Clearing Away the Stigma on Sports Betting

"Stigma" means being growled at by a cute girl with a Benjamin in her teeth. There are worse definitions. (Fotolia/Dreamstime)

“Stigma” means being growled at by a cute girl with a Benjamin in her teeth. There are worse definitions, but we prefer this one. (Fotolia/Dreamstime)

Sports betting can be a great pastime for those who do it wisely. And why shouldn’t it be? You get to add a little bit of extra personal excitement to every game you watch by throwing some personal stakes into the mix, and you even get to take in a little bit of money when your team goes home with a win. Heck, as long as you don’t lose more than half the time, there’s really no harm done. But if you win over half the time? Well, let’s just say that a rare few are able to supplement a large portion of their income that way.

So why is it that some sports bettors face derision by their family, friends, priests or spouses? Why is it that some are ridiculed for making a hobby of it, while others are even loathed outright for making a living out of it? The answer comes down to one simple word, and it’s a word that chills us right to our bones. It’s a word that we would fight tooth and nail to keep out of all discussions related to sports betting, if only we had that sort of power. The word, of course, is “gambling.”

Our problem with this word, aside from the sheer negative connotations of it, is that it misrepresents what sports betting is all about. Is there an element of chance? Of course. If there weren’t, it would be pretty boring to watch sports whether you were betting on the games or not. But there is also an element of chance in just about every money-making pursuit imaginable, from sales to stocks. Yet neither of these pursuits is regarded as an industry of gamblers. Why? We can think of a few reasons.

Since we recently wrote about Vegas oddsmakers and everything they have to teach us about handicapping sports, it seems like a worthwhile investment of our time to now dedicate some focus to enumerating a few of the main reasons that sports betting is unlike anything else you’ll find in a Vegas casino. Not only will you see that sports betting and traditional gambling are two wildly differing pursuits, but you will also learn a little bit about why sports betting can be a worthwhile expenditure of your time.

True Handicapping Lessens the Chance Element

Oh, look…the ball landed on the average joe’s chances of winning this stupid game. (Hemera/Thinkstock)

Oh, look…the ball landed on the average Joe’s chances of winning this stupid game. (Hemera/Thinkstock)

This is a biggie. When people think of gambling, they aren’t just thinking of card games like poker and blackjack, which some might compare to sports betting due to the mixture of both chance and strategy. They are also thinking of games like craps and roulette, which are extremely luck-based and much less reliable overall. And if you’re not already seeing where gambling and sports betting start to diverge, let us spell it out for you a little more clearly by returning to the analogy between bettors and stock brokers.

Those who play the stock market know that no matter how much attention they pay to market trends, there is always a chance that their stocks may drop in value. Yet that doesn’t keep them from paying attention to those trends. A gambler playing a game of poker or blackjack may occasionally play it like a game of roulette, flipping cards and making calls without really thinking about strategy or the odds of getting the hand they need to win. But those who buy stocks will never do this because it simply isn’t how their profession works.

In similar fashion, think of those who work in sales, or really anyone who works for commission. These people understand that no matter how skilled they are at making a pitch, there is always a chance that the customer simply will not be in the market to buy what they are selling. Even so, they aren’t going to stop reading their customers and trying to make the best pitch possible, because they know that they will lose all chance of making a solid income altogether if they start swinging wild whenever a customer walks through the door.

Now, try to picture a sports bettor with a solid head on his or her shoulders, and try to imagine them placing a wager on a game without knowing anything about either team. Are there people who do it? Sure, just as there are card players who don’t know what the heck they’re doing. But the people who refer to themselves as professional poker players are generally the type of people who have analyzed stacks of data regarding the odds of picking up a winning card depending upon what they are holding in their hand at any given time, and they’ve committed this information to memory.

Relatively few people who are particularly informed will prefer to call the above people “gamblers” rather than “poker players,” as this terminology ignores the dedication with which they have honed a very particular skillset. A “professional gambler” is usually someone who might play a few strategy games, but will also play a few games of chance as well. As such, there is less overlap than you might expect between a gambler and a poker player. Unless you’re Kenny Rogers, in which case we would like to thank you for a wonderful song…we had no idea you read our blog.

Let’s now set aside the analogies of stock brokers, sales reps and poker players, so that we may focus on the matter at hand: sports betting. If you are properly handicapping your games, then the connotations of the word “gambling” (the definition of which is highly dependent on the element of chance) begin to fade away. Yes, there will still be some chance involved. But those who are truly skilled at what they do will find that most professional sports bettors face about as much chance of success as most professionals on Wall Street who have learned to analyze market trends and predict the growing or diminishing value of stocks.

In fact, sports bettors may actually have an edge on those who play the stocks. Think about it for a second. When you acquire stocks in a company, then the only real information you have on that company is what they have decided to tell the public. Despite your vague ideas regarding market trends, you have no idea what new developments are going on behind closed doors that may soon influence the company’s value. But when you wager on a team, you have specific stats regarding the team, the players, the coaches, and all of the games they have played in recent weeks. With such major discrepancies between buying stocks and betting sports, which one really sounds like more of a gamble?

It Can Actually Take Some Effort to Go Bankrupt

We searched for images of the stock market and found about a billion photos like this. Sports betting? Not one. (Reuters)

We searched for images of the stock market and found about a billion photos like this. Sports betting? Not one. (Reuters)

We’ve already dedicated some rather exhaustive effort to making the concession that sports betting can go wrong when the bettor in question leaves everything to chance rather than actually reading the odds and accounting for the various stats that go into properly handicapping a game. So you should already be well aware of the fact that you can lose big if you impulsively decide to place a large wager on a team about which you know nothing. But let’s forget about that for a moment, because you probably aren’t that type of bettor if you’re reading this blog to begin with.

We like to be somewhat realistic. After all, in the world of handicapping, you aren’t likely to get too far if you’re prone to flights of fancy. That’s why those who take advantage of our services will sometimes find themselves being advised to make plays in favor of the underdog. When you read the stats on every game with as much ardent care as we do, you often find that it’s simply more realistic for the underdog to win. But another thing realism has taught us is that some promises just can’t be made.

One of those promises is that of a 100% success rate. As we have stated above, there will always be an element of chance, no matter how slight. And because of this, there is always a chance of losing money on a game. But to have a game bankrupt you would be virtually impossible without placing your entire bankroll on it. Moreover, even a number of losses in a row are not likely to bankrupt you if you are making smart bets. That’s why, as we have stated before, our plays are always accompanied by suggestions regarding how much money should be wagered to maximize potential profits while minimizing potential losses.

Now, let’s say that you bet a bit more than we would generally recommend, but you are still reasonable enough not to blow your wad on a single game. Even then, you would have to bet pretty frequently in order to incur the type of major losses that lead to financial ruin. And if you’re betting that frequently while either utilizing our services or at least reading the stats yourself, then it is very unlikely that you’re going to lose on every play you make. It would require an almost prodigiously monumental streak of bad luck.

This is why we say that it would take actual effort to go bankrupt. Not only would you have to suffer from a terrible streak of luck—which, to be fair, does happen to some people from time to time—but you would also have to bet just about every day. Assuming you have a relatively sound sense of rationale, you would probably take a while off from betting and work a few extra hours to make up for your bad streak long before things get bad enough to take any sort of irreparable toll on your financial life.

Again, this sort of thing does happen to some people, but they are usually not the type of people who take the time to properly assess each team’s stats or consult a team of handicappers such as ourselves to do it for them. And it is unfortunate that the more reckless types exist, because they are among the causes of the stigma that many place on the art of sports betting. Those who stigmatize the act of handicapping will look at the more reckless types, and they will draw wild conclusions regarding the life of the average sports bettor. In their eyes, every wager you place gets you one step closer to having your kneecaps busted out by an angry bookie.

We are very happy to report that this is a greatly falsified image. Most sports bettors are not some down-on-their-luck gambling addicts who owe mountains of debt to cartoonishly shady characters. In fact, we’re pretty certain that even Vegas casinos wouldn’t allow sports betting to continue if that type of thing were the norm. It would interfere with their public image just a tad. As long as you are making smart bets, and betting in moderation after experiencing a streak of bad luck, then you will not likely suffer any long-term financial consequences. Otherwise, you aren’t going to wind up in a bad spot unless you’re putting forth quite a bit of effort toward making bad bets.

Sports Betting Offers Great Entertainment Value

Look how happy they are. The only way she’s putting a stigma on sports betting is if his team wins. (The Trent)

Look how happy they are. The only way she’s putting a stigma on sports betting is if his team wins. (The Trent)

The above contrasts between the realities of sports betting and the connotations associated with the word “gambling” may read as somewhat defensive, so we’d like to end with a few observations that highlight the actual benefits of sports betting rather than simply defending the lack of major consequences. Primarily, we would like to point out that sports betting has a great deal of entertainment value, something which was mentioned briefly in the introduction when we spoke on the excitement of watching a game on which you have placed a wager.

Have you ever seen the people at bars or casinos who seem practically addicted to playing the slot machines? They’ll sit there at the penny slots for what seems like hours on end, tediously performing the same routine and listening to the same sounds over and over again. To the outsider, it makes menial labor seem like an amusement park ride. Maybe they’ll get up and change machines every once in a while, but that isn’t exactly a significant change of scenery. In short, it’s hard to picture what they’re really getting out of the experience.

The same could be said of other casino activities to a lesser extent. Roulette requires even less active participation than the slots, suitable to anyone who really enjoys watching a ball spin around a wheel several times. Craps can get exciting for those who play it, but it’s still more or less the same routine of repeatedly rolling the same dice and hoping for a different outcome each time. And card games tend to be long and drawn out processes, fun to participate in but boring to watch unless you’re watching a table full of pros and you’re the type of person who actually understands what’s going on in each of the players’ heads.

However, sports betting does away with these concerns. The closest you get to a repetitive action is assessing the stats of a game, and this becomes second nature with enough practice. In addition, you do not have to assess nearly as many stats when keeping up with how the lines are moving as you have to assess when first handicapping the game. And once you have placed your bet, you are able to sit back and watch your team in action. And you know it’ll be an exciting game whether you’re rooting for a home team or not, because you have a personal interest in the outcome.

In fact, most true sports fans will likely gain some excitement from just about every second of a game they have handicapped. This is where you get to test your abilities as a handicapper and see just how accurate you were in assessing the skills of each team. If you’re watching a baseball game, you might get some excitement out of seeing how well the starting pitcher fares against each individual batter. If you’re watching the NBA Playoffs, you can see if your individual player match-ups are working out how you expected them to. And once NFL season starts, you’ll get to test your understanding of various defensive and offensive formations and how well they stand up to each other.

If you did a good job of handicapping the game, then you will likely gain a lot of satisfaction from watching the game unfold in the manner you expected. And even if your assessment of each team’s abilities could use some work, then you will at least be treated to a nail-biter that will offer up a fair share of teachable moments. Either way, sports fans will be glued to the edge of their seats with anticipation. It’s almost difficult to imagine how anyone could ever attach a stigma to the art of handicapping when it makes watching your favorite sport just that much more enjoyable.