You expect hyperbole from a news release announcing the approach of a new reality television series, but CNBC’s effort to tout the prospects of “Money Talks” seems somehow understated.
With the college and professional football seasons gearing up, the network’s July 27 publicity piece says the one-hour “Money Talks” pilot premieres Sept. 10 and “takes viewers inside the world of sports betting and Steve Stevens, a well-known handicapper who runs VIP Sports in Las Vegas.”
Sounds intriguing, right?
But the description of Stevens is less than complete. So much so that it’s now sending shockwaves through the online sports betting and handicapping communities. Members of those tech-savvy tribes, most notably wagerminds.com, don’t know any Steve Stevens. And they’re beginning to shout that VIP Sports maven Stevens is none other than Darin Notaro, a convicted telemarketing fraudster.
Notaro is listed with the Nevada secretary of state as the sole principal owner at Executive VIP Services International, which lists its address as 4004 Schiff Drive, the same location as VIP Sports. In photographs on the wagerminds site, Stevens and Notaro also happen to look like twins.
Not that finding a felon in the sports gambling world takes a great degree of investigative skill. Some old-timers I know tend to think of a rap sheet as a prerequisite for credibility on the street.
And the thought that a guy convicted of telemarketing fraud might later operate a website claiming to be able to pick 70 percent winners on sporting events isn’t terribly surprising, either. The sports tout racket is pumped full of more hot air than a congressional hearing. For every broker of factual information, there are a dozen that sell pie-in-the-sky prognostication.
And now that I think of it, it’s also not a shock Stevens/Notaro would want to reinvent himself via reality television. A successful show might numb the brain of viewers, but it can take a person from obscurity to stardom in a few episodes. In fact, I would wager a week’s pay some of his sports handicapping competition is more than a little envious about his latest score.
Stevens/Notaro appears to understand that the potential to generate customers to his pay website is great: Increase name and celebrity, increase buzz, increase traffic, increase customers and increase profits.
What’s not to like?
Except that, well, it’s more than a little disingenuous of CNBC to promote a reality TV series starring a convicted fraudster who claims an absurdly high winning percentage. Call me old- fashioned, but the network’s executives owe their viewers more than that.
While some online touts are seething and shouting fraud, one longtime professional handicapper I know tried to keep the controversy in perspective.
“There have been so many negative views on this show, and I think a number of analysts might be upset they don’t have a show of their own, and know what this kind of exposure can do for a business,” he said.
“If CNBC is familiar with his past and is putting him on TV as a voice for the sports-betting industry, it obviously has an agenda I believe translates into advertising revenue.”
But what about that lusty winning percentage, and just in time for the start of the betting season? Pretty great, huh?
“As for his claim to hitting 70 percent winners — something I don’t believe even Billy Walters claims to do — there’s only one way to silence his critics and justify CNBC advertising him as a winner in the industry, and that’s to go out and win this season,” the handicapper said. “If he’s who he says he is and can win like he claims, then here is his opportunity to prove it.”
Wait just a minute.
You know, I think he’s onto something.
How about some week-by-week full disclosure? How about a little transparency?
I can almost see the headline now: “CNBC reality star makes his viewers rich with his incredibly insightful picks.”
That would guarantee high ratings for the network and high profits for its personal tout.
As long as he came through with winners, it would be a good way to make a name for himself — whatever name he chooses to use.
But what are the odds CNBC will document What’s-his-name’s picks?
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (702) 383-0295.