By David Payne Purdum / @DavidPurdum
Five minutes. That’s all politician Wayne Root estimates he spends talking to voters about his 26-year career in the sports handicapping business.
When voters inquire, Root explains how as a kid he dreamed of being the next Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder and how he ended up as the late TV prognosticator’s co-host and eventual replacement. He tells them how, at 27, he became a network oddsmaker and anchorman for Financial News Network, now CNBC.
“I have to explain that my story is the American Dream,” said Root in an interview conducted by email. “It is a one-in-a-million story. Only in America.”
The conservative majority doesn’t see it that way, though, as Georgia Senate majority leader Chip Rogers is finding out. Rogers has spent the last couple weeks downplaying his role in sports handicapping industry. He acknowledged playing the role of Will “The Winner” Rogers on TV handicapping shows, but says he was just reading a script, not encouraging gambling. Still, the Georgia Christian Coalition is calling for Rogers to step down from his spot as majority leader.
Meanwhile, Root, the founder and CEO of the sports handicapping service Winning Edge, doesn’t shy away from his betting background and believes in many ways it has helped his political career.
Root, the Libertarian vice-presidential candidate in 2008, is a regular on the political talk-show circuit. He opened his response to my interview questions by noting that he had done 20-plus interviews in the last 48 hours and had more in the coming days.
“Some local, some national. All of these as a political pundit and analyst discussing politics, economics and the Presidential race. So it’s hard to get to your questions,” he wrote.
It makes you wonder how he finds time to handicap. But apparently he does. According to his site on Saturday, he had won 11 of his last 13 picks.
That’s a better winning percentage than Rogers, his fellow pick-selling politician who guaranteed 80 percent winners during his time as tout Will “The Winner” in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Root doesn’t recall meeting Rogers in the political or handicapping arenas, but thinks the current controversy surrounding the senator is being sensationalized.
“If I met him, I’d congratulate him for taking his skills as a sports handicapper and businessman and using them for a wonderful and heroic cause — to help turn this economy around, and save the American Dream,” Root said. “We need more businessmen and women in public office.”
The problem is Rogers doesn’t claim to have any handicapping skills. He says he was just reading a script; the picks and analysis weren’t his. Yet, the host of the showed billed Will “The Winner” as an experienced handicapper.
Rogers did not respond to multiple interview requests sent by email. In the last, I relayed Root’s support and asked the senator only one question:
“During your time as a TV personality, you were marketed as an experienced professional handicapper and encouraged customers to purchase your picks based on your handicapping acumen. Yet, you now say you were just reading a script that was provided to you by the TV show.
At worst, some have called that fraud. Others say you were just like any infomercial salesman, embellishing your product’s results.
When you look back on it, do you see how your sports handicapping career could be perceived as unscrupulous?”
Sports betting stigma & ethics of pick selling
The Georgia Christian Coalition has asked for Rogers to step down due to his association with the gambling industry.
But that’s stereotypical and archaic reasoning, in my opinion. It’s also a blanket statement in regards to the gambling industry. This is about the negative stigma that surrounds sports betting, not the gaming industry overall. If Rogers would have made an infomercial on how to beat blackjack, would his job be in question?
Root adamantly defends the integrity of his sports handicapping business, but stops short of defending the industry as a whole.
“I’ve said for years that we are more honest and credible than anyone on Wall Street. Now I’ve been proven right!” Root said. “Look at the mess on Wall Street. A small investor cannot get a fair shake. See Facebook debacle.
“I don’t worry about the ‘sports handicapping industry,’” he added. “I can’t control what others do. I can only control my reputation. I am an Ivy Leaguer, who graduated alongside President Obama (at Columbia University). I’ve built my business with a level of ethics unmatched in any industry. I set out to change the image of sports handicapping. I think I’ve done that successfully.”
In a 2004 interview with Columbia Today, Root admitted, “As with every other business, 10 percent of what I do involves credibility, another 10 percent is winning and the remaining 80 percent is marketing. It is more important to be known than to win the most.”
The pick-selling industry is so poorly monitored and regulated that it’s hard to define what counts as unethical practices.
One thing is sure – it’s big business, and Root is good at it.
Winning Edge owns the patent to transmit and sell sports predictions online. In 2006, Root successfully sued competing pick-selling sites for infringement. Sites now legally have to get licensed from Root to sell picks online. Winning Edge also was the only publicly-traded sports handicapping firm in the country in 2004.
It’s this type of business savvy that Root believes helped his political career.
“My background has helped me immensely,” he explained. “But not just as a sports handicapper. As a business owner and entrepreneur. Those same qualities that helped me build a successful business are helpful in running a political campaign or running a country. It’s all about explaining and selling a message and a game plan.”
In the end, Root believes voters should be happy to see more successful businessmen in politics, including handicappers.
“Instead of worrying about sports handicappers…I’d worry about lawyers and career politicians,” Root emphasized. “Your very question represents the problem with the media in this country. You should not denigrate someone for being a businessman or entrepreneur…or a sports handicapper. It’s the lawyers and career politicians who have ruined America. They are the ones we need to question. They are the bums we need to throw out of office. They are the ones who brought us to this economic cliff…this Armageddon. Lawyers know nothing about business or economics. They pass laws that ruin our economy every day. Start criticizing them. Start questioning their value as politicians. We need business people who have experience creating jobs. Not lawyers who do nothing but kill jobs.”
He believes America’s stance on gambling has softened and that we’ll have a new face in the White House next year.
“Just today (May 30) Mitt Romney, who I believe will be the next President of the USA, stood on a stage in Vegas with three men standing proudly and loudly behind him- Sheldon Adelson, Steve Wynn and Donald Trump. Three casino moguls publicly backing a future President. Ask Mitt if gambling bothers him? I think not. I call these men- like myself- entrepreneurs and capitalists. They are symbols of what makes America great.”