founder Pete Smaluck is building a company in the gambling space, but still dreams of teaching math. (Duane Cole for The Washington Post)

How an aspiring math teacher created go-to advice for prop betting

6 min

In 2020, Pete Smaluck built software that could teach middle-schoolers math through NBA stats. Students could pick their favorite player or team, and the software would generate a worksheet with relevant questions. An example: James Harden shot 36 free throws. Of those he has made 88.9 percent. How many free throws has he made?

Smaluck tested it with 50 teachers in Ontario, Canada, where he lives, and though he said the feedback was positive, he could not convince school boards to pay for the software.

With a new approach, he found a way to make it valuable.

Smaluck and his buddies long enjoyed prop betting — placing wagers on specific outcomes within a sporting event, such as how many rebounds a power forward will grab or which player will score a game’s first points. And the software he created, a few tweaks later, provided helpful data in researching which player props might be worthwhile. So helpful, in fact, his friends suggested he offer the resource online.

A year and a half in, is a profitable subscription service, according to Smaluck, and its red and green charts often pop up on #gamblingtwitter, where bettors use them to support hypotheses or thank the company for their victories.

“I never really wanted to be in the gambling space. That wasn’t my ambition,” Smaluck said during a video call from his Hamilton, Ontario, office, a painting of Toronto Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hanging behind him. “My ambition was always to teach math, but it just turns out that the prop bettor is a student of math. And having these basic tools helps them.

“So I’m still teaching math at its core, but it’s not to students.”

Smaluck — 38 and engaged to be married this fall — has a degree in math and stats and a masters in education, but he struggled to land his preferred job after graduation amid a teacher glut in parts of Canada. Instead, he worked in data visualization for a newspaper and then as an engineer for start-ups, where he expanded his skills as a developer and learned how businesses run.

Now he works full time to build his company, which employs eight people. Its product streamlines research — organizing what could otherwise be a dozen browser tabs into a clean dashboard — and simplifies statistical trends with color-coded graphs, much like a math teacher might.

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“It’s such an excellent, savvy app that gives you a great starting-off point,” said Beau Wagner, an Illinois real estate attorney who, since mobile betting became legal in his state in 2020, has established himself as a high-volume bettor and influencer. “They boil down the numbers for you so you can at least see the trends.”

The universe of available props has ballooned in the past two years as sportsbooks offer more and more ways to invest in anything that might happen on the playing field. Want to predict whether there will be a run scored during the first inning of an MLB game? There’s an increasingly popular prop for that. It offers immediate gratification — or angst.

Johnny Avello, director of sportsbook operations at DraftKings, said more than 10 percent of his book’s handle is from prop betting. Bets that used to be offered merely for big games such as the Super Bowl are now available every day.

Meanwhile, savvy bettors say it’s often easier to beat the books at props than at standard spreads or over/unders, which are more scrutinized.

“The sides and totals are so sharp,” Wagner said. “The bookmakers that run these books that come up with those lines, they’re brilliant. … I think with props, there’s so many of them you can find the soft spots.”

Avello, from DraftKings, agrees props can be a bit softer than other bets, especially as sites rapidly expand their offerings. And so a cat-and-mouse game transpires between the books and the bettors.

“As we find tools to make odds more efficiently, they find tools to try to find ways to beat you,” Avello said. “I think they are getting better. I think we’re getting better. If that’s the way it’s going to be — we get better, they get better, and it’s a standoff — I’m fine with that.” — which charges $19.99 for a monthly subscription or $199.99 for an annual one — doesn’t offer explicit advice on where to put your money, but it strives to make bettors better.

Griffin Carroll was a user before becoming its public relations manager, a role that includes blogging on its website. He says he scored big this year by firing at a vulnerable market: shots on goal props in NHL games. Carroll publicizes his picks, and his company’s green-and-red bar charts — also represented on the logo — serve as proof of concept.

“People sharing winning slips goes a long way,” Carroll said in explaining how has accumulated more than 49,000 followers on Twitter. He added a caveat: “Obviously it’s important to acknowledge that nobody’s going to go on Twitter and say, ‘Thank you for this loser.’ ”

Heading into the fall, Carroll is looking to master a niche within the NFL: longest reception props. The joy, he says, is in the research.

That has also been true for Smaluck ever since he began betting props a decade ago on Proline, a service offered by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission. Smaluck knew it would be tough to turn a profit, but analyzing data was part of the thrill.

It is his mission at to make the research process engaging for all. He says he aims to “teach people math using relevant and exciting data,” regardless of his occupation — which, maybe someday, will involve a classroom.

While Smaluck said he understands his connection to gambling could scare some in the teaching community, he still envisions working with students. Eventually, he wants to revisit a career as an educator.

“I’m going to go back to it,” Smaluck said. “Once this props journey is done, I’m circling back to teaching kids math. There’s no question; it’s my lifetime journey.”