New Pioneers

An audience with Ariel Epstein, sports betting’s Prop Queen

The 27-year-old MLB Network gambling analyst is a rising star in an industry traditionally ruled by older white men.

Ariel Epstein, sports betting's Prop Queen, photographed in New York
Matthew Salacuse

Around 75 minutes before the first pitch of an early season Orioles–Yankees game at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, a trio of millennial dudes at Stan’s Sports Bar across the street are talking loudly about gambling.

One boasts he has gone 9-1 on his last 10 mobile wagers. Another says he’s on a schneid — a losing streak — but that he still has earned enough winnings to buy his girlfriend some new jewelry. The third guy doesn’t care about past performance. He wants action. Now.

“We gotta get our bets in for tonight,” the third guy says impatiently. First, he notes, the group needs “an audience with the Queen.”

No, he isn’t talking about visiting with the matronly figurehead in England. He wants to check the picks of Ariel Epstein, a 27-year-old sports betting handicapper known as the Prop Queen.

Ariel Epstein, the Prop Queen, in New YorkMatthew Salacuse

Epstein leverages her data analytics skills and serious sports knowledge to make live and pre-recorded picks on either side of proposition — or prop — bets that enable bettors to wager on specific performance metrics such as strikeouts in baseball or rebounds and assists in basketball. She’s currently dropping sports prop knowledge on the MLB Network, Yahoo! Sports, NBA TV, and the BetMGM gambling site, in addition to her personal Twitter account, which has nearly 47,000 followers.

Sports betting is surging these days. Since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 ended federal bans on the expansion of such wagering, dozens of states have legalized it, triggering a multibillion-dollar boom in betting and a burgeoning market around content to inform those bets. Most of this action is digital. In September 2021 Goldman Sachs predicted the online market could reach $39 billion in annual revenue by 2033 — up from less than $1 billion today.

Epstein has become a force in this landscape. She is a young, female face in a rapidly changing industry that traditionally has revolved around older white men. She’s cool. She’s confident. She’s comfortable in front of the camera. And she is a veritable fount of sports knowledge — not just nerdy facts and figures, but historical and contextual information, too.

“This short, little blonde powerhouse that’s filled with information and is completely conversant in the sport rolls in cold and nails it every time.”

It’s also worth noting that Epstein’s system works. She tracks her overall record (across both baseball and basketball) religiously, and consistently ends each year with a success rate of somewhere between 52 and 60 percent. In the world of sports betting, where the house gets a cut of every single bet, anything over 50 percent is considered success.

One of her biggest fans is Matt Vasgergian, baseball analyst and host of Pregame Spread, the MLB Network show on which Epstein has become a regular. Vasgersian, 54, is a gambling nerd in his own right and has developed a wonderful repartee with Epstein, who is quite literally half his age.

“I think a lot of the people at the network are like, ‘Who the hell is she?’ She has such an ease about her; it conveys a quiet confidence and the fact that she knows her stuff,” Vasgergian says. “This short, little blonde powerhouse that’s filled with information and is completely conversant in the sport rolls in cold and nails it every time.”

‘One of the guys’

Epstein was born into a family of diehard sports fans. Darren, her father, grew up in Pikesville, Maryland, avidly cheering on baseball’s Orioles and football’s Ravens. Martin, her 85-year-old maternal grandpa, is from the Bronx, and lives and breathes his Yankees.

Growing up the oldest of three kids in Rockland County, New York, Ariel’s two best friends were sports-crazed twins named Max and Jesse Cohen. “From as early as I can remember, I was just one of the guys,” Epstein says.

Sometime around age nine, Epstein and the Cohen brothers got into fantasy sports. In sixth grade, the twins included Epstein in their league. She destroyed the competition. The next season, in seventh grade, she won again. The twins kicked her out of the league, so she went and started her own leagues online, some with friends, others with total strangers. She won there, too.

Fast forward to college. One summer, Epstein interned for the Yankees in the production department and got to interview her idol, Derek Jeter. The following year, she graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism. She took a job as weekend sports anchor and reporter at WCTI TV 12, the Fox affiliate in New Bern, North Carolina.

Epstein at her home studioMatthew Salacuse

She left in April 2019 in search of new opportunities. With sports wagering beginning to grow, Epstein focused on the betting network SportsGrid. Epstein didn’t know anyone at the company, and there seemingly weren’t any jobs available.

That didn’t stop her — she just reached out directly to the president on LinkedIn. “I messaged him and said, ‘You don't have females on the network, and I would love to be one of them,’” she recounts. “It worked.”

Once Epstein was hired as an on-air host, she needed an angle. At first, she wasn’t sure how to proceed. She didn’t feel comfortable handicapping point spread and money lines, as that wasn’t something she did very often. She did, however, know how to handicap props because they are similar to fantasy sports.

So Epstein called dibs on part of the betting board no one else had claimed: Prop bets and point totals. She established a niche. She became the expert. And she did all of this before she could legally rent a car.

A queen is born

The folks from SportsGrid nicknamed her the Prop Queen. Epstein hated it at first. “I cringed at it for a while, because it’s just so… cheesy,” she says.

“Then my broadcast coach” — sports broadcaster Jill Montgomery, whom Epstein has hired to help her get more comfortable in front of the camera — “and my parents told me I better own it, because having a brand and a name is huge for marketing yourself,” she continues. “So I started embracing it.”

Kelly Stewart, a handicapper nicknamed Kelly in Vegas, says she respects the way Epstein went about getting into the business. “Ariel did all the things I did right and none of the things I did wrong,” says Stewart, who is 38 and became one of the first women in the handicapping industry back in 2010. “She took a step back, saw who was in the space, took notes on who was doing what, and figured out how she wanted to brand herself. Then she just got to work.”

Matthew Salacuse
Matthew Salacuse

During her time on SportsGrid, Epstein was doing shows for SiriusXM and the sportsbook FanDuel. Her audience was expanding. The Prop Queen brand was growing. Then came March 2020, and suddenly she had to do shows and create content from home.

Epstein taught herself how to do everything to produce a spot: video, audio, editing, and mixing. She rented an apartment in Manhattan with an extra room off the kitchen, converting the space into a mini studio, complete with a greenscreen, sound-dampening curtains, and production lights.

“For months, I was manually editing our shows on my own laptop at home with graphics and commercials and everything else,” she says. “After producing and hosting a three-hour show, I was spending another five hours editing and uploading it to the server. I worked about 15 hours a day, but because we were one of the only places producing content [at the time], it’s what helped my career really blow up.”

The big time

The year 2021 was an eventful one for Epstein. She left SportsGrid, and Yahoo! Sports swooped in. Producers gave the Prop Queen free reign, empowering her to create sports betting video content as a host and analyst across all sports. In the spring, she was asked to handicap the NBA playoffs on NBA TV. Toward the end of the year, MLB Network came calling.

The network was looking to launch a new sports betting show with Vasgersian. The show would be titled Pregame Spread, a pun that references elaborate clubhouse meals and the odds before first pitch. They wanted Epstein to come on and talk props.

Network officials made a formal offer over lunch at Bareli’s, an Italian restaurant near their Studio 42 in Secaucus, New Jersey. Vasgersian was there, told Epstein he was a fan of her work, and said he was excited at the chance to collaborate with a handicapper whom he had followed and respected from afar.

“In that moment, I thought, ‘Baseball is loving me back!’”

“There’s this line in the movie Fever Pitch where she says, ‘You love [the Red Sox] but [have they] ever loved you back?’ and in that moment, I thought, Baseball is loving me back!” Epstein recalls. “More than anything, I couldn’t believe Matt Vasgersian knew who I was and listened to my shows. I texted my dad immediately.” Today, she does daily in-studio guest spots on the weekday show, sharing her single favorite pick, the “Diamond K Play of the Day.”

Epstein estimates she spends between two and three hours daily researching player data and betting trends, and another hour or so memorizing picks and familiarizing herself with lines. The bulk of her handicapping happens late at night or by 8 a.m. Eastern Time.

Many of her prop picks these days revolve around baseball strikeout rates, known as K rates. When she researches these, Epstein sees where and how the teams in question plot against the same two high-level data points: The 10 teams that strike out the most and the 10 teams that strike out the least.

From there, she drills down and sees how each team fares against lefty and righty starting pitchers, and applies that data to the expected starting pitchers for the day. She looks at each pitcher’s individual performance against the projected hitters. Finally, she dives into strikeout stats on the home and road. (Curiously, most teams strike out more at home.)

When she picks a prop, Epstein prognosticates whether a player will go over or under a specific betting line. Often, because lines move fluidly depending on betting action, she’ll make a pick and give listeners some context, instructing them to shy away from a wager if the total moves past a certain point (or if the books charge too much of a fee to bet it).

“I’m more about giving out information that backs up smart, educated bets than I am about telling people how much to bet,” she explained. “At the end of the day it’s their money, not mine.” Epstein does often bet on baseball herself, using one or two different mobile sports betting apps to throw money behind her own prop picks.

Above all else, the level of knowledge and detail is what sets Epstein apart from other talking heads. Dave Sharapan, a longtime bookmaker in Las Vegas who appears on several sports betting shows himself, says Epstein turns heads among the “old timers” because she’s authentic and she is clearly not reading off a script.

“We’re so early in this rush for networks to create content around sports betting, I’m not even sure a lot of them know what they want,” said Sharapan, who tweets as the Sportsbook Consigliere. “What makes Ariel stand out is that she knows who she is, and she knows the material in and out. That makes for good content.”

Life beyond betting

Because she’s a woman on the internet, Epstein regularly deals with trolls — mostly men who hate on her sports knowledge because they feel she can’t possibly be smarter than they are. Her approach to sexist and misogynist comments is simple: She does not engage. “The more you interact, the more it shows up in the algorithm,” she says bluntly.

When Epstein needs to get away from it all, she goes out with girlfriends who don’t even follow sports, or she escapes to upstate New York, where her parents still have a home.

Matthew Salacuse

She’s currently dating, though she reports it often is challenging because most guys just want to talk sports. “We’d be out on dates and these guys just wouldn’t shut it down,” she says. “‘Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady?’ ‘Will you look at my fantasy team?’ If I’m on a date, those are the last things I want to be thinking about. I have lived, eaten, breathed, and slept this stuff since I was nine. I’ve become so known for what I do that a lot of guys can’t leave it alone.”

Even as she talks about the difficulties of dealing with trolls and being on the dating scene, Epstein has to laugh. She appreciates that it’s all part of the journey. She knows she’s young. She knows she’s just getting started. She knows she still has a lot to learn. And right now, she just wants to keep her winning streak going.

“I have a million things ahead of me, and I know they’re going to be amazing,” she says. “I also know that, particularly in this business, I have to keep working for everything I get.”