Dave Tuley is getting ready. The NFL season is just around the corner, and that means it’s time to buckle down. He has stats to study, numbers to crunch, and betting lines to consider. And reconsider. A lot of gamblers depend on how well he does his job.
It’s okay. He’s used to the pressure.
Tuley has been covering sports betting for almost 25 years, the last 16 of them in Las Vegas. He started out behind the sports copy desk at several small newspapers in Illinois, but the first time he visited a horse track in 1990, he was hooked. Over the years, he went from a wide-eyed kid to a grizzled freelancer with his own ESPN column, Tuley’s Take.
Tuley took a break from the action to talk with The Freelancer about his road to ESPN, the state of sports betting reporting, and common misconceptions about his beat.
What got you interested in journalism initially?
I pretty much made the decision that if I couldn’t play, I would be covering football.
I got my first job at the student newspaper at the College of DuPage in 1984. I quickly moved up to sports editor, and I covered the football beat and the basketball beat. I did that for two years, and then I transferred to Northern Illinois University. I started in the summer of ’86, just to get a jumpstart on the student newspaper there. I got the football beat for that fall, and I knew sports writing would be my career path.
How did it veer into the direction of sports betting?
I graduated in 1988. I got a job at a small group of weeklies in the northwest suburbs, then I went to the North West Herald in the suburbs of Chicago. Even though high school sports were our main focus, I covered some of the Bulls, Cubs and Bears. We also had a horse racing writer. He invited me to the race track. It was 1990, and when I saw the racetrack for the first time, my eyes exploded. The whole sport of horse racing: the beautiful horses, the competition, the betting… It was just like, “Wow!”
From 1990 to 1993, I spent my days at the horse tracks and worked the sports copy desk during the night shift at the North West Herald. I fell in love with the racing, and after a couple of years, the people at the race track knew me. A man named Marty McGee, a reporter for the Racing Form, asked me if I wanted a job with the Form. I told him absolutely. I thought it was the perfect combination of sports and my love of betting. The Form moved me down to Lexington. I was on the copy desk again. I spent six months there, and then they transferred me to the main editorial office in Phoenix in the spring of ’94. I was a page designer until ’98.
I knew I wanted to get more into writing. I didn’t want to get left behind the scenes. I was kind of looking for an out. I was volunteering to do more columns, but the job I really wanted was Las Vegas correspondent, where they had someone in Vegas covering racing and the sports books. I thought I’d be a perfect fit for that. But the opportunity never came. In the summer of ’98, the Racing Form was bought by people in New York. I kind of saw the writing on the wall, and I didn’t want to move in New York. I moved to Vegas in ’98, and I got a job as managing editor of a weekly paper called Gaming Today. It really got me entrenched in Las Vegas. In 2000, we parted ways and the Racing Form offered me the Las Vegas correspondent job at that time. I was there until 2007.
What is the most common misconception people have about your beat?
Basically that it’s just a bunch of degenerate gamblers betting on sports all the time. There are certainly people that don’t take it seriously and others who are addicted, but there are a whole lot of people who see it as a serious mental exercise to try and figure out who’s going to win based on the stats, history, players involved. There’s a lot more intellectual study that goes into it than people who are betting just because they need action on a game.
What are the differences between reporting on sports and reporting on sports betting?
One leads to the other. There are very few people who cover sports betting who didn’t already have a love of sports.
When you get into sports betting, one of the main things you need to do is really set your mind to be objective and analyze games. There are a lot of times where I don’t bet on my favorite teams because I feel like I am inherently biased. You have to make sure you aren’t biased by your background, so that’s the biggest difference.
Do readers who depend on your column ever thank you?
That’s one of the most satisfying things that I’ve had from my writing over the years. Obviously, the games come and go, winnings come and go. It’s great when you’re on a big winning streak and all that, but I mean most of the compliments I get are not just that I once helped someone win some money. It’s that I’ve helped people bet smarter. And really analyze what goes on in the games and even more than that, what goes on in the betting markets.
What made you freelance full-time?
In 2007, we came to the cusp of the recession and being the only non-horse racing reporter at the horse racing bible was not a good position to be in. My position got eliminated. A month later, there was some backlash because my column was gone, so I got a freelance deal to do a regular column with the Racing Form. That ended up being the basis of my freelance income for the next seven years.
I started my website, ViewFromVegas.com at that time, and I started picking up other freelance jobs. A lot of freelancing work had dried up at that time. But I managed to get work from some smaller betting publications, and then I got an opportunity to cover sports betting for ESPN.com.
So you started off doing an occasional article for ESPN.com and it grew from there?
I did a few articles for them, mainly about the LVH Super Contest, which is the equivalent of the World Series of Poker for football handicappers, but ESPN felt that didn’t have have enough of a following, so they asked me to cover other areas of sports betting.
Two years ago, I started doing my column called Tuley’s Take, where I pick all the NFL games each Friday. They started giving me other stories—the NBA, Major League Baseball. I did a story on the World Series of Poker, but they already had a regular reporter covering poker. I asked them two years ago if I could write some stories during the WSOP, and they said no. I asked them again this year, and they said yes, as long as I came up with unique feature angles.
How has your beat evolved over the decades?
It has become more widespread. A lot of the bigger networks and websites haven’t touched it because it’s technically only legal in Nevada. A lot of places don’t want to discuss it or feel there isn’t an audience for it. We’ve seen more and more that people are betting everywhere, whether it’s with offshore or illegal books. There is definitely the market for it and the interest is out there. It’s definitely gotten more mainstream. People are betting on sports all over, so people are willing to discuss it a lot more openly.
Your experience of suddenly going from being on staff to having to fend for yourself as a freelancer is pretty common nowadays. What would you say to a younger journalist in that situation?
The reassuring thing is that you’re not alone. There have been a lot of writers who have been with a newspaper or website for a long time and have gotten laid off. It’s just like that in this industry. There’s no stigma. Most people know that in most cases it’s budget cuts. Most editors are very understanding and will look at the quality of your work and not worry about the fact that you got laid off.
There are a lot more places covering sports betting these days. It’s not as tough as it used to be. But trying to find that niche, there is a point where you have to be seen as an expert, whether you’re a food critic or covering politics or whatever.
In your expert opinion, who is going to win the Super Bowl this year?
New Orleans Saints.
Do you ever get sick of people asking you stupid questions like “Who is going to win the Super Bowl?” this year when they find out what you do?
Nah. It comes with the territory.