Raw data and refined instincts have made millions for this sports gambler
It is the final weekend of February and Adam Meyer is in the midst of his best quarter ever. Earlier this year he won almost $2.8 million on the Super Bowl. Now he is crushing the NBA. As I land in his home-base of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Meyer is ahead by $900,000 on professional basketball wagers. He does it by handling sports betting with the same strategic approach that the best Wall Street investors apply to the stock market.
Meyer is loath to make a bet without having a strong rationale behind it and at least a little bit of an edge. He parses statistics, trends, personal insights and the kinds of advance information that could get a Wall Street trader in trouble (but is perfectly legal in sports betting).
For the NBA alone, Meyer maintains a crew of 10 former basketball pros with whom he consults. Moles in Vegas let him know when a whale is going to move a line, and his sources keep him abreast of developments in the personal and professional lives of players.
"Since December 30, I knew that Jerry Sloan [then the coach of the Utah Jazz, he resigned in February] and Deron Williams [then the point guard for the Jazz, he was traded to the New Jersey Nets in February] were having major issues," says Meyer. "I knew that the team temperature was gone, and I capitalized on that."
He even has somebody tracking the statistics of specific referees and how they tend to call games. "Statistically, there are certain players that refs happen to like—Allen Iverson was one of them—and they call fewer penalties on those players," says Meyer, pointing out that it's not conscious favoritism but more a matter of human predilection. "Some refs are meek about calling fouls on home-team players. Others want to show the crowds that they cannot be intimidated."
Meyer estimates that his payroll for sources and outside consultants runs him some $6 million per year. This would be a hefty sum for even the most successful sports bettors. Meyer can afford it because he runs a parallel business that operates in concert with his own sports betting. He is the CEO of Real Money Sports, Inc., a consulting company for gamblers. Clients pay anywhere from $199 per month to $250,000 annually for advice from Meyer. At the high end, he says, the expectation is that they will make $1 million based on the year's worth of picks and betting advice that he provides. During the NFL season, he says, his international subscribers account for an estimated $10 million in wagers per week. "I have a client who has been with me since 1998 and he is up $11 million over that period of time," says Meyer.
Besides generating an eight-figure income for Meyer, who himself bets between $250,000 and $500,000 on any given day, the consulting business allows him to spend heavily on getting the information that is integral to his win-rate of 58 percent per year for the last two years in the NBA. He's serious enough about the business that he recently purchased a chunk of a Fort Lauderdale office park in which to house the operation, and hired the former marketing and public relations director from Don King Productions, Peter Kahn, to handle that end of his business. Set for this summer is a free iPhone app that will provide statistical information for clients and non-clients alike. Additionally, he plans on holding a sports-betting seminar in Las Vegas this August. Clearly, Meyer is more than just a successful gambler.
Mike Colbert, who oversees sports betting for Cantor Gaming in Las Vegas, describes Meyer as "the real deal" and limits his NBA action to $100,000 per game. If he could bet more there, Meyer would—and if Meyer were not such a dangerous player, Colbert would allow it. When a conversation in Meyer's office turns to a small killing that he made in the last World Cup, Peter Kahn gestures toward a framed autographed jersey from David Beckham and says, "We don't know Beckham, but we got this from the guy who was giving us World Cup information!"
On the Saturday morning that I meet Meyer in his Fort Lauderdale office, he tells me that his stale-looking space (previously belonging to an attorney) is about to undergo some serious remodeling. By contrast, Meyer already looks every bit the edgy, young entrepreneur—from his fashionable clothes to his athletic physique. He keeps glancing at his computer monitor, arrayed with all the lines for today's games. It is as important to Meyer's business as a Bloomberg terminal is for a Wall Street trader.
Integral to Meyer's success is his ability to get into games at the right price. It is what leads him to bet on Miami Heat vs. New York Knicks tonight. "I don't love the Heat," acknowledges Meyer. "But the game opened with the Heat giving up 8 1/2 points, and I just knew that it would go to 10. You do that over time, and out of 100 games, six become winners instead of pushes." In other words, Meyer bets with enough volume that, eventually, his small line-edges add up and iron out variance. "If you are my bookmaker and tell me that you will give me an extra point on every game, but that I have to bet every game, I will happily do it and slowly bankrupt you."
Because most of Meyer's clients don't generate his kind of volume and do not have access to the same Las Vegas lines that he does (he often places his bets via registered agents who legally wager on his behalf in casinos), the bets he advises them to make are based on more than line value. A wide range of factors go into the games he gives out to his clients. Meyer figures the formula at 50 percent advance information ("People still don't know how injured Kobe Bryant is," he says a couple of weeks prior to Bryant suffering a rolled ankle against the Mavericks); 25 percent math and 25 percent gut-instinct and variables. "If a team comes off of a 20-point lead and blows a game, most people are afraid to bet the team the next night," says Meyer. "But in reality, the team will play extra hard the next night, and you get value by betting them. Oddsmakers take advantage of the public perception when they make their lines for those games." And so does Meyer.
Meyer's big pick tonight for the majority of his clients is Minnesota Timberwolves over the Golden State Warriors. He's drawn to Minnesota, at plus-3 points for a few reasons.
First, Golden State is traveling to Minnesota from the West coast and there is an early start time. Plus, Minnesota is coming off of a double-digit loss, and he thinks that will sharpen their play. Particularly, he expects Kevin Love "to be a rebounding machine," which will give Minnesota a huge advantage. "When it comes to sports gambling, I am not a gambler," says Meyer. "I used to be, and I was very unsuccessful."
Adam Meyer, 39, grew up in Fort Lauderdale. He found high school to be easy, excelled at sports and frequented the local jai alai fronton where he tried to handicap matches. He attended University of Miami with the intention of going on to law school. But, needing extra cash during his freshman year, he answered a newspaper ad placed by a company that was looking for someone who must love sports. The company turned out to be American Sports, which sold handicapping advice to sports bettors. Meyer was brought in to help with game analysis and he proved to be a natural.
By age 20, Meyer had dropped out of college and was making a ton of money by analyzing and betting sporting events. He left American to open his own company and figured he was invincible. "I was a kid telling business guys to only play my picks, manage their bankrolls and treat sports betting as a business," remembers Meyer. "And there I was, betting every game on the board. I thought I could beat everything and burned through millions and millions of dollars by the time I was 22. I went broke two or three times. I sold a multimillion-dollar house and moved into a $400,000 house. I sold my cars and my jewelry and cried myself to sleep. Then I realized that in order to be successful at this I need to be disciplined. I became a sharp guy who only does things when he has an edge. When I went broke, my parents begged me to go to law school. But I knew what I wanted to do."
Following that debacle, Meyer buckled down, worked hard, and played smart. "I studied math and the Pythagorean theorem and how it can all be applied to sports gambling," he says. "I took classes on probabilities and statistics and hired two Harvard graduates to build software that would allow me to analyze matchups."
Along the way, he's learned more than a few things about beating the NBA. "I concentrate on teams that aren't the top or bottom of the standings, but, rather, those that are in the middle," he says. "The 76ers, for example, are a 500 team, but they are 64 percent against the spread. Odds-makers know that most gamblers focus on the best and worst teams, so they spend so much of their time on those teams' games. But the middle teams are very competitive and capable of winning on any night. I like to find them in dog situations on the road."
He also uncovers value in cherry-picking good spots for the betting of overs on point totals (that is, betting that the total score, for both teams combined, will exceed a certain number). "I like to look at defensive field-goal percentages," says Meyer. "Once I see that increasing, my bets increase against the team or else I start betting more heavily on the overs. The Cleveland Cavaliers, for example, after 10 games went by, I analyzed the team. I've been betting the over on them nearly everyday since, and my win rate there is more than 70 percent. Then, once the oddsmakers get sick of being on the wrong side of it, sometimes they'll change by over-adjusting in the other direction. That is the opportunity for me to change as well."
One component that any sports bettor can factor into the mix is the effect of travel on a team. While it's true that private jets make things a little easier than they might have been in the old days, Meyer has some interesting thoughts on the impact of road weariness. From the former NBA players on his payroll, Meyer has learned that at least one popular assumption is not as strong as believed: When teams have back-to-back games on the road, they do poorly. "The truth is that when teams have four games over the course of five nights, they do worse than when they are playing back-to-back," says Meyer. "That's a situation that I look for right away. Also, immediately after a long trip, when players have just gotten home, statistically, teams do not tend to cover the spread. You have to remember that professional athletes are only human, and they have things to catch up on after being away."
What he preaches to his clients (and practices himself) is stringent bankroll management. Meyer suggests betting no more than 5 percent of your current bankroll on a given game. Being overly aggressive with your money, even if you are killing it, is a recipe for disaster. After all, winning 58 percent of your wagers, over the course of an NBA season, is a good way to get rich, and it represents a record that any sports bettor would be thrilled to have. But it also means that you have to lose 42 percent of the games that you bet on, and there is no telling how the losers will batch up. "I don't believe in chasing," says Meyer. "You stick with a percentage of your bankroll that you are willing to put at risk." For example, he adds, "If you hit 60 percent winners, which is almost impossible to sustain, and you bet 30 percent of your bankroll, there will be a course of time in which you are negative. Go 0-and-5, while continually betting 30 percent of your bankroll and you will have the ability to wipe out your funds."
Because the Heat are playing the Knicks in Miami, and he has a big bet on the game, Meyer decides to watch this one in person. Peter Kahn, Meyer's lawyer Bruce Liebman and I meet at Meyer's massive home before taking off for American Airlines Arena.
Meyer meets me at the door with a long face. Instead of saying hello, he says, "We lost by one."
He's referring to the score of the Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Lakers game with a plus-two point spread factored in. Meyer had Oklahoma City. "It's really unfortunate because the Lakers didn't lead by more than two points until the very end of the game," he says. "This is the kind of day where I might wind up going 1 and 3, with my clients winning the Minnesota game. That one best game is never based on line value. It's based on all the elements."
As we're getting ready to leave, it is clear that the loss irks Meyer. Even as he recognizes the mathematics of winning 58 percent of his games (again, it means losing 42 percent of the time), losing is not the sort of thing that will ever sit well with him. "I used to be a lot more emotional than I am now," says Meyer. "But, still, when it comes down to the last seconds of a game, I'm pacing and sometimes throwing remotes. I put in a lot of work and always want to win."
En route to the game, Meyer gets an intriguing message from one of his sources. The Knicks' new small-forward Carmelo Anthony is not synching well with Amar'e Stoudemire, so they will not be spending much time together on the court during the first half of the game. Meyer is advised to make a first-half bet on the Heat. He mulls it over and thinks out loud: "It will be as if the Knicks have one star player instead of two." He calls a betting-agent in Las Vegas and has him get down $100,000 on the first half.
At the stadium, Meyer's seats are center-court, about 13 rows up from the action. Things start out perfectly for him, with the game going exactly as his source said it would. Anthony and Stoudemire spend no time together on the court. As the first quarter closes, the Heat are ahead by a comfortable margin. During the second quarter, they expand their lead to 12 points. Then things begin to go awry. Even without Anthony and Stoudemire playing together, the Knicks head off on a 15-point tear. In the midst of it, Meyer grumbles, "I need to go for a walk."
After the half ends and his bet is lost, Meyer comes back with a bag of chocolate covered almonds, Peter Kahn views it as a bad sign. Still, trying to make the best out of the situation, Meyer recognizes that the Knicks' outsized performance has generated a ton of scoring for the quarter, which inflates the over/under line for the last two quarters. Meyer has one of his agents book the under for the second half. It comes through a winner. But the only other consolation for the day is that Minnesota, the pick he gave to his Real Money Sports clients, covers the spread.
By the time we get back to Fort Lauderdale, he's dealing with the loss, acknowledging, "In this industry it happens. You can't win all your games. You can't get too high and you can't get too low. But it is devastating to lose the first half the way I did."
When the dust settles, he's still ahead by $3.1 million on the quarter and $300,000 on basketball alone. Plus there is a whole new slate of games to pick through and analyze. When I see him the next morning in his office, phones are ringing with customers—including a smattering of doctors and a couple of engineers—who are calling to thank Meyer for his weekend of picks as he strategizes for the coming day's games, which will result in a tidy profit of $388,000 for Adam Meyer.
Characteristically, he takes it in stride and keeps moving forward.
Michael Kaplan is a Cigar Aficionado contributing editor.