Most casual bettors don’t make a profit from their sports-betting hobby. This includes bettors who are relatively sharp as well as those who couldn’t pick a winner if their lives depended on it. That’s not a horrible thing, either. If every bettor won, sportsbooks would be going belly up far more often than they do, and bettors would run out of places to play. And many bettors really don’t care very much about earning a long-term profit. They like to have some action on games as a form of recreation or excitement, not as an investment decision. Many of these types of bettors are far more interested in TV games than anything else, and they tend to bet more on bigger games, like the Super Bowl or the NCAA Tournament.
Much of the industry considers money management as important as picking winners, and rightfully so. But throwing around buzzwords like ‘money management’ and describing esoteric concepts like ‘isolate a percentage of bankroll’ and ‘positive expectation bets’ really doesn’t help the fortunes of most recreational bettors. If you are content with betting solely for entertainment purposes, then this essay will serve little purpose. But if you wish to be a successful sports bettor and earn a profit from your betting through an extended period of time, here are some tips that should help in that quest.
1) Don’t bet into bad numbers
Professional handicappers recognize the value of the half point. On the average college-basketball card for a Saturday, for example, there are at least six games that are won or lost against the spread by a point or less. A pro bettor will be on the right side of just about every one of those decisions. A professional will either getting the push when others lost, or the bettor will get the win when others pushed. The pro will take the extra time to shop around for the best number at multiple sportsbooks. The pro will have accounts that are funded in enough places to ensure that a bet can be made at the right place and at the right line. The pro will have an idea of which direction the line is likely to move, which will help in capitalizing on an advantageous number.
A professional will take these calculated steps, and as a result, a pro will win these close games more often than not. If a pro bettor a modest 20 bets a week (which equals out to roughly 1,000 a year, a number that is on the low side for most professionals), it is not unusual to gain an extra 10 or 15 victories a year and another 10 or 15 pushes just by betting at good numbers. Assuming the bettor is betting a modest two percent of his bankroll on any given play, those 20 or 30 favorable decisions translates into a 40-60 percent swing in the return on a sports-betting investment. That is a profile on how to earn profits one half-point at a time.
2) Make more straight bets and fewer parlays
Professional bettors make the vast majority of their bets as straight bets, not as parlays. For amateurs, the number is closer to 50/50, and there are many, many amateurs who rarely straight bet at all. But the straight bet is the pro’s bread and butter. Professionals are satisfied with the return on investment from a 3-2 day or a 12-8 week. They are in it for the long haul and not always the quick score that parlays provide. Amateurs are often lured by the big paydays that winning parlays provide, conveniently forgetting that a slow and steady winning approach will yield more profits. Straight bettors are pleased with taking more victories than losses because it will produce a profit every time. Parlay bettors would not be satisfied by this outcome. There’s a reason that every sportsbook in Las Vegas has their parlay cards prominently displayed. Frankly, parlays pay the bills at most joints in Las Vegas. That’s not to say pro bettors never go for the long shot score. But when they do, they do it for a considerably lesser percentage of their bankroll, and they do it in conjunction with their straight bets, not in lieu of them.
3) Concentrate more on box scores and less on final scores
It’s easy to look at the final score of a game and make all kinds of false assumptions. But without reading game recaps and looking at box scores, you really have no idea of what took place and the current form of the participating teams. It’s key to handicap games again after the games are over. Ask yourself some questions: What happened that you expected to happen, and what was a surprise? Which things are likely to repeat themselves, and which are something of an anomaly?
Here’s a fictitious example: The Pistons play the Bulls at home as nine-point favorites, but win by only 97-90. However, after looking at the box score, it’s clear that Detroit dominated for most of the game. The Pistons won the rebounding battle and forced the Bulls into turnovers. They led by double digits at halftime and after three quarters. But the Bulls hit some late shots in garbage time and closed the gap late. On that same night, the Raptors are nine-point favorites to the Nuggets and win by that same 97-90 margin. But the box score here indicates a whole different story. The Raptors trailed throughout this game, but got hot in the fourth quarter to steal the victory. Toronto made an uncharacteristic 27 of its 30 free-throw attempts and hit 10 3-pointers. Denver shot just 4-for-19 in the fourth quarter.
By examining the box scores, you can recognize that the Pistons are in better form than the Raptors and/or the Nuggets are in better form than the Bulls. This sort of deduction can make your future wagers involving those teams more likely to be successful, even though the final scores of the two games were exactly the same.
4) Take advantage of value
Linesmakers have a pretty good idea of which way the money is going to flow once they hang their opening numbers. Amateur bettors are a big part of this, falling in love with ‘public’ teams and betting them over and over again. Public teams usually refer to the team with the most media attention. In college sports, these teams are usually in the top-25 and from a major conference. In pro sports, these teams are the hottest teams or teams at the top of their respective divisions or conferences. The professional bettor will recognize this public bias, notice that the lines are inflated for many of the best teams in the country and either bet against many of the good teams or pass on their games entirely.
The pro bettors concentrate much more on backing the teams that have fallen underneath the public’s collective radar, as well as fading some of the mediocre squads that are in poor current form. The pros bet against top-25 clubs far more often than they back them. Because the teams are the most recognized, a bettor will catch six points on the underdog instead of four.
It’s equally important to recognize when the linesmakers have priced you out of a play. When a team is flourishing, it becomes more and more risky to side with them. A team’s value dwindles as their success grows, and a professional bettor will always be able to spot this trend and stay away from supporting these teams.
5) Be smart when betting your streaks
It’s one of the most common mistakes that amateurs make, and it’s quite possibly the most costly. They press their losses, raising the stakes to get back to even off a losing streak. Pro bettors know that there will be times when you lose more than you win. Hopefully, those times are few and far between, but inevitably, they will happen to everybody. Rather than raising the stakes during those times when you are having a bad run, the pro lowers his stakes, conserving bankroll while waiting for things to turn around. A professional bettor will avoid a perilous approach. Conversely, the pro knows that winning streaks are the time to press your bets, not the time to pull back with a conservative approach. When a pro bettor is in good form and good rhythm, the professional will not be afraid to raise the stakes a bit, making larger plays when the percentages are favorable (positive expectation wagers). It sounds so basic – don’t chase losses and ride your winning streaks. But few amateur bettors have the discipline.
Photo Credit: Daniel X. O’Neil