LAS VEGAS — Doug Kezirian had left ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, in early 2019 to gather behind-the-counter Vegas sportsbook information for Super Bowl LIII features.
At the Westgate SuperBook, he found 100-to-1 odds on a first half without a touchdown. Kezirian, the host of ESPN’s “Daily Wager” show, had gauged those true odds at 15-1, so 100-1 represented fantastic value.
“I know two or three grand is a lot of money, but you take those shots to win [big] money,” he says. “Intuition. You fire on that, see what happens. But I didn’t bet it.”
At halftime, the Patriots led 3-0.
The man who had bet on himself all those years, learning his craft at its lowest rungs to become the face and voice of sports betting on the country’s most prominent platform, learned a valuable lesson.
“I told myself, If I ever get another chance I’m going all in,” he said.
Flash to last year’s NFL Draft. A professional bettor and Kezirian confidant alerted him to the soaring stock of Georgia defensive back Tyson Campbell, which Kezirian mentioned on the air.
The Monday morning before the draft, Kezirian did a podcast with draft veteran Mel Kiper, who advised listeners to heed listed player positions, to capitalize should a sportsbook make an error.
That night, in bed at around 10:30, Kezirian scanned apps on his phone.
BetMGM had labeled Campbell a safety, giving 100-1 odds on him being the first safety picked. Every other shop had him listed at cornerback.
Kezirian slipped out of bed, drove his black Mercedes-Benz SLC 300 seven miles east to the Strip, to the Bellagio, where he began feeding $100 bills into BetMGM kiosks, and then he hit them at Aria.
Marilyn Kezirian and husband Aram set high standards for their five boys in the Hollywood Hills. She held a Masters degree and taught high school math before raising the brood; he had an OB/GYN practice.
All five attended the distinguished Harvard-Westlake School. Peter (Georgetown), Michael (Brown) and Harvard undergraduates Eric and Stephen each would earn at least one advanced degree, too.
Stephen Kezirian, a 48-year-old businessman, says his parents were very humble and committed to their kids. One would become a doctor, one a lawyer, another an engineer.
“We saw the sacrifices they made, always putting our needs and interests ahead of theirs,” Stephen says. “Hopefully, people say we lived up to what our parents did. That’s at the core of all of us.”
As the youngest, Doug recognized certain pressures but calls them external.
“Every person has his own ceiling. I was blessed with a loving family and tons of opportunity, and it’s my obligation to try to reach my ceiling. I owe that to my parents and everyone else who made sacrifices.”
Doug calls himself the family’s “black sheep” for having such an unconventional career in sports gambling.
The late bloomer attended the post-graduate Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire to boost his academics and polish his water polo skills. In an acting class, he found his voice and his calling.
Kezirian had been sports editor of the Harvard-Westlake student newspaper and got stringer assignments for the Los Angeles Daily News, so ink might have been his future.
However, four older brothers had shaped an extroverted nature, and Doug had confidence in his delivery and in the spotlight. But his full-bloomed basso pipes compelled that Exeter professor to point him toward broadcasting.
“He said, ‘You have this voice, and you should do something with it,’ ” Doug said. “From an acting coach at such a prestigious institution, that was encouraging.”
He’d study economics at Brown, deliver an Ivy League-clinching goal for the Bears’ water polo team as a sophomore and arrange summertime broadcasting internships.
New York sports anchor Warner Wolf and television producer Cliff Gelb, industry titans, provided Kezirian with further encouragement.
He worked in Columbia, Missouri, logged four years in the Quad Cities and seven in Vegas, where he’d polish sports-betting tactics and cull contacts. Says Doug: “I was determined to make this career work.”
Stephen Kezirian, who had an executive stint with the former CG Technologies in Vegas, knew some of his sibling’s salaries.
“Shocking, and 70- to 80-hour work weeks,” he says. “But he stuck it out, lived frugally and did what it took to make it work.”
When a friend’s 2012 wedding was relocated from Mexico to New York, Doug had the impetus to coordinate two informal meetings with ESPN talent officials.
Two weeks later, ESPN instigated formal interviews. Lore has it that the network had one opening, had met with 30 to 40 people, and Doug was the last to interview. Three weeks later, he received an offer.
“The difference between success and failure can be a very thin line,” Stephen says. “Luck, circumstance, a little bit of extra energy . . . so much goes into it.”
At ESPN, Doug did everything from anchor “SportsCenter” to host various radio shows. He’d visit Stephen, in the Boston area, whose four young kids roar when they see Uncle Doug on TV.
In August 2017, reporting on the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor boxing match in Vegas, his wagering acumen and contacts impressed ESPN brass.
Within a year, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to pursue sports wagering, ESPN created “Daily Wager” and Kezirian was named host. Then it was relocated to Vegas.
The slick studio overlooks the Strip, and Kezirian applauds every ESPN co-worker behind the scenes.
“We have so many bells and whistles, so many who excel at their jobs,” says Kezirian, 44. “To be able to work on these shows together and make sweet music every day is just so incredible, so awesome.”
“PLEASE, ONE TIME!”
Kezirian arrived at those BetMGM kiosks with a bunch of C-notes and a plan.
He’d feed a machine a couple, knowing they didn’t register wagers that paid more than $25,000.
He’d wait a few minutes. Observe if the odds shifted. Feed the beast.
Wait. Observe. Feed.
Ninety minutes later, he had shaved those 100-1 odds to 50-1. He went home with $3,500 worth of tickets. He saw those odds at 25-1. The next day, BetMGM had removed Campbell from its index of safeties.
Thursday, in the draft’s first round, five cornerbacks were picked but not one safety. TCU’s Trevon Moehrig-Woodard was around -350 to be the first safety selected.
Kezirian was dining with friends that night when Green Bay picked Campbell teammate Eric Stokes, a cornerback. On a distant TV, Kezirian saw a blurry video of a Georgia defensive back.
“And I’m like, ‘Awww . . . it’s Stokes! Whew.’ I couldn’t believe this was happening. Gosh. Please, one time!”
Kezirian had to endure another night of nervous anticipation. He hedged a bit, sold some pieces of the bet at choice rates to friends, reserved a portion for his expert pal.
He knew new Jacksonville coach Urban Meyer had tried recruiting Campbell, as a safety, to Ohio State. “They had a backstory,” Kezirian says. “Campbell had played safety, too, so it wasn’t that great of an error.”
Jacksonville had the first pick, 33rd overall, of the second round that Friday.
“Please say, ‘Tyson.’ Please say, ‘Tyson.’ My God, I thought, This is going to happen.”
The Jaguars took Campbell, which Twitter revealed about eight seconds before the TV blurted it. With the 43rd pick, the Raiders took Moehrig-Woodard, the second safety drafted.
BetMGM house rules state that players are assigned one playing position pre-draft by the book, and once a position assignment is made, it’s final.
A veteran Vegas sportsbook director says that, at most properties, the person who had established Campbell as a safety likely would have been sacked:
“Oh, yeah. For sure. Three hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money in anyone’s ballpark.”
Kezirian says he was desensitized after striking gold. “Numb. You smile. You think you have the Lufthansa heist.”
In “Goodfellas,” actors Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and their hoodlum crew rejoice after swiping a Lufthansa Airlines briefcase filled with several hundred thousand dollars.
“It comes back to that Patriots-Rams game,” Kezirian says. “It’s hard enough to find a [100-1] bet, but to do it and to hit it, it’s just . . . everyone dreams of beating the house for a bunch of money.”
THIS CHARMED LIFE
Kezirian cashed out at the Bellagio on Saturday, May 1 — Kentucky Derby day.
At first, his tickets were scanned and deemed losers.
“There was some confusion because the tickets weren’t registering,” he says in the kitchen of his spacious two-story stucco home in a gated neighborhood with armed security. “But they figured it out and were so cool about it.”
BetMGM gave him a stack of chips, which he exchanged for $297,800 at the cashier cage. The process took about two hours. He places his hands a bread-loaf apart from each other, showing the clump’s size.
He attended a friend’s birthday party that night and kept quiet, telling nobody of his windfall.
In the upcoming NFL Draft in Vegas, the Bears’ first pick is the seventh selection of the second round. Kezirian’s insider says George Pickens, a 6-3 receiver from Georgia, might be there and would be a wise addition.
Kezirian admits that the NBA is his wheelhouse. The Bulls-Bucks playoff series begins Sunday, and he says Monday’s opening series odds of Milwaukee -600 at WynnBET were “a joke,” that 30-1 is more accurate.
By Tuesday, other shops had the Bucks at 9-1 and 14-1.
Kezirian is so busy, he hired a health-food delivery service six weeks ago, helping him shed 25 pounds. He’s back to the weight at which he ran the 2007 Vegas marathon.
Arthur, his adorable year-old French bulldog, keeps him on his toes. Games always occupy the five large flat screens that dominate his living room.
“This charmed life. There are things I want to accomplish in my personal life, and all that will come in due time. But I literally get to live my dream job. People ask, ‘What do you want to do long term?’ I’m doing it.”