A few days before the showdown, Kelly Stewart explains why she likes her alma mater, Kansas State, to beat West Virginia.
“I’m biased in this game,” Stewart says. “Fine. I am, so shoot me.”
Everybody wearing purple last weekend in Morgantown, W.Va., was showing their K-State football pride.
But Stewart, 28, wore little else — short black gym shorts and a low-cut, snug Kansas State jersey — as she explained from a Las Vegas studio why she liked her Wildcats to win as the betting underdog. Handicapping sports, especially college football, is her thing.
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Hitting 67 percent of her selections isn’t a bad day at the office, which is becoming increasingly busy for the Manhattan High and Kansas State graduate who has elbowed her way into the male-dominated sports handicapping world using winning picks and sex appeal to command attention.
“She’s obviously attractive and opinionated,” said Pat Williams, the vice president of media and communications for DonBest.com, a handicapping service that produces Stewart’s “Hottie3some” segments on YouTube. “She’s not a cute girl reading off a teleprompter. These are her games. She comes into the studio and we put together the segment.”
“Yeah, my camera guy’s used to working with sweaty 50-year-old men in suits,” Williams said. “Their day is highlighted working with her.”
Stewart also contributes a weekly betting advice column (Ask Kelly) to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears regularly on the city’s ESPN radio station and posts betting suggestions on Twitter under the tag @kellyinvegas, gaining some 3,000 followers since the beginning of football season. She also has her own website, hottiehandicappers.com, that Stewart started with a friend, Marlana.
Kelly and Marlana, who lives in New Jersey, have never met. They became friends on Twitter, discovered a deep shared interest in sports wagering and decided to pool their knowledge, Stewart in college football, Marlana in professional sports, primarily the NBA. The site provides some ad revenue, but the better money is in donations. A credit card window allows bettors to donate a percentage of their winnings.
Stewart isn’t paid for her work for Don Best on YouTube, though the videos, in which she touts three games, have helped build up her gambling credibility. For example:
“The Wildcats are 6-1-1 against the spread in their last eight road games. West Virginia is almost dead last in passing defense. Sooners couldn’t stop Klein. What makes you think these guys can? I like the ’Cats to win this one outright in Morgantown.”
Stewart, of course, was right about the first of her “Hottie Threesome” picks. K-State won 55-14, and Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein scored seven touchdowns, becoming the Heisman Trophy frontrunner.
“Next we’re headed to Ann Arbor for a big in-state rivalry game. Ten points in a rivalry game, what the (blank)? Michigan State has owned Michigan the last four years I don’t care what anybody says, Michigan is on upset alert at home”
The Wolverines won, but Michigan State covered the spread. But Stewart couldn’t make it three straight when her Iowa State selection, a 14-point underdog, lost by 21 at Oklahoma State.
But she’s had plenty of other winners.
The biggest of the college football season came Sept. 22. Stewart placed a $100 money-line wager and parlayed three underdogs — Kansas State over Oklahoma, Oregon State over UCLA and Rutgers over Arkansas. She cashed out for $8,452 and posted a photo of the winning ticket on Twitter.
But Stewart doesn’t bet for a living. She’s works as a cocktail waitress at Hyde, a high-end club at the Bellagio. Waiting and bartending at Kite’s in Manhattan helped get her through K-State.
So did bikini contests. As she was about to enter college, Stewart won a contest at the Silverado Saloon. The prize was a trip to Vegas, and she saw the bright lights for the first time.
But by then she was smitten with football and the Wildcats.
Stewart and her mother moved to Manhattan from Riley, Kan., in 1993, and what a time to become interested in Kansas State football. The Wildcats went to their first bowl game under coach Bill Snyder that season and Stewart was hooked.
“I went to every home game, starting when I was 9,” Stewart said. “I was upset I didn’t get to go to the Copper Bowl that first year. I was devastated when we lost the Aloha Bowl the next year.”
The most devastating blow in this football thrill ride came in 1998, when the Wildcats blew a 15-point, fourth-quarter lead to Texas A&M and lost the 1998 Big 12 championship game.
“Worst day of my life,” Stewart said. “I had just turned 15, and I was irate. It took me months to get over that.”
But there were so many good times, and as a Manhattan High student, Stewart can remember being glued to her seat in the stadium while her friends were on the hill partying or staying outside at the tailgate.
Helpless fandom continued after college. When the school started calling her for donations during coach Ron Prince’s tenure, she said call back when the team started winning again.
The Wildcats have been good for her lately, betting-wise. So have others in the Big 12, the teams she knows well. Well mostly. Earlier this month she touted Texas over Oklahoma, a 42-point Sooners victory.
But only one of her four “Hottie3somes” posted on YouTube have come in under .500.
“I told her if she went 2-1 every week, she’d be a superstar,” Williams said. “She’s very smart.”
Stewart has a decision to make: How far to take this endeavor. She’s gained credibility and a following but doesn’t charge for her selections. There is no $39.95 fee for the hottie pick of the day. Could there be someday?
“I don’t know,” Stewart said. “I’m just going to ride the wave. I’m having fun and making money. I told my mom I wouldn’t be a 30-year-old cocktail waitress.”