Donahue: Rock-Paper-Scissors Bets in Sixth Grade Prepared Me for a Life in Sports Betting

Donahue: Rock-Paper-Scissors Bets in Sixth Grade Prepared Me for a Life in Sports Betting article feature image

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Joey Gallo (left) and Rougned Odor (right) play a game of rock-paper-scissors

The Highlights

  • The Action Network’s Danny Donahue retraces his sports betting history, starting with an old cell phone and a trip down memory lane.
  • Donahue’s first sports wagers were spent taking advantage of one unrealistic San Francisco 49ers fan.
  • Creating a rock-paper-scissors betting syndicate really kicked Donahue’s appetite for betting into high gear.

I have no clue how I ended up here. Out of everyone at The Action Network, I think I might be the luckiest (although I’m still waiting for that luck to carry over to my picks).

It’s possible that you’ve seen my name if you’ve read any of the weekend sharp reports, or maybe we’ve chatted over the phone if you’ve ever dialed in to our office.

But more likely, you’ve never heard of me, so let me introduce myself. I’m from outside Boston, I’m 23 and I like to bet.

Here’s how it started.

Why Middle Schoolers Need Cell Phones

I was recently cleaning out my bedroom and happened to come across my first cell phone, the one I had from sixth through eighth grade.

Looking for a cheap trip down memory lane, I decided to buy a charger online so I could power this bad boy up and see who young Danny was texting and what kind of dumb things he was saying.


Ha. Like I’d be wasting my time talking to actual people when I could just use my phone for alerts on games that I’d bet.

So yeah, my betting career started in middle school.

49ers Gold Mine

I had just made some new friends in the sixth grade who knew a lot more about football than I did, including one who had a respectable willingness to put his lunch money where his mouth was.

Huge Niners fan, this buddy of mine was. Wore 49ers gear to school quite literally every day. And these were the Niners of the mid-2000s, mind you. They had compiled just six wins in their previous two seasons combined. They were the team that you chose to play against on rookie mode in Madden when you were trying to put up triple digits.

None of that mattered to him, though. I’d rip his Niners till day’s end — my most common chirp targeted Alex Smith’s hand size — and he’d defend them as if they donned his family name on their jerseys.

Inevitably we reached the point where the logical next move was to make things interesting.

We didn’t know what a point spread or moneyline was, and his passion was strong enough that he wouldn’t have cared even if he did, so he’d take San Fran — straight up at even money — every single Sunday.

Can’t help but respect the loyalty, but those Niners did buy me a lot of chicken nuggets.

It wasn’t just sports, though; we would bet on just about anything. In fact, I’d argue that more money was swung on games of rock-paper-scissors than any actual sport during my middle-school years.

Degeneracy Development

The standard bet was a dollar per five-game series of rock-paper-scissors (or “RPS” to us cool kids). And these series took no more than 30 seconds apiece, so in a 50-minute class period, well, you can do the math.

We soon realized that the traditional playing style of RPS wasn’t going to fly past our teachers. Bouncing your fist three times against your other hand wasn’t the most subtle activity in a quiet classroom.

So, we came up with a pretty revolutionary new way to play that involved just tilting your fist from side to side, and on we went for a couple more years. Occasionally we’d go nuts and have a “first to 100” series, or if we were looking for a real thrill, we’d play a one game winner-take-all round.

It wasn’t long before our ridiculous trend started to spread. Kids were literally showing up to school a few minutes early to get a couple rounds of rock-paper-scissors in before homeroom. I was picking up on all of my friends’ tendencies and spending free time trying to game plan strategies that would give me an edge — you know, standard behavior for an 11-year-old.

We’d also bet on things like free throws at recess, test scores — yes, some of our bets were actually good for us — and my personal favorite: guessing the year of a coin by looking at only the back side. We got pretty, pretty good at differentiating the wear and tear of an ’80s penny from a ’90s penny.


At that point, the betting seed had been planted. The only type of online “sportsbook” that I knew of at the time was, but within a few years I would have my first real account at a square book, and things just rolled from there.

I graduated from George Washington University, where I studied math for no particular reason other than I couldn’t decide on anything else. Plus I figured math would make people think I was smarter than I am. That part seems to have worked ’cause, well, I’m here.

A few months after stumbling my way into a position at Sports Insights, we became part of The Action Network, and I could not be more pumped to be a part of this team. Years ago I’d never have guessed that I’d find myself working at a sports betting company — and it still feels like a dream come true — but considering I was betting on the year of freaking coins in the sixth grade, I can see how it makes some sense.

If you’ve got any similar childhood betting memories, I want to hear ’em. If you want to know more about mine, or are interested in learning the more efficient way to play rock-paper-scissors, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

You can find me on Twitter @_DannytheDon.