It’s not exactly the stuff blockbuster Hollywood rom-coms are made of, but by the standards of the sports gambling world, it qualifies as a “meet cute.”
Professional sports bettors Captain Jack Andrews (a pseudonym) and Rufus Peabody (not a pseudonym, go figure) met in early 2019 at a ski trip bringing together casino advantage players from around the world. While some of the gamblers typically spend a good chunk of the annual trip on the slopes, others just hang around talking shop. Andrews and Peabody found themselves in the latter category.
“I was a fan of Rufus’ podcast, I had been wanting to meet him,” Andrews recalled. “We started talking, and Rufus asked me what sports I bet, and I said I bet baseball. He asked, ‘Well, what do you bet in baseball?’ And I described to him how I got an edge at betting baseball, and he was like, ‘That’s the exact same thing I started doing five years ago.’”
(If you’re curious, that “exact same thing” was betting on totals after using modeling that incorporated barometric pressure and humidity. “Meet cutes” come in all different shapes and sizes.)
“We kind of hit it off,” Andrew continued. “That approach to betting wasn’t a published thing anywhere, so we immediately both knew we were on the level.”
Some 2½ years later, Andrews and Peabody are in business together, having created the sports betting educational site Unabated, which streamed its launch party Sept. 8 on the the eve of the NFL season. Unabated is, in short, the thinking sports bettor’s alternative to touts who profess to be able to be able to make you money if you buy their picks. Unabated’s goal isn’t to hand out winners; it’s to provide tools that will make people better at finding their own winners.
“We’re like a strength and conditioning coach,” Peabody told US Bets. “We’re going to put you in a position to reach your potential.”
PASPA and the process
Peabody — whose senior thesis at Yale was on psychological inefficiencies of the baseball betting market — has been making a living through sports betting since long before the Supreme Court overturned PASPA on May 14, 2018. He dipped a couple of toes in the media side of things prior to that paradigm-shifting day as well, most notably serving as a predictive analytics expert for ESPN for the 2016 football season.
“I would do hits on SportsCenter — I would go up to Bristol [Conn.] like every other week and give them bad betting picks,” he joked.
In defiance of that self-deprecating comment, here’s Peabody mostly nailing his Super Bowl 51 props:
He and former MIT blackjack team member Jeff Ma started the Bet the Process podcast in August 2017. At the time of the PASPA reversal, Peabody was traveling the world, going to a different city each month as part of a program called Remote Year, and he found himself in Lima, Peru, when the floodgates opened for legal sports betting back home.
Andrews was doing a different kind of traveling at that time, going from casino to casino around the country as an “advantage player” (somewhat like the folks who cracked the online casino game Ocean Magic in 2019). But he wasn’t loving all the travel, and he saw the emergence of legal sports betting in his home state of New Jersey as possibly opening up other options. He raised his profile, started doing a bit of writing, and expanded his audience with YouTube videos on sports betting during the early days of the COVID pandemic.
Neither Peabody nor Andrews are what you’d call household names, but they had become well known and plenty respected among the sports betting community by the time they started talking about teaming up.
Their initial plan was to form a nonprofit group called the American Bettors Coalition. That didn’t go very far.
“Our Achilles’ heel was we didn’t have a business person with us,” Andrews said. “It was Rufus and I and our own sense of business, but we needed somebody to pull us together and push that forward. Then the pandemic hits. Sports stop. It fizzled out.”
A new focus emerged when Peabody reached out and said he was thinking about launching a website loaded with the sort of tools he’s used to achieve sports betting success throughout his career.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this could be a real game changer, because Rufus is a proven winner,’” Andrews said. “And he asked me if I would be interested in joining the site in some kind of content capacity, and I said yes, because this checked all the boxes for me. I’m not a fan of giving out picks, because I feel that’s not teaching people how to fish; that’s just giving them a fish, and they’re going to be hungry again.”
Two other people came aboard to complete a founding foursome: Dan Fabrizio and Matt Snyder, who had worked together at Sports Insights and The Action Network. Fabrizio provided the business acumen that Peabody and Andrews lacked, and Snyder made it happen on the tech side.
Ideas for tools and projects were brainstormed and added to a list, and bit by by bit, Unabated.com was formed. (The similar name “Unlimited.com” probably would have been too on the nose for a couple of outspoken critics of the way some regulated sportsbooks treat sharp bettors.)
The site is now live with educational articles, sportsbook odds, and several numbers-crunching tools:
- A hold calculator, where you enter prices for all the options in a particular betting market and can see the operator’s hold percentage.
- A calculator to compare lines, so you can determine, for example, if -3.5 (-110) is better value than -3 (-125).
- A derivatives calculator, to determine what the price should be for an alternative line relative to the primary line.
- A closing line value calculator, to compare the line you bet at to the line before or after it moved.
Enter the simulator
But the piece de resistance is the NFL season simulator.
“The simulator is definitely the thing I’m most proud of,” Peabody said. “It’s something that I don’t think exists out there. It allows people with their own power ratings to simulate the entire NFL season, and it accounts for dynamic uncertainty properly. I basically had something like this myself — which took way longer to run than it does on the Unabated site — which I would run with Massey-Peabody ratings, to bet futures.
“So basically, I used the framework of that and added in some customization options, and then we built an interface around it. And the one big addition that I didn’t have in my simulator last year is a quarterback injury probability calculator. It really is able to hit on the variance properly. I’m really proud of the data science behind it, and the dev team did a fantastic job with both the interface and connecting it to a futures odds screen.
“I’ll put it this way: I’ve been using Unabated for this rather than using my own stuff that I built myself.”
Not every idea thrown at the wall by Andrews and Peabody has stuck. They shared a laugh when telling US Bets about “The Spanky Exchange,” a way to connect deep-pocketed gamblers with professional bettors. “Need a sharp? Need a whale?” Peabody said, mocking up an ad campaign on the spot. The Spanky Exchange is not a part of Unabated — at least not yet.
One thing almost certainly coming, eventually, is the site — or part of it, at least — will go behind a paywall. The team behind Unabated doesn’t know when that will happen, or what the price point will be, but as Peabody said, “I guess eventually we need to make some money.” For now, the site is free; users simply need to create an account and provide an email address.
‘We’re allowing people to optimize their edges’
In forms of skill-based gambling where the game is peer-to-peer and not player-vs.-house, the idea of experts giving away their secrets draws understandable questions. There’s an obvious downside, at least in theory, to poker pros or DFS pros telling the world how to beat them.
It’s different with sports betting, although it’s certainly something Andrews and Peabody have taken into consideration.
“I believe very much that markets tend toward efficiency, and the things that were big edges 10 years ago are not going to be big edges anymore,” Peabody explained. “In a way, I feel like trying to protect certain edges is fighting a losing battle. But what I think we’re doing, rather than giving away edges, is we’re allowing people to optimize their edges on bets with the trading tools, and we’re allowing them to quantify their opinions with the simulator.
“I think of it as, sports betting is both being able to ask the right question and have the tools to answer it. We’re not creating their power rankings for them. They don’t need to trust our numbers. We’re giving them the tools to leverage their own numbers and their own power ratings.”
“This question does come up frequently,” Andrews added. “People ask, ‘Does this mean you guys are no longer viable sports bettors, because you’re now giving away these secrets? Those that can … do. And those that can’t … teach. Right?’
“Eventually, as Rufus said, all markets tend toward efficiency, and therefore it would have gotten solved, no matter if we were there to speed the plow or not. And if it’s going to get solved eventually, then why don’t we go ahead and fit that niche in the market? There’s more liquidity in this market than will ever be sponged up by the people that subscribe to Unabated. I definitely don’t think our signal is strong enough yet to have any measurable effect on the market.”
Maybe everyone can reap a benefit
The way Andrews and Peabody see it, they’re actually doing the entire sports betting ecosystem — including the bookmakers — a service if they create a more educated, efficient pool of gamblers.
“It’s making people more sustainable bettors,” Andrews said. “We’re not saying, ‘We’re going to train you to win more.’ Because honestly, I don’t think we can. Being a sharp sports bettor is more than just knowing the science of the sports betting — it’s about knowing the art of the sports betting. I think we’re going to help people lose less, more than we’re going to help them win more.
“And when you lose less, you become a more sustainable sports bettor. You don’t deplete your bankroll as quickly, and you’re able to replenish your bankroll. And you become a more sustainable customer for the sportsbooks. So, there’s more liquidity in the market for sharp players and for recreational players, the sportsbooks do better in the long run, and the states do better in the long run because the tax revenue remains high. It’s a win-win-win-win.”
Calmly repeating the word “win” four times might not get as much attention as loudly screaming it once while offering empty guarantees of un-guarantee-able NFL spread picks. But with sports betting going more and more mainstream and consumers getting overloaded with brightly colored, celebrity-studded TV ads, the timing might be perfect for the understated Unabated approach to find its audience.