When Dave Oancea isn’t earning millions flipping rare cards (or spending it on Birkin bags), he’s selling suckers pricey betting picks. Too bad it’s a losing proposition.
During the early morning hours of August 23, Dave Oancea made sports memorabilia history when he sold a one-of-a-kind signed Mike Trout rookie card for $3.9 million during an online auction. In addition to the records the Los Angeles Angels center fielder holds on the diamond, he’s now the most expensive trading card ever sold, topping a 1909 T206 Honus Wagner, which went for $3.1 million in 2016.
“When I bought this card, everyone said I was crazy for spending almost half a million on a piece of cardboard,” says the 43-year-old Oancea, who claims he bought the 2009 Trout, a “superfractor” made by Topps’ Bowman collection, from a Taiwanese collector he met on eBay in 2018 for $400,000. “I relate it to art—like the Mona Lisa, or a Picasso. There’s only one in the world.”
Oancea is not your typical memorabilia collector. Vegas Dave, as he’s known to his millions of followers on social media, is a notorious gambling influencer, known for selling picks on which team will win a given game. Vegas Dave says he’s the best “sports information consultant” in the world, but if you dig into his past and his picks you’ll find a shady hustler who sells a service that has little, if any, value for his customers.
He became well-known in the sports gambling circuit in 2015 after collecting $2.5 million on a futures bet that the Kansas City Royals would win the World Series that year. In February 2016, he also won a $2.3 million payout when the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
Despite holding the winning ticket for the Super Bowl, he couldn’t collect the full amount because the federal government was investigating him at the time. The following year, Oancea was indicted on 19 felonies related to his longstanding habit of using other people’s Social Security numbers to place wagers. In 2019, Oancea, who was represented by the well-known Vegas criminal defense attorney David Chesnoff, accepted a plea bargain. Instead of being convicted of nearly twenty felonies, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, forfeited half a million dollars, and was banned from Las Vegas sportsbooks for three years.
Oancea refuses to give details about his win-loss percentage. “I’ve bet over 1,000 times,” he says. “I don’t have a record.”
Those legal troubles led Vegas Dave to press his luck in the lucrative world of memorabilia. “When they banned me,” Oancea says, “my vision was clear: sports cards.”
The $3.9 million Trout card was not Oancea’s first newsworthy sale. In May, he sold a less-rare Trout card (only five in the world) for $922,000. He owns seven other rare Trouts. But one of Oancea’s sports cards sales that has gotten little attention came in 2017. Oancea sold a collector what appeared to be a mint condition 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan rookie card for $18,000. When the buyer brought the MJ card to the 2017 National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago, the grading firm PSA determined it to be counterfeit. Oancea told the buyer he didn’t know it was a fake and refused to give a refund. When asked about the sale via email, Oancea did not respond.
The five-foot-four Oancea prides himself on his foresight, a talent he claims to have used to win millions betting on sports. Other times, he’s lost it all: In 2002 he filed for bankruptcy protection; in 2010 his home was foreclosed upon; and his parents have covered hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of his losses. During his federal case, Oancea admitted he was addicted to gambling and lost all he made over a five- to eight-year period. As for his reputation across the professional gambling circuit, Oancea is viewed as a “parasite” and “black eye” on the industry, say former customers, fellow sports gamblers and a Las Vegas sportsbook employee.
Those who follow his social media posts and buy his picks will find a world of braggadocio and shoddy math. Every day, via Instagram live streams, Oancea entices gamblers to buy his advice with directions on how to place straight bets and multi-bet parlays—ranging from a $199 “daily card” to a big $995 “game of the week.” Return customers receive a daily barrage of emails tempting them to upgrade to more expensive packages.
All of his picks are a sure thing, Vegas Dave says with relentless hucksterism, claiming some of his packages have an 85% chance of winning and can help bettors make an “extra” $100,000 to $600,000.
For anyone who understands betting on sports, however, a winning percentage of 85% is laughable. As a point of reference, Billy Walters, perhaps the most successful sports gambler in America before retiring (after being convicted on insider trading in 2017), won about 57% of the time.
Oancea refuses to give details about his win-loss percentage. “I’ve bet over 1,000 times; I don’t have a record,” he says via video chat while wearing a black diamond necklace, an iced-out Richard Mille watch, and mesh shorts. Last year, Oancea was featured in Showtime’s sports gambling documentary Action in which he lost a series of three bets for his customers, including a wager on the Los Angeles Rams against the New England Patriots during Super Bowl LIII.
When pressed on his performance, Oancea quickly changes the topic to his sports tout business, which he expected to net him over $2 million in August. “Will I lose?” he asks. “I lose once a week. I’m human.”
Oancea, who has 2 million followers on Instagram, is often the first stop for first-time sports gamblers who get sucked in by his promise of easy money. “I was an amateur sports bettor, so I believed everything he fed us,” says Ajay, a gambler who lives in California, and used to buy picks from Oancea. “It was extremely disappointing losing day after day.” Other former customers, including an Arizona man who goes by “Dubb,” describe Oancea more succinctly: “He’s a fraud.” In 2017, Dubb bought a $1,100 NFL package but his bankroll ran out eight weeks into the 17-week season.
If you watch enough of Vegas Dave’s videos, it’s clear that he preys on newbie sports gamblers, often with condescending and sexist pitches. “If you want to jump on the money train, I can help you,” Oancea said during one live stream in July. “I don’t care if you don’t speak English, I don’t care if you’re a female, I don’t care if you don’t watch sports.” His style is part carnival barker and a foul-mouthed version of CNBC’s Jim Cramer. In another video, he pledged that his picks will help you “flip hundreds into thousands.”
But Vegas Dave’s math doesn’t work out if you pay for his picks. In order to break even in the long run, you must win 52.38% of the time against the standard -110 line to account for the vigorish (or percentage) the sportsbook takes. But if you’re paying at least $200 for that advice, you have already eaten into your profits before considering the vig on each bet.
On Sunday, August 30, I bought Oancea’s MLB daily card. In a video that morning, Oancea gave buyers a guarantee—if less than five parlays hit, the next day’s picks would be free.The first pick was a money line bet on the Minnesota Twins, who were favored to beat the Detroit Tigers. Oancea suggested a wager to win 35 units. (A unit in Oancea’s calculation is .25% of your bankroll, or $25, assuming you start with a $10,000 bankroll.) The price at the Southpoint sportsbook was -210, which means I’d have to lay out $1,838 for the chance to win $875. The Twins lost.
The next wager was a money line bet for the Cincinnati Reds to beat the Chicago Cubs for 20 units. The Reds lost—another $800 down the drain. The last straight bet was for the St. Louis Cardinals to beat the Cleveland Indians or lose by one run to win $250 by risking $388. The Cardinals beat the Indians 7 to 2. Out of 31 parlays, 29 bets lost and two paid out—$10.79 combined. As losses topped $2,660, Oancea sent his “game of the month” for free, a 110 unit bet on the Braves to beat the Phillies. Atlanta won, but the day’s wagers finished $650 in the hole.
Vegas Dave, who has a high school education, says he doesn’t mess with math and claims he was born with the talent to predict games.
Vegas Dave is not the first handicapper to sell picks, nor will he be the last. There is a long, colorful history of touts. What’s different about Oancea is that he blends the heart attack-inducing intensity of old school touts with the FOMO and hustle porn culture of Instagram influencers. If you spend enough time scrolling through Vegas Dave’s social media posts, you might start to feel like the only thing standing in your way from sitting courtside at the Lakers game with your girlfriend and three Birkin bags—as Vegas Dave did in 2019—is his advice on who will win tomorrow night.
Most, if not all, professional bettors are number-crunching stat addicts. Rufus Peabody, a professional gambler who studied economics at Yale and specializes in golf bets, created his own computer models to find inefficiencies in the market. But Vegas Dave, who has a high school education, says he doesn’t mess with math and claims he was born with the talent to predict games.
“I just have a good vision and gut. It’s not teachable,” says Oancea. “I could never teach you what I do.”
Vegas Dave claims to be worth $20 million, but he offers no proof to back up his bravado. To signal his wealth, he points to his Rolls-Royce Cullinan and his Ferrari 488 Spider—“I don’t like it,” he says. “I just keep it in the garage.” Oancea also owns a seven-bedroom villa in Cabo, which he’s named “Villa Vegas Dave,” and he owns a 7,000-square-foot home and a two-bedroom condo in Vegas through a trust. He also likes to point out that he has a $1.3 million collection of Hermès Birkin bags.
In April 2019, Oancea bought a very rare Himalaya Diamond Birkin for $500,000, making it the most expensive Birkin ever sold. But the bag isn’t worth that much, according to Jeff Berk, the CEO of Privé Porter, which sold it to Oancea. “It’s worth probably $350,000,” says Berk. “He knew he was overpaying for it. He wanted to break the record.”
Vegas Dave was born in Saline, Michigan and grew up in Ann Arbor. Oancea, who still has his slight nasal Michigan accent, started collecting and selling baseball cards as a teen. “I did the baseball card hustle from a very young age,” he says.
In 1997, he moved to Hawaii, where he placed his first sports wager. “I bet $300 on a Titans and Raiders game and lost. But I fell in love with sports betting.” That instinct drew him to Sin City in 2001. He told his parents that he would be attending the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Instead, he took a $10,000 student loan and put it all on red at roulette. He won, doubling his money, and that was the start of his bankroll, he says.
That winning streak wouldn’t last long. Within a year, Oancea filed a voluntary petition for personal bankruptcy. According to court documents, he had just $820 in assets at the time, including $20 in cash.
Oancea started to place bets at sportsbooks like the Westgate under phony Social Security numbers as early as 2007, according to court documents. By 2010, his home was foreclosed upon and sold. Months later, he was arrested for driving under the influence. In 2013, a cop caught him with a “baggie of white powdery substance” at Vegas’ Cosmopolitan hotel, a police report says. The state eventually dismissed the case. In 2016, the same night he lost $1 million on a UFC fight, he got into a physical altercation with his girlfriend which led to a domestic battery charge. The charge was reduced to disorderly conduct after he completed counseling. When asked about the incident today, he says, “It’s all false.”
Oancea is surely not the best handicapper in the world as he claims, nor he is a savant sports card investor. He didn’t purchase Trout’s rookie card before the future Hall of Famer was named Rookie of the Year in 2012. Instead, he bought the card in 2018, when Trout had already won two of his three MVP awards. One thing he did do wisely, however, was notice that the sports card market was getting hot and the Trout cards were likely to increase in value.
The sports memorabilia market, estimated to be a $5 billion industry (annual sales), has historically been more of a hobby until recently. As card prices began to rise over the last few years, investors realized they could put money to work. Now sports cards have become a legitimate alternative asset class with niche investment funds.
Nat Turner, co-founder and CEO of healthcare technology company Flatiron Health and a 2015 Forbes Under 30 lister, is one of today’s largest sports card collectors. He admits Oancea was smart to buy the rare Trout cards a few years ago. But, Oancea, who is known to pump his card’s prices on social media, is met with “a lot of eyerolls from the collector community,” says Turner.
For Oancea, the sports card market is only a pit stop until he finds his next hustle. “On to the next big thing,” he says.
-Will Yakowicz, Forbes Staff
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