Inside the News: I Followed a Colorado Newspaper’s Sports Betting Advice and Lost Money

  • Corey Hutchins is a journalism instructor at Colorado College and a contributor to Columbia Journalism Review, The Washington Post, and other news outlets. This column is produced with support from the Colorado Media Project, and is distributed statewide via the Colorado News Collaborative.

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Four years ago, Colorado legalized online sports gambling.

The lucrative business and gobs of money that orbit it have changed the behavior of individuals and institutions alike. The University of Colorado, for instance, entered into an arrangement with a Denver-based gaming company and pitched its gambling product to students. (The New York Times reported the school was earning $30 per signup if someone used a CU promo code; the school later scrapped the deal.)

At least one local news organization in Colorado runs a “Best Bets” item each day, clearly aimed at those willing to risk their income on how professional athletes perform on an ice rink or basketball court.

Setting up an online sports gambling account on your phone and linking it to a financial institution has become remarkably quick and easy. And, since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to legalize sports betting in 2018, the ease with which to do it has come with consequences. One former problem gambler told The Colorado Sun he noticed new people showing up to 12-step meetings after Colorado’s gambling law went into effect. “The faces, almost all of them young men, tell stories that echo his own past,” reporter Kevin Simpson wrote: “A fun social activity with friends somehow veered off the rails.”

I’m not a sports fan, and until recently I’ve resisted the urge to get on this relatively new online gambling train — even when friends have texted screen shots of big wins.

But last weekend, I saw an editor of Colorado Politics promote on social media an initiative created by the news organization’s sister publication. “Every day the Denver Gazette sports staff will publish its best bets,” Luige del Puerto wrote.

Why would they do that? To encourage gambling? To offer those who already place bets the most likely odds with an assist from journalists who specialize on the beat? I reached out Tuesday to Denver Gazette Sports Editor Paul Klee in hopes of asking those questions and talking more about the philosophy and news judgment behind the daily “Best Bets” item. I didn’t hear back, even after I followed up Wednesday and Thursday. His cell phone voicemail box was full yesterday; I sent some texts to no avail.

Because at my best I want to trust newspapers, and I feel like I should be able to reliably consult them for the information I need to be free and self-governing, I decided to take The Gazette’s advice. I was also simply curious. I wanted to see what would happen if I created an online sports gambling account and followed for a week what the paper’s sports writers said were the best bets of the day. I decided to risk $30 per bet.

I chose FanDuel, an easy-to-set-up service, and linked it to the business account I use for this newsletter. It looked like there was a sign-up bonus of $150 if I placed a $5 bet, but I chose not to tap into that for this experiment. I placed my first bet Saturday morning. Denver Gazette Deputy Sports Editor Chris Schmaedeke had forecast the Seattle Kraken to beat the Dallas Stars.

I had been texting a friend about my plan, and that evening he sent me a string of emojis letting me know Seattle had pulled it off. That meant I had won $9.60 on my $30 bet. (I was at an evening function at the time and hadn’t been paying attention to what was happening on the ice.) “This should give you nothing if not a new love for random sports/games,” he texted. “And money.”

I did not over-celebrate and so was not hungover Sunday when I cracked open my laptop and Googled “gazette best bets,” filtering it for the past 24 hours. There I found an item crystal-balling the Boston Celtics to beat the 76ers that afternoon — and also that the players would score fewer than 201 points. I slapped down $30 on each. Both happened, and I hauled in $98. (It was close. Really close. The players scored 200 points, just one shy of a loss.)

When I tweeted out the result, Vinny Benedetto, who covers the Nuggets for The Denver Gazette, replied. “New journalism model,” he said. “Give readers enough winners to cover the cost of an annual subscription in two days.”

I wondered if my streak would continue.

By Monday I was jonesing. I was up nearly $100. If this went on, I thought, I could double my bets and maybe make my car payment by hardly doing anything. If I multiplied it by 10, I thought, then stopped myself. You’re not a sports gamblerYou don’t even understand what you’re doing

After three days of betting, I saw my first $30 go poof, but I was still up $87.12

On Thursday, after five days placing $30 or $60 wagers that tracked The Denver Gazette’s advice for “Best Bets,” I was up around $30. That was the final day of this experiment, and I have to say I was unclear about how exactly should I act on the latest intel. Here was the language from “The Denver Gazette’s best picks” report for that day, written by Klee:

1. Lakers (+5.5, -110) at Nuggets: As well as Denver’s playing, Nuggets are 2-3 ATS in their past five.

2. Lakers at Nuggets (over 226.5 points): Make that three straight ‘Overs’ for Los Angeles.

That’s gobbledygook to me, which is probably an indication that I should not be risking money on sports gambling. But the point of this experiment was to let a trustworthy newspaper whose journalists specialize in the topic be my guide.

asked my Twitter followers if they could help decipher what this meant. One person thought the Gazette was picking the Lakers to win; someone else thought The Gazette was picking the Nuggets. (Klee still had not replied to emails or a text. Then might have been a nice time to do so to clear it up. The game was in a few hours.)

I played around on the app, switching bets around, and somehow lost a few bucks into the void while doing so. (My fault, but I’m ignorant AF about this.) Finally, I thought I’d figured it out: If I followed the paper’s advice I’d win if the Lakers came within 5.5 points of the Nuggets and if the players scored more than 226.5 points. (It looks like I also wound up placing a separate bet on just the points, but whatever.)

I’d started the week by putting $200 in the account, and it was now down to $167.45 after I placed my final two bets of this experiment. If they held, I’d wind up making money for the week before this newsletter went out Friday. But those bets did not hold — in part because I’m so out of my league on this I mistakenly placed what’s called a “parlay” bet meaning both had to happen for me to win one bet. Bottom line: I lost $60 on that game.

So, what did I learn? I’m not so sure. I wound up losing $32.55 over six days, I know that. But I also didn’t follow every single bet The Gazette’s sports writers suggested — just one or two per day. If I had, perhaps the week would have panned out differently. I didn’t check the scores on the games where I didn’t bet. (The “Best Bets” sports writers track their individual records at the end of each item, and Klee’s as of Thursday before the game was “ATS: 102-84-3.” I hardly have a clue what that means. For what it’s worth, his deputy editor’s record as of Tuesday was “ATS: 135-125.”)

I also did not completely understand what I was doing — or sometimes what the sports writers were even suggesting. Following the “Best Bets” item is not for amateurs who don’t speak the language.

“Aside from your particular interest, the explosion of sports betting content is really absurd and unnecessary,” one Denver communications professional who was following my journey on Twitter opined. “Its bad enough when its sportsbooks and their partners doing it. Actual journalistic enterprises doing it too is not great, IMO.”

Will I keep up this new habit? I’m not sure (despite at least one person willing to fund the endeavor perhaps for entertainment’s sake). I don’t care about the teams or players, which makes it less emotional — and I do still have that unused $150 sign-up bonus. Will I put it all on what today’s Gazette sports writer suggests is the “Best Bet”? I wouldn’t bet on it.

If you think you might have a gambling problem or might know someone who does, call 1-800-522-4700.

Springs Indy hires Fran Zankowski as publisher

Fran Zankowski, who previously served for 10 years as the paper’s CEO and currently serves as publisher of Boulder Weekly, which is under separate ownership from the titles in the Springs, has taken on the role of publisher at the nonprofit paper.

“I am tired of watching newspapers around the country shut down,” he said over the phone this week. “I don’t want to see one of them go out of business, so whatever I can do to help sustain this industry and have it grow so that the next generation can take over, I want to do it.”

In March, the Indy laid off about half its staff after finding $300,000 in unaccounted for debt after it transitioned to a nonprofit. (Read the inside story of its collapse and rebuilding at Rocky Mountain PBS here.)

Zankowski, who will split his time between the Springs and Longmont where he lives, said he will take a salary. Readers and donors have stepped up, he said, and helped stabilize the paper. The nonprofit has “aggressively attacked” past-due debt, he added. (Zankowski has long had a national presence in the world of American alt-weeklies and has held a leadership role in the organization AAN.) As publisher, he will work with senior staff on making sure the product is staying true to its mission and following a business plan, he said.

“Staff perception is that we are righting the ship,” said Indy Editor Bryan Grossman. “And it is probably the most right it’s been since we have had to lay people off in March.”

‘Try everything’ to stem U.S. gun violence, writes editor of Colorado newspaper empire

Gazette Editor Vince Bzdek, whose oversight of a suite of Colorado news organizations owned by billionaire Phil Anschutz gives him an ample megaphone, turned his attention earlier this month to gun violence.

A Sunday column he wrote came online before the mass shooting in Texas that left several dead, including children.

The editor’s first-person essay began with a reflection upon a trip to the mountains where he goes to collect his thoughts. Doing so was hard, he writes, as he couldn’t shake an image of 206 roses recently placed at the Capitol that represented the body count of children in America who have lost their lives to gun violence since Columbine.

From the column:

We’ve got to make this stop, I tell my audience of aspens. We have to try everything. We can’t watch idly as our kids scream for their own safety. If these deaths affect me this much as a single detached journalist, what must this trauma be doing to our collective mental health? A nation that lets its kid get routinely shot up can’t be a mentally well nation.

Telling that to an audience of aspens is one thing. But an audience of news readers is another.

Two years ago, former Rocky Mountain News Editor John Temple wrote an essay for The Atlantic. In it, he described how he felt he had seen the “limits of journalism” when it came to covering mass shootings in post-Columbine America, and how “despite our dedication to the work, despite the countless investigations, projects, and special reports, it feels like nothing has changed.”

I reached out to Bzdek in hopes of talking about whether or how he might be thinking differently about his own role as a newspaper editor as he implores his audience to “try everything.”

We talked briefly on the phone, and he said he isn’t as cynical as Temple. “By writing about it, clearly I’m trying to raise consciousness about it,” he said, but also added, “I am open to new ideas about how we cover this.”

Do you have any ideas? Send them my — or his — way.

Zero Colorado newsrooms among those ‘Transforming Crime Reporting Into Public Safety Journalism’

While some newsrooms in Colorado have been progressing in their approach to more thoughtful “crime reporting,” none are listed as participants in a program at the Poynter Institute that seeks to help news managers produce better reporting.

The initiative is called Transforming Crime Reporting Into Public Safety Journalism and includes newsrooms from local TV (thank goodness), newspapers, and digital outlets.

From Poynter, which announced 27 participating newsrooms:

These newsrooms are on the forefront of a movement in American journalism to create more accurate and comprehensive community narratives about public safety. Last year, teams from 44 newsrooms worked with Poynter over 15 weeks to reimagine their approach to covering crime, courts and law enforcement.

Here are some of the learning outcomes:

“Transform the way your newsroom thinks about crime and community:

  • From ‘if it bleeds it leads’ to prioritizing public safety
  • From episodic to ongoing
  • From superficial to deep
  • From a law enforcement narrative to a community narrative”

Consider this question: Is your Colorado newsroom still doing press-release journalism by taking the word of local cops and writing whatever they say each time they pass along another incident report? Maybe even with a mugshot?

If so, and you’re part of a new generation of emerging journalists who don’t agree with the “police-say” practice, push back. Be part of a meteor shower raining down on dinosaur news managers who might be tied to outdated traditions based on clicks, traffic, and the fleeting digital ad dollar.

Constructive criticism, of course, often helps. You might consider politely nudging them with a link to the Poynter initiative or stories like this, with a question asking what they think of it and an invitation to having a newsroom discussion about how they might rethink their approach to “crime coverage.”

More Colorado media odds & ends

💧 Journalists behind Colorado Public Radio’s podcast PARCHED about water issues will have a behind-the-scenes informal conversation about it May 30 at The Denver Press Club. Join host Michael Elizabeth Sakas, producer and editor Rachel Estabrook, and photojournalist Hart Van Denburg for the discussion.

🏆 Aspen Public Radio won three regional Edward R. Murrow Awards.

🎓 Liz Cheney, Colorado College’s commencement speaker this year, “worked for The Catalyst in her time at CC as both the News and Opinion section editors. At the time, the newsroom was in the basement of Cutler Hall, but Cheney nonetheless described it as a ‘wonderful’ experience,” wrote Lorea Zabaleta and Leigh Walden in the college’s campus publication this week.

⚰️ Jane Earle, “a journalist, writer, and academic, died April 9 at her Denver home” at 88, the Denver Post, where she had been a staffer, reported. “A journalist most of her life, she was a writer first and foremost with a deep appreciation for the role of the press in defending American democracy,” said her daughter, Jennifer Wollerman.

💨 Ashley Nanfria is leaving FOX21 in the Springs after two years in Colorado.

📱 In a nod to where voters are getting their news and information, Yemi Mobolade, in his mayoral acceptance speech in Colorado Springs, thanked his supporters Tuesday for “helping set the record straight on Facebook and NextDoor.” His election represents a major shift in the politics and reputation of the city.

📢 The Gazette had endorsed Mobolde’s opponent, Wayne Williams, and The Indy couldn’t endorse anyone now that it’s a nonprofit newspaper. Williams ran a negative campaign against Mobolade with mailers and digital ads that linked the unaffiliated Ronald Regan-quoting former pastor to liberal policies and democratic socialists, including one flyer that featured a photo of the West African immigrant and the words “Protect your city.” (Some media personalities parroted the “progressive” line or referred to Mobolade a “democrat.” For what it’s worth, Donald Trump’s 2016 Colorado state director said on Facebook he supported Mobolade and called him “the same type of pragmatic compassionate conservative person I have supported in Colorado Springs and El Paso County for over 20 years.”)

🚙 Last week’s Odds & Ends roundup of this newsletter mentioned a LinkedIn post by Eric A. Anderson throwing some shade at what he called “anti-car bias” in some local media coverage. Allen Cowgill pointed out on social media that Anderson worked for the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association. Anderson, who is no longer on Twitter, told me he has represented the car dealers in the past but has “no recent client relationships on this subject.” (His firm, SE2, has run sponsorships in this newsletter. Not car-related.)

💊 NPR this week “couldn’t find a single case of a police officer who reported being poisoned by fentanyl or overdosing after encountering the street drug that was confirmed by toxicology reports.” Recall how that phenomenon made its way into local media in Colorado.

🧠 Did a Denver TV station get taken for a ride? (From a later report: “after a CBS News Colorado story aired two weeks ago, publicly showing some of [the story subject’s] medical records, many medical professionals called into question their legitimacy.”

🏆 Sam Tabachnik won The Denver Post’s Journalist of the Year award. Reporters Conrad Swanson and R.J. Sangosti shared runner-up. (*The emailed newsletter version of this item only listed Swanson as winning.)

⛰ The Crested Butte Center for the Arts will soon hold the fourth-annual Mountain Words Festival. “Held over Memorial Day weekend, May 25-28, Mountain Words is Crested Butte’s most beloved celebration of literature, stories and ideas.”

🔗 “Last Resort,” which debuted this week, is a Colorado News Collaborative-led “four-part investigation by Chalkbeat Colorado, The Colorado Sun and KFF Health News into the collapsing system of schools that serve some of Colorado’s most vulnerable students.”

🤡 Denver7 reporter Danny New did some immersion journalism this week when he covered “recent graduates from Colorado Clown Alley, a school that has been training and churning out entertainers since 1972.” For the broadcast, the reporter painted his face and morphed into an alter-ego he called “Smudges The Clown.”

I’m Corey Hutchins, co-director of Colorado College’s Journalism Institute. For nearly a decade I’ve reported on the U.S. local media scene for Columbia Journalism Review, and I’ve been a journalist for longer at multiple news organizations. Colorado Media Project is underwriting this newsletter, and my “Inside the News” column appears at COLab, both of which I sometimes write about here. Follow me on Twitter, reply or subscribe to this weekly newsletter here, or e-mail me at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.