Over the past few months, we’ve posted quite a few articles on sports betting. We posted three guides to cover the basics on handicapping baseball, basketball and football, but these didn’t nearly cover everything a beginner would need to know. We’ve also posted articles that cover basic terms, as well as other assorted betting tips.
But we realized that, to some bettors, the number of articles on the basics might present a problem. It’s a lot of information to keep track of without having it all in one place. In addition, we also like to post articles offering pro tips, whether about certain sports or simply about how sportsbooks are run. When posting these types of articles, we don’t want to risk alienating our more experienced clients by having to stop and rehash some of the basics that have already been covered elsewhere.
So we’ve decided to cover all of the basics in one fell swoop, with a complete guide to betting on sports. This will combine some information that has been covered previously, such as tips about finding a decent sportsbook or about how to manage your money efficiently, while also providing some new information that we’ve wanted to cover for a while. This is going to be a pretty long guide, but we suggest that novice bettors make sure to bookmark it. This information will almost definitely prove useful to you as you get your start.
Of course, with our handicapping consulting services, it isn’t that hard to make a profit through sports betting. But you will still want to know the following basics if you don’t want to get lost in a sea of numbers and tricky decisions. With that said, let’s dig in.
1. Start By Asking Yourself Some Personal Questions
Is Sports Betting Right For You?
If you’re looking at this type of guide for the first time, you might still be on the fence about sports betting. You might feel lured in by the promise of winning, while your more practical side is screaming at you that the threat of losing is simply too great to risk it. And that’s why you’re going to have to do some soul-searching before you even bother with the rest of this guide.
Now, there are some circumstances under which we absolutely would not suggest for you to engage in the practice of sports betting. For instance, if you don’t have much money and are thinking that sports betting will act as some sort of “get rich quick” scheme, then you might want to turn the other way. You can make a lot of money on sports betting, but no one wins every time. You also wind up with a lot of your money stuck in venture if you’re betting through online sportsbooks, so even those who get rick may not always do so quickly.
More importantly, however, is whether or not you are the type of person who is likely to develop a gambling addiction. While it is often our opinion that sports betting is different from other types of gambling, those with particularly addictive personalities may still be likely to spend too much and hurt their financial lives in the process. If you have a family (or even if you’d like to), then this risk is especially worrisome. So whether or not you have a decent bankroll, stop and think about whether or not you are the type of person who is able to bet responsibly.
Now, let’s say that you have a fair bit of money and you are not too worried about becoming an addict. You might think that you’re in the clear, but if so then you’re forgetting that sports betting is not legal in all states. And in some places where it is legal, there are certain rules regarding what you can and cannot place bets on. Now, since many sportsbooks are online and not situated in one physical location, these rules might be bendable for some.
But you ultimately have to figure out whether or not betting is even remotely legal for you, and then decide whether or not you are comfortable with the idea from an ethical standpoint. After all, even if it’s legal and you are not at risk of addiction or excessive financial loss, some of your friends and family might not approve. It’s up to you whether or not you’re the type of person who can feel comfortable without their endorsement of your activities.
Why Do You Want to Bet on Sports?
Once you’ve taken the time to decide whether or not sports betting is something to which you’d like to dedicate your time, you still have to do some thinking about why you have decided to take up the hobby of sports betting. There are some professional sports bettors out there, people who make a great deal of their income from this hobby alone. Are you hoping to be one of them? Or are you just in it for the excitement?
The answer to this question will likely determine how you go about betting in the first place. If you just want a bit of extra money and don’t care about the experience, then you might just sign up for our service, follow our picks, and not give it another thought. Heck, you might not even watch the games you’ve wagered on, and just wait to look up the scores and see if you made any money. You have the option of putting forth very little effort. Of course, this isn’t the most exciting way to go about it by any means whatsoever.
If you’re in it because you want to engage yourself in a fun and exciting new hobby, then you’re going to bet much differently. You might enjoy doing research on each team, to the extent that you bet on some games without looking to see which picks we’ve offered. You might occasionally bet more of your bankroll then we’ve suggested (if you have the money to do so, of course). And if you choose to watch the games, you’re likely to be holding your breath every second, utterly enthralled by every movement of the players as they bring you either nearer to or further from victory.
There are pros and cons to each of the types of bettors we’ve described above. Those who are in it for the excitement will sometimes lose more than they can afford, whereas those who do not engage themselves in the process will make a bit of money but will not necessarily enjoy it. If you can, it doesn’t hurt to aim somewhere in the middle. You want to be engaged, but don’t allow yourself to mismanage your bankroll. Do your research (as we will outline below), and if you’re paying for our services then by all means use them. Don’t let a fun hobby go to waste because you were either too excited to get involved or too impartial to really benefit from the joy of winning.
2. Fundamentals of the Sports Betting Process
Reading the Lines on the Sportsbooks
The first of the basics you will have to learn if you want to be a sports bettor is how to read the lines. The most important lines will be determined by the sport upon which you are betting. For instance, in baseball and hockey, most sports betting is done by the money lines. In basketball and football, most bets usually pertain to the point spreads. There are also numbers known as the over/under or O/U, which more casual bettors will generally refer to as totals.
There are two ways in which you’ll usually see money lines written. The one you’ll see most commonly is the American system, but there’s also a decimal system that you may run into on occasion. We’re going to go ahead and cover both, along with how to convert them so that you never have to worry about which system your sportsbook of choice has decided to use. We will also tell you how to figure out implied win rates and lines no-juice lines. We’ve bolded each major point in this section, so that you may scroll past any information you already know.
We’ll start with American lines, which can be confusing to those who are new to sports betting. Lines written in this fashion may seem counterintuitive to many beginners, largely because positive numbers actually indicate which team is expected to lose, whereas negative numbers signify that the team in question is favored by the sportsbook. So if the Texas Rangers are given a money line of +120 in a game that has the Miami Marlins listed at -130, then the Marlins are favored while the Rangers are considered to be an underdog.
Now that you understand what the plus and minus signs represent, it’s time to talk about the meat of the issue: what the numbers mean. To understand this, think of everything in terms of $100. If you’re betting on the Marlins in the example above, you’d have to put up $130 to win an extra $100. However, if you’re betting on the underdog in the example above, you’d have to lay down $100 to potentially make an extra $120. That isn’t to say that you’re actually required to bet that much, but this gives you an idea regarding the ratios. So if you bet $40 on the Rangers, you could potentially make back $48.
Either way, you’d be making less in winnings than you would risk if you bet on the Marlins, because it doesn’t benefit the sportsbooks to offer more returns on teams they expect to lose. The extra money you have to put down to bet on a favored team is referred to as the “juice,” the amount of money the sportsbook makes on each pair of bets if equal numbers of bettors bet on each side of the line.
Now that you fully understand American lines, let’s take a brief look at decimal lines. Let’s continue using our above example of the Rangers and the Marlins, but let’s change their respective odds to 2.2 and 1.77, with the former still representing the underdog and the latter still representing the favored team. While you won’t see these lines as often as American lines, they make things pretty easy to understand.
Basically, what you’re looking at is an approximation of how much you will return if you bet $1, meaning that you will get a total of $2.20 back if you place a winning bet on the Rangers. This accounts for both the dollar you put down, and the $1.20 you receive in winnings. If you multiply these numbers by 100, you’ll see that this is in line with the numbers we gave for the American lines. And if you subtract one from the decimal line, you’ll get the number you’ll receive in winnings alone. As you can see, reading decimal lines can actually be faster than reading American lines once you understand the numbers.
If you ever want to convert the lines from American to decimal or vice versa, the formula is rather simple. We’ll start with converting American lines to decimal lines, which is useful if you want to know the ratio on the dollar rather than in terms of $100 bets. If you’re looking at the lines for an underdog, you take the positive number given for the line and divide it by 100, then add 1. This means that +120 for the Rangers translates to 120 / 100 + 1 = 2.2 for the decimal line.
If you are looking at a favored number, the equation is slightly similar but you reverse the position of the line. So rather than dividing 100 into the line, you divide the negative line number into 100. Our example of -130 for the Marlins therefore translates into 100 / 130 + 1 = 1.77 for the decimal line. It actually comes out to 1.769, but we have rounded up for our example.
You can also convert lines in the other direction. To convert the 2.2 decimal line to the American line system, you would subtract 1 and then multiple the number by 100. So (2.2 – 1) x 100 = +120 for the American line. Note that you will know when you are doing the conversion for an underdog, because it will always be greater than 2.
When numbers are less than 2, you know that they are for favored teams. In these cases, you want to subtract one from the decimal line and divide the number into -100. This means that (-100) / (1.769 – 1) = -130 for the American line on the Marlins. Note that this is not actually the exact outcome of the equation, but it can be hard to get precise numbers when converting favored teams. You will usually have to approximate.
Now that you understand both kinds of lines and how to read them, let’s look at implied win rates. An implied win rate is a percentage that gives you an idea of just how much the sportsbook has favored one team over the other. Before going over how to figure these out, we should warn you that the percentages for underdogs and favored teams will amount to more than 100%. This is the result of the juice that we mentioned earlier, which ensures that the sportsbooks will make a profit.
So, let’s start with implied win rates for American lines. If you’re looking at an underdog, you add the line to 100, and then divide the resulting number into 100. So the implied win rate for our example line of +120 is 100 / (120 + 100) = .4545, or about 45.5%. For favored teams, forget that the line is negative. Treat it as a positive number, add it to 100, and divide that number into the value for the line. Our example line of -130 then gives you the equation 130 / (130 + 100) = .5652, or about 56.5%.
It is much easier to figure out implied win rates for decimal lines. All you have to do, whether you are looking at the underdog or the favored team, is divide the line into 1. So, for our example lines of 2.2 and 1.77, you would get 1 / 2.2 = ~45.5% and 1 / 1.769 = ~56.5%, respectively. If you use the approximation of 1.77 in the equation, you still get approximately 56%, so you can see that there is not much of a difference when calculating implied win rates as long as you have close to the exact number.
The final thing to look at in this section will be how to figure out no-juice lines, also known as “no-vig” lines in reference to vigorish, the proper name for juice. As we have said above, the juice is how sportsbooks ensure that they will profit from sports betting, which means that implied win rates are imperfect as long as juice is factored in. To figure out the no-juice lines, you will first have to follow the steps above to find the implied win rates. So, using our examples of 45.5% for the underdog and 56.5% for the favored team, let’s look at how to get the no-juice lines.
Naturally, we’ll again start with the American lines. If you are calculating the no-juice line for the underdog, you will start by dividing the underdog’s implied win rate by the sum of both win rates. In other words, .455 / (.455 + .565) = .446, meaning that the implied win rate without juice is about 44.6% for the underdog. To get the actual no-juice line, you multiply this number by 100, subtract their sum from 100, and divide the whole thing by the no-juice percentage. In other words, (100 – [100 x .446]) / .446 = 124.2, meaning that the approximate money line for the underdog without juice is about +124.
Now, let’s look at the favored team, since this is where juice plays the bigger role. Again, you will be adding the implied win rates, this time dividing them into the win rate for the favored team. This gives you .565 / (.565 + .455) = .5539, meaning that the approximate no-juice win rate is around 55.4% for the Marlins in our example. Then, figure out the revised money line by subtracting this number from 1, and then dividing that into the result of the no-juice percentage multiplied by 100. This gives you (-100 x .554) / (1 – .554) = -124.2, which means the money line for the favored team without juice is about -124.
If you want to do this with decimal lines, you follow the same first step for each to find no-juice percentages. We have already given you these for our example numbers, at values of 44.6% for the underdog and 55.4% for the favored team. Then, to find the actual no-juice decimal line, you divide either of these percentages into 1, giving you 1 / .446 = 2.24 for the underdog’s decimal line and 1 / .554 = 1.805, or about 1.81 for the favored team’s decimal line.
As you can see, the decimal lines are still pretty different, but the American lines are almost identical without juice. This underscores the fact that sportsbooks tend to ensure their income through the money they charge on the juice for bets on favored teams. We’ll talk a bit more about how sportsbooks work after the next section.
Various Kinds of Bets You Can Make
The following are some of the most common types of wagers. Again, we’ll bold each one so that you can more easily scroll past any information you may already know.
We’ll start with money lines, since they are the most common and we have already talked quite a bit about how to read them. You will especially be betting on money lines if you prefer to bet on baseball or hockey. In basketball and football, it is generally only common to bet on money lines if you are betting on the underdog, as money lines for each of those two sports tend to be rather high and charge a lot of juice on favored teams.
When you bet on the money lines, literally all you are betting on is whether or not a particular team is going to win the game. You will also see money lines on other types of bets, as a means of telling you the payout for each one.
Next, let’s consider over/under bets, also known as O/U bets or totals. These are not the most common type of wager, but they occur with relative frequency in all major sports. The over/under is basically the number of points (or runs in baseball and goals in hockey) expected to occur between both teams. It doesn’t matter who wins or loses, or even how many points are scored by each team. All that matters is the total between them.
The reason that totals play is also referred to as an over/under bet is that you are betting on which side of the given number you expect the actual total to fall. So in a game between two teams in which the given total is 224, you might bet under if you expect a low-scoring game in which neither team clears 100 points. You might also bet over if you expect both teams to score well over 115, or even if you just expect one team to score enough to clear the difference.
If, however, the above game results in a combined score of 224, the game will result in what is known as a push. This means that nobody wins, and all of the money is refunded. Sometimes, sportsbooks will try to prevent this from happening by setting totals numbers with half-points on the end. So if you see an O/U total set at 224.5, then you can win by betting under if the combined score is 224 or less, and you can win by betting over if the combined score is 225 or more.
Now, let’s look at point spreads, also known as run lines or puck lines if you are betting on baseball or hockey, respectively. The point spread will always be the same number for each team, and again the positive number will denote which team is the underdog while the negative number indicates the favorites. The money lines for each team, however, may differ slightly. Point spreads are the most common type of bet for basketball and football games.
The way point spreads work is that the favored team has to win by more points than indicated by the spread, while the underdog has to either win the game or else simply lose by fewer points than indicated by the spread. Since there are technically more outcomes that will allow the underdog to beat the spread, you will sometimes see more juice charged on the underdog when you are betting on point spreads. For instance, let’s say you see a sportsbook that lists the following odds for a game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors:
Cleveland Cavaliers +12.5 (-120)
Golden State Warriors -12.5 (-110)
A sportsbook with these odds is expecting Golden State to win, but they are slightly favoring the Cavs to beat the spread and are therefore collecting more juice on those bets. Also note in the above example that the point spread is given a half-point, meaning that Cleveland must lose by 12 or less (or else win the game), while the Warriors have to win by 13 or more. As in over/under betting, you will not always see a half-point, but they are relatively common to prevent a game from ending in a push.
A push in regards to point spreads is when the difference between the two scores is exactly the same number as the number listed for the point spread, similar to its definition in totals play. In such instances, the sportsbook refunds everyone’s bets and no one makes any money. It is not too difficult to understand why many sportsbooks prefer to use half-points to prevent this from happening.
Parlays are similar to betting point spreads, but in this case you are betting on more than one game at the same time. We’ve covered these before at some length, but we’ll provide you with a basic overview here. The first thing you need to know is that they are incredibly risky, since losing any one of the games that you add to your parlay results in a loss on the whole thing.
The reason that some people like to bet parlays is that the odds appear to be greater. The money line for a parlay will usually be determined by taking each of the decimal lines for the teams that you have wagered on, multiplying them by one another, and converting them to the appropriate money line.
However, they do not always work this way, and each sportsbook may vary in how they arrive at their given payout. Many, for instance, will ignore the money lines for each team in the parlay and simply set their odds according to how many teams are included. This means that a parlay of three teams will pay far less than a parlay of seven teams, but neither might offer quite the payout that they would be worth if each team’s odds were multiplied by one another.
Also note that many sportsbooks will offer teasers, parlays in which the spreads have been altered to make them easier to beat. However, the payout on such bets is usually far less than it would be for a standard parlay, and the odds of winning every bet included in the parlay are still rather low.
There are other bets that we have not covered in detail, such as futures, prop bets, and more. Futures usually account for a team’s entire season, up to and including the major championship game for their sport (such as the Super Bowl for football or the World Series for baseball). However, they may simply lead up to smaller championships, usually with a slightly smaller payout.
Proposition bets, or prop bets, are generally bets on specific stats. There is an immense variation in which prop bets might be offered at various sportsbooks. These bets are not necessarily too common for beginners, although they can certainly be fun in moderation. The odds of winning prop bets will depend upon the nature of the prop bets themselves, so be sure not to overdo them and only make use of prop bets at your utmost discretion.
This covers most major types of bets, and should certainly get you through the basics of what you need to know. Any information you are looking for that is not covered by the above regarding various types of wagers will likely fall far outside the purview of a beginners guide to sports betting such as this one.
Understanding the Sportsbooks
So you now know how to read the lines and you’re familiar with a few different types of wagers that you can make. But who are the people setting these lines in the first place? More importantly, just how do they operate?
Well, usually, sportsbooks will open their lines fairly early. And while some sportsbooks may set betting limits to make sure that you’re putting down enough money to benefit their profit margins, these limits will generally be pretty low when the lines are first opened.
Things start to change, however, as more and more bettors make their plays. This is because of the juice, which we’ve already referenced a couple of times. As we have mentioned before, the oddsmakers have to make sure that approximately equal numbers of bettors are betting on each side of the line if they want to make sure that they make a solid profit from the juice. As bettors make their plays at the sportsbooks, the bookmakers look to see which side is getting more bets and adjust the lines to try and lure more bettors into betting on the side that has been neglected by comparison. Once the sportsbooks begin to achieve a balance between bets on each sides of the lines, they will likely start to raise the betting limits.
Of course, not every sportsbook will follow this exact same strategy. Some sportsbooks might not alter their lines too much, while some may try to influence bets to lean toward one side rather than trying to strike a balance. It all depends upon the goals of the bookmakers and how they think they are likely to make more money.
Some will also engage in a practice called shading, which is basically inflating the value of the team they expect to be more popular with bettors. There are a lot of chalk players out there, bettors who will only wager on teams that are favored by the sportsbooks. These types of bettors make it easy for sportsbooks to shade their lines, because they know that these players will pay the extra juice for the promise of reduced winnings, rather than taking a chance on the underdog.
It should be clear by now that the sportsbooks have it figured out in terms of how they can be most profitable. If you want to make a profit as well, then you’re going to need to study up on some more tips below.
3. Making Sure You Profit From Sports Betting
Do You Even Know How to Be Profitable?
This sounds like a pretty harsh way to phrase this question, but we’re asking it for a reason. We already told you about chalk players in the section above, and you might notice that the way we described them kind of made them sound like fodder for the sportsbooks. Now, do you think that they would have sounded that way if they were constantly just rolling in the dough?
No. And these are people who think that they’ve found a safe and easy way to increase their profit margin by making the most obvious bets on every game. But sports don’t work like that. There is no such thing as a set winner, and you may notice that the decimal lines we gave you when we were looking at no-juice lines in the above sections were much closer than the decimal lines we gave before factoring out the vigorish. In other words, no matter what the sportsbooks are saying, the teams you’re betting on might be more comparable than you think, and there’s no telling what may happen.
Some sites that specialize in giving advice to those with an interest in sports betting have suggested tracking your plays for as much as a full year before deciding whether or not you think you have the edge that it takes to be a profitable sports bettor. Now, since sports betting is not a perfect art and you’re going to have to accept that you will lose every now and then, the edge you need is actually not too far above 50%, more along the lines of between 52% and 55% depending upon the money lines on which you’re wagering. But just because that seems achievable doesn’t mean it’s easy for everyone.
To be a truly profitable sports bettor, you have to check a few things when tracking your picks. First of all, you want to see how your picks fare in comparison to the opening lines set by the sportsbooks, not just the closing lines. Bear in mind that the lines shift over time, so the opening lines are more indicative of what the sportsbook was actually expecting from each team. You also want to make sure that you’re beating these lines a lot. After all, why bother tracking your plays if you’re only betting once a month? You also want to look for trends in these numbers, to ensure that you didn’t close out the year on a month-long losing streak.
When tracking your bets, there are a few more specific stats you will want to note. The first is your ROI, or return on investment. Divide your profits on a bet by the amount you put into it, and you will see about how much you are making on an average play. You will want to look at your ROI for individual wins, but you also want to see the profit you have made over time compared to how much money you have put forth in general since you began your foray into sports betting.
You also want to see how often you are beating the closing line. Do not just look at how often you have beat the closing line, but also figure out the average for how many times you have beaten it compared to how many times you have wagered. It doesn’t matter if you are using the equations we gave you to factor out the juice, although you can if you want to. You may not fully understand this as a beginner, but the frequency with which a handicapper is able to beat the closing line is a reflection on their skill level, as it is unlikely that they are beating the closing line often by sheer luck alone. And you want to be skilled, don’t you?
You don’t have to track your bets, but it doesn’t hurt. You also don’t have to do the math yourself. If you Google terms such as “sports betting tracker” or “track picks,” you’ll find a number of useful websites and apps that you can use. Some will give you other useful stats such as your Z score, which predicts your possible rate of success in the future. You definitely want a service that offers this stat.
Another stat that should be offered by the service you choose to utilize is R-squared. It is a bit difficult to explain mathematically, but basically you are looking at consistency. We’ve covered the issue of variance in sports betting before, but a handicapper with less variance likely has an edge when it comes to skill rather than luck. Consistency in your win rate also allows you some leeway in terms of bankroll management. If you want to make sure that you really have an edge when it comes to sports betting, then your pick tracker should offer this stat. Do some research and figure out which service you like most, focusing on services with stats such as R-squared and Z scores.
Speaking of research, this is another thing that you’re going to need if you want to be profitable. We have already written a number of articles on which stats you must heed when betting on various sports, most of which were linked in the intro to this guide. Look around at some of our articles on various sports, and figure out which stats you need to be researching in order to make the best plays you can. And if that sounds like too much work, then ask yourself the following question….
Can You Afford to Hire Professional Help?
We linked our packages page at the beginning of this guide, but there are things that you need to know about us (and really about all handicapping consultants) if you are going to bother using our services to begin with. If you can afford the help of consistent winners such as ourselves then we recommend you take advantage of what we have to offer, but you might still want to know a little bit about how we work.
Now, while we and many of our competitors may occasionally mention win percentages, we already covered above that these percentages do not have to be too high to be profitable. That means you’re going to have to look at a few other things when looking for help with your handicapping endeavors. If you’re looking at a handicapper that offers a free trial, then consider tracking your picks throughout the duration of the trial and analyzing some of the same stats that we told you to analyze in your own sports betting endeavors. You will be working with a low sample size, but it will still be helpful to have these numbers.
Of course, another major thing that you will need to look at is the sheer price of the service you are planning to use. If you have looked at our packages page and have tracked some picks using our free trial, then you already know whether or not we are the service for you. But, in fairness to you, we should suggest that you do not pick a package that costs more than the amount you have in your bankroll. Remember that you will not always get your payouts immediately, so even winning with such numbers can feel a lot like losing in the short term. We’ll talk more about bankroll later on in this guide, after which you can do some math and figure out how much money you have to spare.
We won’t discourage you from checking out some of our competitors’ rates, but if you do then bear in mind what we have said about cost and about acceptable win rates for profitable sports bettors. If you see someone offering more than 60% in terms of win rates, they are likely operating from a very small sample that does not truthfully convey their usual rates of success. In other words, they’re trying to scam you. Don’t play into it. Remember that truly successful sports bettors often make profits that are relatively small, but still worth the effort they have put forth. Someone promising to profit from just about every play is trying to sell you lies because they think that you are either irrational, inexperienced, or both.
Now, we said earlier than some sports bettors might choose not to watch the games upon which they’ve wagered if they’ve elected to use a service rather than placing their own bets. And while we maintain that this is a much less exciting way to bet, there are some benefits to it. As we’ve said, you are going to lose sometimes. And if you’re watching every single game, you’re going to feel those losses a lot more. If you want to trust the service you are using, you might want to refrain from watching most games for a while. Your emotions during these games may cloud your judgment. Go by the numbers, not by how you felt when watching the games. Once the numbers are in and you’re comfortable with the service you’re using, then you can start watching the games again.
The other reason to wait until the numbers are in for a while is because you might start to go against the advice you’re receiving, thereby rendering the service for which you’ve paid absolutely worthless. This can be true whether your plays are winning or losing. If you win numerous times in a row, you might think that you can push your streak, whereas losing too many times in a row may cause you to become reckless out of desperation. Stay the course. If you decide later to start handicapping your own games, do so because you’re confident in your picks, not because you are making undue judgments against the ones you’ve purchased.
Sports Betting Changes Depending Upon the Sport
The last thing we want to talk about in terms of profitability is the sports on which you choose to bet. If you use our services, we’ll offer you plays for a number of different sports. You don’t have to use every play we give you if you don’t want to, but you should know the differences between each sport before making such a decision.
To analyze this data, we’ll use some numbers that were researched by Pick Monitor, one of the better pick trackers around. They looked at the home teams in a large number of games from 2012 to 2014, and figured out how much a bettor would have made on average if they had laid down bets of $100 on each one of these games at the time that the lines were charging the least amount of juice in between their opening lines and closing lines. It is highly unlikely that a bettor would ever manage to beat the closing line on every single game like this, but this will still provide you with an idea of how profitable each sport can be.
Here at WePickSports, we provide plays for the NFL, the NBA, the MLB, the NHL, and college basketball and football. As such, these are the sports for which we read the following numbers.
First of all, let’s look at basketball and football. In each sport, college bets seemed to offer greater profitability. In basketball, college bets returned an average profit of $5.19 per every $100 ventured, whereas this number fell to $4.16 looking at NBA games. Bets on college basketball games were also more frequent, with a sample size of 3604 compared to the NBA sample size of 1634.
For college football and the NFL, the sample sizes were 969 and 592, respectively. Again, the sample size was much larger for college games. In addition, NCAAF games returned an average of $6.52 compared to the average of $4.24 from NFL games.
The MLB and NHL were not nearly as profitable as these sports. MLB bets had sample size of 2269, which you might notice is larger than the sample size of NFL games, NBA games, or college football games. The average return per $100 ventured was only $2.99, less than half of the return for college football games.
The sample size for NHL bets was 739, which is again higher than that of pro or college football. The average return, however, was only $2.50, making it the lowest of any of these sports.
When you bear in mind that these numbers were taken with the assumption that $100 was risked on each bet, these numbers seem especially low. However, bear in mind that these numbers were not figured with the assumption that the hypothetical bettor would win every play, merely that they would always bet the home team. So you can potentially expect greater returns, but that does not mean that one sport is not still technically more profitable than another. This simply gives you an idea of which sports are most popular for bettors, and which ones offer the greatest potential ROI.
And, you’ll notice that the hypothetical chalk player in these examples still technically made a profit. If your bankroll allows you to bet quite a bit over the course of a month, then you might be able to clean up pretty well by following all of the plays we give you.
4. Deciding Where to Place Your Bets
Choosing the Right Sportsbook
We’ve talked about picking the right sportsbook before, but it’s an important enough issue to be included in this guide. There are a lot of issues that must be taken into account when trying to decide upon the best sportsbook for you. In fact, there are so many issues to take into account that we recommend you familiarize yourself with more than one book. You need to be able to compare lines in order to maximize your profits while minimizing your losses, and that means you can’t rely on placing your bets at the same sportsbook every single time.
But forget about the lines for a second, we’ll discuss those further below. Most online sportsbooks also offer various bonuses for signing up with them. Such bonuses may include anything from a free trial to even a few free plays, allowing you the potential to make a bit of money without having to risk anything. This can be incredibly useful if played well, and will allow you to start making returns before you have made any type of investment. You want to do your research when looking at sportsbooks to ensure that you are getting the best bonuses possible.
However, one of the most important bonuses that you will want to look for is reductions on the juice. This may not be the most common feature offered by most sportsbooks, but you can find it offered by some if you look hard enough. We’ve talked enough about the juice and what it means to the sportsbooks for you to have an understanding as to why this is important to look for, so we won’t focus too much on it here. Just know that, regardless of other bonuses, a sportsbook that doesn’t charge too much in terms of juice can help you clean up fairly well.
Finally, remember when you are researching sportsbooks that you should be doing just that: researching. Do not just look at a few sportsbooks and decide which ones look the best, but actually look around online to see what people are saying about the books in question. If people are saying that the sportsbooks are great about allowing you to deposit funds but take forever to allow you to withdraw your winnings, then you might want to go ahead and keep looking for better options. And if you can’t find any user reviews whatsoever, then the sportsbook might not have been around long enough to be truly reputable. You can use them if you want, but you are doing so at your own risk.
Also bear in mind that not all user testimonies are real. Even some websites that offer reviews of various sportsbooks might not always be 100% truthful. With this in mind, try to assess whether or not the information you’re finding on various sportsbooks is reliable. You may not always be able to tell, but hopefully your instincts will serve you well.
Comparing Lines at Each Book
If you’re a true beginner to the world of sports betting, you may not understand just how important it is to compare the lines at each sportsbook before deciding where to place your bets. And you can be forgiven for this, because the lines offered by various books are often pretty comparable. If you’ve found a sportsbook you like, then why should you care if they happen to set their line at -115 for a play when another sportsbook is setting it at -110 for the same play? The difference seems negligible. If you’re going to compare lines, then you want the differences to be big as possible. Right?
Well, to some extent that’s true. But, those seemingly negligible differences can still pay off over time. Let’s say you’re on the lower end of the spectrum in terms of how often you win, maybe winning about 53% of your plays. Now let’s say that every time you bet, you’re betting $115 on those -115 lines. Let’s also say that you’re being relatively conservative and only making one play every day. Using the math we gave you for converting to decimal lines, you’re working with a decimal line of approximately 1.87, and subtracting the 1 tells you that you’re making about 87 cents in terms of profits over what you invested. With your 53% win rate, that amounts to around $1590 in profits per month.
Now, use those same numbers, but assume you’re still betting $115 at that lower line of -110 (which is a decimal line of about 1.91, or about 91 cents in extra profits per dollar).Your monthly profits are now raised to about $1662.27, slightly more than $70 per month than in the above example. That may not seem like a huge deal, but bear in mind that this difference is if you were only making one play a day with a 53% win rate. If you’re using a handicapping consulting service with a greater success rate, and making multiple plays per day, then you’re going to make even more per month, not to mention per year.
This is why you benefit from comparing lines and placing your bet at the sportsbook that offers less juice. Whether you’re making your bets online or at the casino, you should be shopping around and opening accounts with different sportsbooks so that you can make the most of your profits from sports betting. It is especially easy to do if you are betting online, since it won’t take too long for you to shop the differences. And when you look at it that way, there’s virtually no excuse not to do your research with as many sportsbooks as possible. Your bank account will be all the better for it.
5. Properly Managing Your Bankroll
The Simplest Rule for Bankroll Management
We’re about to into some pretty complicated mathematics, but let’s not go there just yet. Most of the math we’re about to give you pertains to bettors who have been engaged in the practice of sports betting for a while and already know something about how much of their bankroll they stand to lose during a bad downswing. If you’re a true beginner, then you might not have all of that information just yet. So for you, we’re going to start with some basic rules of thumb.
If you’re using our services, then we’re already telling you how much of your bankroll we suggest you spend on each of our plays. And we won’t go into example numbers, because everyone has a different bankroll and so the percentages can differ quite a bit. In any case, we never suggest putting more than 10% toward a single bet, and those are only the rare plays we refer to as our “Diamond” selections, which have about a 90% success rate. That’s uncommon, and there’s a reason we can’t make those plays every day. It’s just not practical.
For most plays, you’re going to want to bet a much lower percentage of your bankroll than that. Most would suggest anywhere between 1% and 3%. Theoretically, you could bet 3% on one play per day every day for a month and still have money left in your bankroll at the end of a thirty-day period, but that doesn’t mean you’ll want to bet 3% every time. If you’re making multiple plays per day, then you should stick to an average of 1%, only bumping up the percentage when you’re relatively certain about the play.
If you’re not betting every day, then you might be able to get away with fudging these numbers just a little bit. But don’t think that we’re necessarily encouraging you to do so. Again, bear in mind that flat betting is for those who don’t want to do the math associated with more proper methods of bankroll management. If that describes you, then you want to stick to pretty low percentages of your bankroll on each play. However, if you can crunch certain numbers, then keep reading for a much more commonly accepted strategy in the world of sports betting.
Understanding (and Using) the Kelly Formula
The Kelly formula, more commonly known as the Kelly criterion and also known by a few other similar names, is one of the most widely accepted rules in the world of sports betting. At least, as far as bankroll management is concerned. And that isn’t without reason. If you use the Kelly formula often, you will come to understand why the above section on flat betting advised you to keep your bets relatively low in terms of your overall bankroll, even if you were fairly certain that you were going to win.
First of all, let’s examine how you can calculate your bankroll management by using the Kelly formula. To do this, we’re going to use some numbers we gave you much earlier in this guide, back when we were talking about how to read money lines and calculate implied win rates. If you’ll remember, we gave you a money line of -130 for the Marlins with 56.5% as the implied win rate. Well, if you plug those numbers into the Kelly calculator linked here, it will actually tell you not to bet at all. But if you erroneously bump up the implied probability of winning to 57%, it will tell you to bet 1.1% of your bankroll.
This should give you an idea regarding just how precise the Kelly formula can be. Even half a percentage of difference on the implied win rate made all the difference between whether you should bet 1% or not bet at all. In similar fashion, if you use the numbers we gave you for the Rangers in that same hypothetical (line of +120 with percentage of 45.5%), that same calculator tells you to wager .08%, yet again bumps that up to a full 1% if you round the percentage up to 46%.
You may wonder why these numbers are differing so greatly, and the simple answer is that the Kelly formula operates through a relatively complicated equation that figures out your potential payout in terms of your implied win rate. We won’t go into all the math, but suffice to say that you’re going to want to use the calculator we’ve linked rather than try to figure it out on your own. This calculator also allows you to figure out numbers for parlays if you choose to make them, although we don’t suggest parlays as a part of any sound bankroll management system.
Expected Value and What to Learn From It
If you’ve tried playing around with the calculator we’ve linked above, then you’ve seen how widely the Kelly formula’s suggestions regarding your bankroll management can change with only the smallest alterations to an implied win rate. And the whole thing might be going over your head, which is extremely forgivable considering how much it can complicate your sports betting. After all, if it returns a value of 0%, does that mean you shouldn’t bother betting at all? Well, you can understand all this a bit better if you take a look at expected value.
To get expected value for an underdog bet, you multiply the implied win rate by the number you get if you divide the line by 100, and then you subtract the inverse of the win rate. The numbers we gave you for the Rangers would make this equation .455 x (120 / 100) – .545 = .001, which is an extremely negligible value. However, altering the win rate to 46% changes the equation to .46 x (120 / 100) – .54 = .012, twelve times the value of the other number, helping to explain why the Kelly calculator returned a positive value due to such a slight change.
You can see the difference by running the favored numbers as well. The equation for expected value is the same, only you switch the 100 with the number at which the line is set. So for our example numbers, you’d get .565 x (100 / 130) – .435 = -00038, which is not only small but also negative, helping to explain why the Kelly calculator returned no value. However, the change we made to the implied win rate resulted in .57 x (100 / 130) – .43 = .008, which is still small but at least positive.
Now, these numbers are small, but let’s look at what they actually represent. Expected value is what you might gain from a bet on average if you were to repeat it every time you placed a bet. Expected value is often considered alongside another statistic referred to as expected growth, which is even harder to explain. But let’s look at the basics here: these numbers aren’t perfect. We won’t go into the specifics, but some have argued that you can basically make a bet with downwards from 1,000,000,000 to 1 odds look favorable by giving it a high enough payout to increase the expected growth.
What, then, should you be learning from all of this? Well, first of all, just because these numbers aren’t perfect doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run them. And while we did intentionally fudge our numbers to get a response from the calculator we used, those fudged numbers still didn’t tell us to bet any higher than 1%. So the first thing you should be learning is that you are taking a risk just about any time you bet more than 1% of your bankroll, unless the money lines and the implied win rates you’ve calculated return better odds from the Kelly calculator than you can get without fudging the numbers the way we did.
Additionally, you should note that even our fudged numbers returned 1.1% on the favored team and 1% on the underdog. So, unless you’re using our services and we’ve told you otherwise, or if you’re handicapping the game yourself and you’ve found a higher expected value for the underdog, then you might want to bet on the favored team. Don’t worry about becoming a chalk player…if you’re using these numbers, you will eventually run into some games where it’s arguably more profitable to bet on the underdog. It just might not happen all of the time.
Above All, Don’t Get Too Cocky
If you only take away one thing from the above few sections, let it be that bankroll management can be a tricky aspect of sports betting, and taking it for granted can result in extreme losses to your overall funds. The fact that a negative expected value can arise from a bet with more than a 56% chance of winning means that you can never be too certain as to whether or not the odds posted by the sportsbook are promising the profitable return that you think they are.
And hey, if you’re not the type of person to use all these formulas and online calculators, then there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the flat rates of between 1% and 3% that we outlined at the beginning of this section on bankroll management. Just remember that, as long as you’re shopping around for the best lines at various sportsbooks, your profits will be small in the short term but great in the long term. And if you can maintain a high success rate by either using our services or becoming a strategic and qualified sports bettor, then you can make more plays per day with a higher bankroll and still make steady profits.
Just don’t let greed get the better of you. The average novice sports bettor doesn’t have a lot of money to throw around, and many of them either aren’t as aware of this fact as they should be or else they’re so aware of it that they feel desperate to make more money from their sports betting. They will therefore get greedy after a couple of wins and try to press their luck, throwing everything they’ve learned about responsible bankroll management by the wayside in the process.
Don’t be one of those people. We’ve given you a lot of tools to use in this guide, and you should use everything at your disposal to be the most responsible sports bettor that you can be. If you really don’t think that you can handle some of the steps above, especially as far as math is concerned, then you can skip the mathematical bits and trust that our service will help you manage your wagers and your bankroll responsibly. But if you’re entertaining even the slightest idea of going it alone, then don’t be reckless.
But as long as you’re not too cocky, not too greedy, and as responsible as you need to be to make a steady profit, then you should be fine. With these things in mind, go out there and have fun. It might take you a while in your “beginner” phase before you start to feel like a truly experienced and profitable sports bettor, but the journey will be well worth the end result. So keep this guide in mind if you need to gloss back over some of the finer points, and feel free to get started. A whole world of sports betting excitement awaits you!