Yes, Dave Oancea, better known as “Vegas Dave,” is one of the few successful professional sports bettors.
Vegas Dave came to Las Vegas from Hawaii around 15 years ago. His parents wanted him to follow a traditional path, but he wanted to be near the action. To appease his family he said he would go to college, and he picked UNLV. That allowed him to be close to the heart of gambling while letting his parents believe he was there for schooling.
Though Oancea (pronounced “Wancha”) has blown up in notoriety the past few months thanks to the Kansas City Royals World Series pick that won him around $2.5 million and the bold Holly Holm upset ticket he had, the path to glory was not always so simple.
Oancea went through ups-and-downs, bottoming out with a stint at Gamblers Anonymous, before powering through and becoming a “millionaire,” as he told LBS. Last Friday we spoke with Oancea over the phone for a 30-minute interview. Our talk included his Super Bowl pick, some of his betting strategies, what makes him different from the average bettor, and what he believes is in store for him in his future.
Our conversation is below. The video contains audio from our interview if you want to listen to that.
“I kill on the futures,” Oancea tells Larry Brown Sports. “I’m very good at predicting the future on sports bets, on championship bets. I’ve predicted like five of the eight championship winners. I never pick the favorites; I always go with the underdogs.”
Oancea shared his strategy for picking Super Bowl futures with LBS. First off, he picks a team that he thinks will win it all. This year it was Denver. Then he picks a team from the other conference (Arizona this season). Then he picks two backup teams, one from each conference, at even longer odds.
“I always pick a Super Bowl winner, which was Denver this year. But I also pick a team from the other conference,” Oancea tells LBS. “So Denver and Arizona were my picks, but I had a lot less on Arizona of course. And I also take a backup as well, which is even bigger odds. So I had Green Bay and 20:1, and the Chiefs at 25:1. So I take a backup AFC and backup NFC team.”
Having the Ravens at 25:1 odds when they stunned everyone and went on a Super Bowl run really put Vegas Dave on the map.
“That was a $200,000 ticket off $8,000,” Oancea says.
Of course, you’re probably wondering what Oancea looks for in one of these teams he picks to win it all. It’s a simple formula.
“Good defense and a solid quarterback.”
That led him to pick the Broncos this year. He believed in Peyton Manning and thought it would be the QB’s final season. He also liked their defense a lot and some of their additions. No surprise, Oancea still believes they’re going to win the Super Bowl.
“Definitely Denver. I think the 5.5-6 points is a gift, but I still think Denver wins outright,” Oancea tells LBS of his Super Bowl pick.
His formula for finding top baseball teams is similar to what he does with identifying potential Super Bowl winners.
“Starting pitching and the bullpen,” are most important to Oancea. He also likes to look at “offseason acquisitions compared to the previous season.”
Vegas Dave has become so good at picking futures that some sportsbooks are limiting how much they’ll allow him to bet.
“I don’t think there’s anybody else in Las Vegas that bets six figures on futures. Most casinos after I crushed the Royals, they limited my bets. The Westgate, they won’t take my bets anymore. William Hill will only let me win $300,000 on a future, and MGM probably is around 300. So I’m really screwed if I want to win seven figures again,” he says.
“Caesars said they would only take $300 from me because I’m a liability. I’m limited by all these casinos, but they take action from everybody else.”
That betting ceiling implemented against him became a sticky subject when he placed a futures bet on Baylor in the fall to win the national championship. He says the Las Vegas Hilton sportsbook director called him up and asked him to return the ticket.
“The Westgate kicked me out. I beat them for the Royals. I have a total lawsuit I could work against them,” he says of the company that runs the Hilton’s sportsbook. “I bet a college football future on Baylor. It started at 20:1 odds. [Their record was] 3-0 or 4-0 and the odds dropped to 7:1. (Hilton sportsbook director) Jay Kornegay had the nerve to call me up and say ‘Hey, we need you to return your ticket. We made a mistake. We don’t want to go over those limits for you.’ He said they would kick me out if I didn’t return the ticket.”
Oancea says he decided to suck it up and repair his relationship with Kornegay in order to continue betting there, so he was going to return the ticket. He says he drove down to the sportsbook but was told to come back another day. But you’ll never guess what happened next. Vegas Dave says he was kicked out from the hotel another time for trespassing and believes he’s no longer allowed to be there. And that has led to a major concern.
Oancea placed a hefty futures bet on the Broncos prior to these limits being put in place by Westgate. He’s worried that if the Broncos win it all, they might not let him collect. If that happens, he says there will be a “huge lawsuit.” Oancea also belives the blame lies with the ticket writer at the sportsbook instead of him. (Oancea explained the saga more in detail on his Facebook page)
“I hit rock bottom many times 10-11 years ago, but I’m getting better every year.”
Oancea acknowledges having his bankroll at zero “a bunch of times.”
“Seven or eight years ago, I lost it all,” he says. “Just chase betting, wanting to win that week. Just chase betting.”
Luckily Oancea says his parents bailed him out multiple times. He made the realization he was good at what he did, but the problem was he just couldn’t manage his money. It wasn’t until he learned money discipline that he elevated his picking to the next level.
Oancea says he would only consider himself a pro gambler for the past 5-6 years even though he’s been betting for about 16. Naturally, since he’s been a pro gambler the past 5-6 years, I had to ask when the last time was that he had a job. You know, one of those steady jobs you can rely on for actual income each month.
The answer really is never.
When he first moved to Las Vegas, Oancea took out a student loan for $10,000 and put it on a spin at roulette. He doubled his money and that was the beginning of his bankroll. He bought a home, refinanced, and took out about a quarter million in equity on it, back when the market was hot. Oancea says everyone was taking equity out in the mortgage market at the time. He says the closest thing he had to another job was about 10-11 years ago when he was doing mortgage loans on the side.
Still his calling always was with sports picks. And what makes Vegas Dave so good at picking games?
“I just have a gift. I can look at a bunch of lines, narrow it down, and just hammer one or two picks hard,” he says.
“I watch hours and hours of sports. I can name every single person on pretty much every team in baseball. I have a photographic memory for sports. I know how they face lefties and how they bat against righties. I was sitting behind (FOX reporter) Erin Andrews in the World Series, and she turned around and said, ‘You know more than Ned Yost about this team.’
“I was also very good at predicting. As a kid, I used to collect baseball cards, buy them and sell them for more at baseball card shows. I could buy a card and say this guy is a good rookie, and then flip it two or three weeks later. I just always knew I had a gift. I was always an athlete in high school and I’d always watched sports. But now I just narrowed it down to baseball and football. I just don’t think they can beat me. I just believe I can crush them on the futures,” Oancea tells LBS.
Oancea offers advice to bettors.
“Don’t always bet on the favorite. I always tell people Vegas wouldn’t have a casino built every year if the favorite won every time. Most importantly, money management and discipline. It’s what everybody lacks. It’s why 99 percent of people fail in this business. To be a professional, you have to have skill, hard work. You have to have some luck too — the ball has to bounce your way sometimes. But the other 50 percent is money management and discipline. You have to not chase. If you lose for the day, you have to move on. You can’t chase, chase, chase, chase and bet the rent on it. That’s huge. That’s what made me a professional from an amateur is managing my money. I don’t play that much. Baseball season out of 162 games, I played 50. I pick them very very carefully.”
In addition to placing bets of his own, Oancea runs a premium picks service through his website itsvegasdave.com. He shares his picks with a substantial subscriber base at a large yet reasonable sum. He also believes his passion for his customers sets him apart from the typical tout.
“The problem is — between me and other people — is I actually care about my players. I respond to every email personally and I’m on my phone 24/7. I run it like a $10 million business and I take it very seriously. I do care — when I lose a game, I think about my players. I know most people can’t manager their money and can’t follow a system. I give them a unit system.”
He’s not always perfect, but he tries to do right by his subscribers.
“I’ll admit I had the worst (college football) bowl season ever,” Oancea reflects. “I started off hitting 80 percent of my games and I ended up only winning 20 percent of my games, because the first time in bowl season, the favorite and over covered 85 percent of the time. I had predominantly underdogs. So for one week, I had the worst week ever. But it was just one bad week out of 52 weeks. I’ve moved on and I’m focused on trying to cash a seven-figure ticket now.”
Oancea actually gave a free baseball season to his subscribers who lost using his bowl picks because he felt so badly about it. He compares what he does to a broker giving a stock tip and points out that no broker would give a refund if the pick didn’t pan out.
“The gambling industry is pretty much a bunch of crooks, degenerates, and dishonest people. They just want your money. They don’t care if you win or lose. Some of them don’t even return emails after the game.
“Unlike me. Right now I’m pretty much the face of sports betting. I have so many haters. I have people trying to resell my picks for $20 on social media, claiming that they have all my picks and that I’m a fraud. When you’re on top, everyone just wants to talk about you. But they say any publicity is good publicity. All it does is just drive people to my website. If they have any concerns, they just look at my site and know I’m legit.”
Oancea has obviously made a lot of money betting futures, and he has a steady income stream through his subscribers. So what is in the future for him?
“I believe it’s the consulting side. I sell 4,000 subscriptions at $1,500 a package. I don’t spend money anymore. I used to go out to the nightclubs and spend a lot of money, but right now I don’t do anything. I’m so focused on the business and I’m saving money,” Oancea says. “A lot of people are talking about me having a radio show, they say I’m very knowledgeable. I’d like to be an analyst, I’d like to be on ESPN, I’d like to get my thoughts, because you know what, I’m better than those guys. Everything they say I’m the opposite, and I’m usually right 90 percent of the time. But I know it would be a huge pay cut because the kind of money I make is not what they make, but I would do it just because I love that kind of work — talking sports. I would like to be able to write a column or be like a Jalen Rose, able to talk about sports with passion.
“I’m looking for TV. But the thing is I don’t want to do a sports betting show because I don’t want to give away a lot of my secrets. I think my next opportunity is to write a book because a lot of people have approached me. I’ve lived a great lifestyle in Vegas. Pretty much about the truth about the Vegas scene, the truth behind closed doors. I have a different viewpoint from the average Joe Schmoe who waits in line.”
Football is one of Oancea’s best sports, along with baseball. He pretty much focuses on those two and cuts the rest out as a way to maximize his success. As stated before, Oancea wasn’t always successful at picking. He says he was always gifted at picking winners, but his problem was an inability to manage his money. He would win money but then lose it all back, mostly trying to chase his bets or produce a winning week.
“It’s legal now and I have meetings with hedge funds starting to use my picks as outlets to generate money.”
It’s true — in 2015, Nevada approved hedge funds to invest in sports bets as part of their portfolio. This CNBC article explains more about the measure.
With the millions won on bets, the expensive cars, the thousands spent at clubs, we had to ask Vegas Dave what everyone wants to know: what is his net worth?
“I don’t like to do that. I usually tell people I’m a millionaire, and that’s about it. I don’t like to go more than that.”
His public persona is that of an ostentatious Vegas playboy, but it turns out Dave Oancea is more modest than you would think.
Whether it’s TV or a book, Vegas Dave has quite a story to tell. And he also may be adding a cool chapter to it soon — one that involves hedge funds.