it's the latter. So I definitely think that the average bettor now is better than they were a decade ago. I mean, there is a lot of bad content out there, but there's also a lot of good content. I think people are naturally trying to educate themselves a little bit more now with the regulation happening. I mean, I honestly don't think it's a matter of bookmakers getting better. Funny enough, every now and then, I'll check the opening lines that come out for games and I'll scratch my head as to how those opening lines could ever come out because some of them are pretty bad.

The reason I don't do it more often is it actually frustrates me to ... My edge is constantly reducing from that opening line to the time that I'm betting it. But I don't think it's necessarily a matter of bookmakers getting sharper, but I do think that that betting population is certainly driving those lines into place a lot quicker than they used to. So those edges don't tend to hang around a lot longer and certainly there's more good educational content out there than there was years ago. So that is, I think, the biggest factor.

Ben:

And the reason behind not taking the opening line when the massive edge is there, is that a limits issue you're having?

Rob Pizzola:

It is. Yeah, I mean, in order to sustain what I'm doing, I mean, I need a certain bet size and if I was betting into the opening markets, then I would probably need a full-time job on top of it. So, that's the struggle with it.

Ben:

And then one of the other hot topics, just off the back of that, I guess, is that this idea of account restriction or people getting banned, we've obviously seen a lot of it in the US, but it is a global problem. Is that something you've experienced throughout your betting career?

Rob Pizzola:

I have, but I'm also not in the same boat of other people. If I put myself in the shoes of someone who's running a business and someone is repeatedly taking money from me, I'm going to do what I can to stop that. And yes, I mean, it's unfair, but there's no regulations in place that prevent books from doing that. So, I mean, I get it, I'd like to be able to bet wherever I want for as much as I want, but the reality is every book is running a business, their goal is to profit as much as they possibly can. And if that means limiting bettors or even preventing them from betting altogether, I think they're within their rights until someone tells them that this isn't allowed anymore. So it's something I've personally experienced. It's frustrating as a bettor, but I think you ... I mean, you need to be able to see both sides of every equation and I can get why it happens. I mean, it probably doesn't bother me as much as it bothers a lot of other people out there.

Ben:

Yeah, I guess it's something that probably sits in the middle thereof they're potentially well within their rights to do it until it becomes illegal or whatever it is, but I think potentially a lot of people have the problem with the fact that it's not really ... There's no awareness about it. Bookmakers, it's almost like this secret that you only find out about once you actually get restricted or banned.

Rob Pizzola:

Right, and I get that. But the reality is the current state of sports betting, I mean, there's a lot of shadiness that happens and that's just the vast reality of it. I'm not saying that it's right, I'd love to see that more open communication from sportsbooks down the road of if you're holding this amount, then we're going to restrict your bet sizes and if they're upfront with that, it's a little bit different. But I mean, I don't think we're going to get there any time soon and there are other means to bet. I mean, there's Pinnacle, obviously, there's CRIS which is a sharp book that accepts big wagers. I mean, you can still bet into ... I mean, technically, illegally, into offscreen markets. But there's other avenues. So to me, if a random offshore sportsbook restricts my bets, I'm not really losing sleep over it.

Ben:

So if we just now look ahead to the future, what do you think the future has in store for the betting industry?

Rob Pizzola:

I certainly think a lot of the same trends that you see right now will continue in terms of more mobile betting, more live betting. Those are the obvious factors, but especially with millennials and their tendency to gravitate towards phones versus desktop, I think you'll probably start to see some more unique products on mobile devices, but also this live betting eventually becoming ... I mean, it's already 50/50 with pre-match markets, but becoming huge at some point. In terms of other items, I think with this regulation happening in the US, what happened out of the gate was it was just an arms race to get to market. Everybody just tried to get to market as quickly as possible and what ends up happening is all these regulated US facing books, DraftKings, FanDuel, PointsBet, Score, all those books, they all look like the traditional offshores that we're used to and accustomed to seeing.

I think over time, when this arms race has ended, three, four, five years now, you'll probably see some more creative sportsbook products, sportsbook presented in a way that is not traditional to bettors, something that maybe is catered towards millennials and younger bettors and something that is maybe more visually appealing. I don't really know. It's very hard for me to imagine what that looks like, but I certainly think we're going to see some innovation in the sportsbook market in the next three, four, five years.

Ben:

And then for you, are you planning to be involved in betting for the foreseeable future or do you have aspirations outside the world of sports betting? Maybe get that handicap down to scratch and go pro as a golfer?

Rob Pizzola:

I don't think I'll get there, but I think it's important with, not only bettors, but just humans in general, to obviously have goals. I have certain short-term goals and long-term goals. I'd like to not be working at a certain age in my life and have enough wealth built up to be able to travel the world freely and to golf as much as I want to. So, that's my long-term goal. I'd be willing to pursue any avenue that takes me there, even if that's outside of sports betting. I'm big into crypto as well, I'm a big advocate of Bitcoin and I've been a holder for a long time and that's slowly helping me get there as well. But I'm not tied to sports betting, I just do it because it provides a good income for me right now. I'm good at it, I'm passionate about it, it ticks all the boxes for me. But if there is another opportunity that comes up that would help me achieve my life goals at a faster rate or a higher likelihood than sports betting, that would be something that I would certainly consider.

Ben:

So you're into the crypto bookmakers or whatever? Because that's, to me, talk about the stresses of betting, that's like a double gamble, isn't it? You're betting on the value of a currency, but you're also betting on the outcome of an event. It must be madness.

Rob Pizzola:

It is. So I mean, I use Nitrogen Sportsbook and have for a long time. I tell people this story all the time, but I remember ... This would've been three or four years ago. I bet the Golden State Warriors to win the NBA title before the season started and by the time the NBA finals came around, my wager was worth six times the amount that I actually bet on it just because the price, in crypto fluctuating. I mean, it's obviously very volatile right now. So yeah, there's an element to that. But personally, I mean, when you're a long-term believer in crypto and you think that the price will go up over time, it doesn't feel like as much of a gamble, even though it really is. But certainly, there's been times where I've had way bigger, way smaller bets just based on the volatility of even one or two days. So, that's always fun and interesting.

Ben:

Yeah, bit of a difficult one for if you're using Kelly or something like that. Trying to handle that must be a nightmare.

Rob Pizzola:

It is, but there‘s advantages of betting in crypto as well, right? Once you're familiar with how crypto works, I mean, there's certainly a learning curve, right? Because you need your crypto wallet, you need to deposit in an exchange, and for some people, that just seems so difficult to do and they don't really want to grasp their head around it. But once you go through your first crypto transaction, you get things all set up, it's just pretty easy and I personally love it. I mean, you can get your money in and out of sportsbooks fairly quickly, there's just not a lot of fees associated with crypto. I think there's a lot of inherent advantages to gamblers if they were willing to use crypto.

The group that I was first working with, that was freerolling me, this is years ago, three or four ago, but they ... When it came time to saddle up, they basically said, "Okay, what's your Bitcoin wallet?" I was like, "I don't even know what the hell Bitcoin is. I have no idea what you're talking about." And they walked me through it and I'll never forget that first transaction of just waiting for my payment to come through on there and biting my nails and making sure I sent my wallet address properly. I can get why there's a lot of people in the market are not believers, but once you really understand it, it's just ... I mean, it's a really powerful currency. Anyway, if I can get a point across, obviously my well-being in the future is somewhat tied to crypto. But for those who think it's overwhelming, I mean, it doesn't take much to educate yourself, it's actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it.

Ben:

Well, all right, Rob, so let's just get some final thoughts before I let you go. If you were your old self listening to this now, you're getting into a bit of debt or whatever it was, you're struggling a bit with your betting, what would you say to yourself to change the way you think about betting on sports?

Rob Pizzola:

The first piece of advice I would give to my old self is don't bet, to be completely honest with you. I tell this to people all the time. I mean, the reality is people are going to bet anyways because for a lot of people, it's more so a form of entertainment than it is an actual means to gain profit. And profit is just ... It's a bonus if they can do that. But the vast majority of people are not going to win at betting and that's just the reality of it. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but unless you're willing to invest the time and effort into getting better and really understanding what it takes to win in the long run, that's the first piece of advice I would give to myself is don't bet. If 10 years ago me was unwilling to listen to that advice, I would probably just tell someone not to get ahead of themselves, and I see people make this mistake a lot.

I don't know, three weeks into the NFL season, there's people that are probably 15 and five against the spread, 75% hit rate and they think that they are reinventing the wheel or they have some massive edge and they really get excited about things, and then regression sets in and it goes downhill. And I used to be like that as well, I used to be a believer, as dumb as it sounds, and hot streaks and cold streaks, even though these are just random periods of variants. So it's very, very cliché, but understanding that it's a marathon and not a sprint. Really, really, truly understanding that, it's very difficult for some people to do so. So that's certainly advice I would've given to myself in the past.

Ben:

Yeah, well, it's all about the process, not the results, isn't it? Don't get too bogged down with the losses and don't get too carried away with the wins, I guess.

Rob Pizzola:

Yeah, I mean, I would tell some people sometimes, if people are modelling and they're actually not betting, which is my suggested course of action for some people, if you're in your infancy of modelling and you don't actually know if you have something that's good or not, there's no reason to bet it. But if you're doing your tracking, I mean, I would not even concern myself with the wins and losses, especially if you're tracking against, like I said, the major sports markets. Just track the closing line value and don't even let the wins and losses affect you. I mean, it's easier said than done, I understand that, but like you said, it's just the process, it's the process more than anything. And everyone likes to be a results-based analyst, but it's not healthy and it's not really going to get you anywhere.

Ben:

And is there any online resources or people to follow on Twitter that you'd recommend to help someone that's just starting out?

Rob Pizzola:

I would recommend myself. No, I mean, Rufus, obviously. Rufus Peabody on Twitter, who I have a high degree of respect for. There's so many different people that I follow that have become an asset for me or provided value to me in one way or another. It's funny that you actually mention that and sorry to drag this on, just a little side tangent. But yesterday, I started a thread on my Twitter account. I often get people always saying to me, "Oh, you're such a negative person", which is true and I've really tried to focus on that and become a little bit more positive with my Twitter rather than just ragging on people what's wrong with the industry and things like that, really trying to put a positive outlook on it.

So yesterday, I actually started a thread on Twitter, which I will continue to update over the course of time, which are people that ... Or follows, people that I follow, specifically that have provided value to me over the course of time and specifically why and in which sports and in which areas. And I plan to keep on updating that pretty much forever, as long as I see an account that provides value with the hopes that at least people can use this as a source of educational content and follow the quote, unquote, right people in the industry versus the people that are really not going to provide them with anything.

Ben:

I threw you up a softball there, Rob, you could've said Pinnacle, go read the articles on betting resources. I was waiting for it.

Rob Pizzola:

You know what, I will say though, there's a couple Pinnacle articles that I always direct people to, regardless. So I'm not going to just say this because I'm on the Pinnacle podcast, obviously, but there is one specifically about closing line value. I pretty much have a link bookmarked on my computer because I get this question so often in my DMs about explaining closing line value and I link to that. I'm sure when you guys go through your analytics and your SEO, where the traffic is coming from, I'm probably sending you half the traffic you're getting on that article specifically. But yeah, certainly there are some good articles with Pinnacle and not exclusive to Pinnacle either, but there are a couple go-tos that I recommend for people pretty regularly.

Ben:

There we go, we got our plug-in. But Rob, I said at the start of the show that I knew it was going to be worth the wait and it certainly was. I know you must be a busy man, so I really appreciate you taking time out for us and the listeners, so thanks very much.

Rob Pizzola:

All right, thanks for having me, Ben.

Ben:

And if you're on Twitter, I definitely recommend following Rob on the handle, @RobPizzola. And if you don't already, you can follow Pinnacle Sports on Twitter as well. If you want to learn more about betting, then visit betting resources on Pinnacle.com. I hope you enjoyed today's episode and bye for now.

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