CNBC may be taking a huge gamble on Steve Stevens.
Stevens, a 39-year-old Las Vegas handicapper and upcoming host of the network’s “Money Talks” reality series on the world of sports gambling, runs VIP Sports in Sin City. Stevens’ website boasts a winning percentage of 71.5 percent “to be exact,” a figure that — to say the least — raised some eyebrows within betting circles. But Stevens’ prior conviction in a telemarketing scam that bilked elderly investors of at least $234,000 nearly 15 years ago is now being scrutinized as CNBC officials begin to distance themselves from Stevens’ picks.
“We are aware of Steve Stevens’ 1999 conviction, and while we are very clear in the press release that VIP Sports clients risk big dollars in the hopes that Stevens and his agents have the expertise to consistently deliver winners, viewers should tune in on September 10 at 10pm ET/PT to draw their own conclusions about VIP Sports,” CNBC said in a statement to FoxNews.com. “We are merely betting that viewers will be interested in the world of touts and handicappers and in no way endorse either Stevens’ picks or his business model.”
Stevens declined to comment when reached early Wednesday by FoxNews.com at his Las Vegas home.
“Why the [expletive] you calling here so early?” Stevens said before hanging up.
The controversy surrounding Stevens — who was lauded by CNBC as a “well-known handicapper” in a July press release announcing the “docu-soap” — was first reported by Business Insider, which cited a report by WagerMinds.com that found that the domain name for Stevens’ business was registered eight months ago under the name Darin Notaro.
Notaro, then 25, was sentenced to one year in jail in 1999 for his role in a Las Vegas telemarketing scheme that victimized elderly residents nationwide. As one of six men charged in connection to the Century Pacific Group, Notaro was also ordered to make $12,230 in restitution.
Notaro is also listed as the renter of the office space at 4004 Schiff Drive, the location of VIP Sports, records show.
Howard Kurtz, a Fox News media analyst, said he found the matter to be problematic.
“It certainly doesn’t inspire confidence for CNBC to showcase a man with this kind of checkered history,” Kurtz told FoxNews.com. “What I find particularly stunning is that the network is telling viewers to draw their own conclusions as if this were a guy who was merely controversial for his opinions as opposed to his financial shenanigans.”
Kurtz continued: “By giving Stevens this platform, CNBC is implicitly vouching for him and no corporate PR statement can change that.”
Todd Fuhrman, a former oddsmaker at Caesars Palace who now runs gambling site ToddsTake.com, characterized Stevens as part of a “disturbing trend” within the sports gambling world.
“We’re seeing a disturbing trend start to emerge; the proliferation of docudramas, movies and articles that lead to sensationalizing dishonest personalities within the sports betting industry,” Fuhrman wrote in a blog post on Monday. “The media consciously chooses to validate the wrong personalities, creating an aura around characters that are no better than modern-day carnies.”
Fuhrman then noted that “no one, and I mean no one” knows Stevens, who was touted as something like a Las Vegas fixture.
“My disgust with the topic runs deeper and is with the supposedly reputable network for their half-baked attempt to do appropriate research on the featured personality,” Fuhrman wrote. “Did they talk to respected voices in the field? Did they reach out to actual sportsbook operators? Did they track Stevens for at least two seasons to see if his claims were warranted before giving him his own show?”
Noted NBA gambler Bob Voulgaris, who did not return a message seeking comment early Wednesday, denounced Stevens’ claim of winning more than 70 percent of his bets.
“Obviously the guy in the video is a complete scam artist,” Voulgaris posted on Twitter on Monday. “70 percent? No shot.”