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Cousin Sal on Sports Gambling: ‘You Can Either Shame Everybody Who Is Involved or Embrace It’

JImmy Kimmel’s cousin and former staff writer now hosts gambling show ”Lock It In“ on FS1

Against all odds — which is also the name of his podcast on the Ringer Podcast Network — Cousin Sal Iacono has made the leap from the writer’s room on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” (hosted by his famous cousin) to the host’s seat.

In August, Iacono was named as one of the hosts of FS1’s new sports gambling show “Lock It In.” He’s joined by co-hosts Clay Travis of “Outkick the Coverage,” odds maker Todd Fuhrman and Rachel Bonnetta. For someone who has many, many years of experience with sports gambling (he has appeared on longtime pal Bill Simmons’ podcast every Monday for more than a decade to guess the NFL lines) and in the TV world, the move in front of the camera has been a comfortable fit, especially on a topic he knows well.

“Charlie Dixon from Fox wanted to start this show,” Iacono recalls of the dinner where the idea was initially broached. “It seemed right up my alley, talking sports and gambling for an hour every day live. What could be better?”

The show is structured as a game (which shouldn’t be confused with Iacono’s Best Bets that he shares on his Instagram Stories nor his podcast), where he’ll battle his co-hosts to see who will take home the victor’s crown for the week. The one catch: Like anyone familiar with gambling knows, if you’re down early, you’re going to take some risks in order to get back to even. On “Lock It In,” that means the hosts will throw in some parlays in order to catch their opponent.

Being the main personality has been a leap forward for Iacono. Occasionally, the gregarious writer, whose career started on “Win Ben Stein’s Money” in 1997, would appear on his cousin Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show pulling hidden camera pranks on unwitting folks on the street, at restaurants or in hotels. This is his first show without his famous cousin since he started working in TV.

“This is just an extension of pulling on camera pranks on people,” he told TheWrap. “It’s great because I love talking about sports gambling and there’s people willing to listen. I hope they have enough money to stick with me.”

With Delaware and New Jersey joining Nevada as states that allow sports gambling, Iacono said that he wouldn’t be surprised if expert analysts could make their way onto sanctioned professional sports league shows in a similar fashion to how referees have become experts on controversial on-field decisions. Iacono had a similar spot in recent years on ESPN’s SportsCenter.

“I think they will and should,” Iacono said of the legality of gambling. “It’s like medical marijuana — the rules are evolving and now you can even get it through the airport. But it evolves and people are open to it. Now, we can shed the degenerate tag. As for becoming the next Mike Pereira [a former VP of officiating for the NFL and football rules analyst for Fox Sports] for sports gambling, yeah, I think there’s a need for it. It’s not just for the game, people are betting halftime and individual plays — like whether or not someone is going to make a field goal. It adds to the excitement.”

Though he’ll sparsely appear on his cousin’s show (“It was sad leaving”), Iacono is fully-focused on “Lock It In” in addition to his podcast. Now that the NFL is about to enter its midseason, it’s become slightly easier to know what to expect from teams (and to a lesser degree, the officiating), and maybe even from the points spread itself.

As for his best bets this season, Iacono said that the Rams (“14-2, 15-1 for sure”) will have almost as many wins as the rest of the NFC West combined and are his favorite from the NFC, while the Chiefs and Patriots (“you can never count them out”) are his contenders on the AFC side.

But, for a guy who loves sports and gambling — he also bets on non-sporting events like the Oscars — Cousin Sal sees legalizing gambling as a logical next step since it has already — to a degree — been embraced by the public in a subtler way than placing a bet with a bookie or casino.

“I’m actually annoyed it took this long,” he quips. “You start to think you’re crazy after a while — like when you and your friends do something for so long and I’ve been betting parlays since I was in college. Now, finally, it’s becoming a thing. Leagues are kidding themselves if they think that they’re staying afloat for any reason other than gambling. Look at the NCAA tournament. Take your run-of-the-mill office pool — that’s where you’re getting your eyeballs because people have money invested on these games. You can either shame everybody who is involved or embrace it. Between fantasy and sports gambling, and especially if numbers are going down because of streaming services, they’re going to need all of the eyeballs they can and you don’t want to turn your back on gambling.”