Almost anyone can bet on sports. It takes a lot more to win at sports betting.
If you are betting on sports and want to find out how to actually win, you are in the right place.
First, it is important to know that most people do not win long term at sports betting. Many people just want to bet on sports to make the game more interesting to watch or follow.
While I can’t just tell you who or what to bet on, I can give you principles that will drastically increase your chance of becoming a long term winner.
If you want to beat the sportsbook, try out the following strategies to give you a leg up on the competition.
Bet Lines as Early as Possible
Most average Joe’s bet right before game time. Don’t do this.
Closing lines are considered the most efficient representation of a team’s chances. All of the possible information has made its’ way into bets, and sportsbooks have adjusted their lines to account for this.
If you were to blindly bet NFL point spreads at game time, you would expect to lose, on average, the juice the sportsbook charges (typically 4-5%).
One of the biggest and most respected sportsbooks in the world, Pinnacle, has said that they use closing line value to profile winning bettors.
The only way to beat the closing line is to bet as early as you can.
Most professional bettors will hammer the opening lines, giving the sportsbooks valuable information about which way to move the line.
You want to bet the lines before they have a chance to move significantly.
Bet the Best Odds
This should be fairly obvious, however most people don’t do it.
Once you have a bet you would like to make, it is important to shop for the best odds. Doing this over the long run could be the difference between being profitable and unprofitable.
If you were going to buy a laptop or other big ticket item, wouldn’t you want to get the best possible price? Same goes for sports betting.
Find Low or No Hold Markets
You can maximize your chance of winning by simply looking across multiple sportsbooks.
Often times you can find scenarios where there is little to no hold (“juice”) on a given market. See below for an example:
Use Sportsbook Scout’s odds comparison tool to identify these markets for you.
Open Accounts at Multiple Sportsbooks
In order to find and bet into markets with low or no juice, you need to have accounts open at multiple sportsbooks.
Having multiple accounts will allow you to take advantage of sportsbooks that may have a number that is significantly off from the rest of the market.
Bet on Less Popular Sports and Markets
While betting the big markets like NFL point spreads and MLB moneylines are fun, they are also the hardest to beat.
Because they are the most popular. And more popularity = more money bet. More money bet = sharper lines. Sharper lines = harder to beat.
Finding more obscure leagues like WNBA, CFL, and Japanese baseball are more likely to have softer lines and more opportunities.
The same goes for prop bets.
Prop bets represent a significant opportunity for bettors as sportsbooks are competing to offer as many prop bets as humanly possibly.
This means sportsbooks have to create odds for these markets. The sheer number of prop bets that are offered means there are surely numbers that are not backed by a whole lot.
Check out prop bets offered by different markets. Study them. See when (or if) the lines move.
Create a Model
Using statistics to create a model is a great way to determine which side you should be on. However, you need to be careful that you aren’t fooling yourself with your model.
Using a model that has basic statistics such as points, yards, field goal percentage, etc. is not likely to yield great results.
Because sports betting is a market. And it is likely that many people in the market have a model similar to yours, just much more robust. This means that money pouring into the market is likely to be more accurate (“sharper”).
So is using a model a bad idea? No! You just need to be honest in accepting the shortcomings and things it might not be capturing.
Injuries, playing time trends, shifts in coaching strategy, and more can be things that could affect the line but not be incorporated into your model.
Excel is a great tool to get started with building models. For the more technical people, using programs such as Python and R can take it to another level.
Find/Create/Use Statistics That Aren’t Widely Available
Using the same statistics as everyone else isn’t likely to yield great results.
For example, if everyone using a model for MLB is using their FIP metric for pitchers (Fielding Independent Pitching), then that should be accounted for in the line.
Using statistics in creative ways or even creating your own statistics could help you have an advantage on the market. The hard part is determining if these statistics have predictive value.
Find an Angle
An angle is something predictive that can be recognized by noticing patterns.
An example of an angle would be live betting against the Golden State Warriors in the 4th quarter when they had their record breaking season.
The theory behind it is that Golden State would be blowing teams out so badly that they would rest their starters in the 4th quarter, while their opponent continues to play their best players.
Another example would be using patterns to predict when NBA teams are likely to rest their superstars. “Load management” became a popular phrase the last few years, and there were definitely spots where you could predict when a team would rest their star.
Use Promotions to Your Advantage
Sportsbooks are battling for customers and will often times offer promotions via free bets, boosted odds, or rebates that give you an edge.
Don’t be afraid to take advantage of these, as they aren’t likely to last forever.
Do Not Buy Picks
While many “touts” will boast about things like 12-1 +24.3 units for Thursday Night Football games in Florida, you should generally stay away.
Winning at sports betting is hard enough. When you add the fact that you are paying for the pick, and then susceptible to the line moving before you can place your bet makes it a tough sell.
Touts are also notorious for being “creative” with how they display their record and grade their bets. Anyone boasting 60%+ against the spread should likely be avoided.
Do Not Chase Losses
Betting systems like doubling your bet size every time you lose is a bad idea. The quickest way to lose your bankroll is to do things like this. Create a betting process and stick to it.
Manage Your Bet Size Relative to Your Bankroll
Bet size is an important topic that many recreational bettors get wrong.
If you have $100 to bet, don’t place all $100 on a single bet. Divide that $100 up into smaller bets. You should do this because it allows you to handle natural variance in betting. In other words, if you go on a cold streak, you will still have money left rather than having $0 in your bankroll.
You should only be betting a small percentage of your bankroll on each bet. Anywhere from 1-2% is a reasonable starting point.
If you are using models or have a statistics based approach where you can calculate your edge, I would recommend following the half Kelly criterion model. It essentially sizes your bets appropriately given what you think your edge is.
Track Your Performance
Simply tracking your bets can shed some light on where you are profiting and where you aren’t.
Use Sportsbook Scout’s free Excel bet tracker to easily record and analyze your bets. All you need to do is enter the bet information, and the analysis is done for you.
Using the bet tracker can give you insights into where you are doing well by different dimensions: league, team, bet type, props, etc.
Accept and Understand Variance
Variance is a natural part of sports betting. Most people don’t fully understand the concept of variance, and are therefore fooled by randomness.
The more you can accept and understand variance, the better off you will be. It is helpful to track metrics like closing line value that are more predictive of success rather than just profit and loss.
If you are betting NBA spreads, let’s say for the sake of simplicity you have a 50% chance to win every bet. Last week you went 10-0.
Have you figured everything out? Are you the best sports bettors in the world? The answer is probably no. What you are seeing is variance. Understand the swings (both ways) and try to keep a level head no matter what your recent performance.
Don’t Bet One Sided Markets
One sided markets are typically prop bets that are either Yes or No.
Sometimes sportsbooks will only offer one side of this bet. Avoid these bets at all costs. You are at a huge disadvantage as the sportsbooks can charge almost unlimited juice on these without you knowing.
Don’t Bet on “Tilt”
The quickest way to a $0 bankroll is to bet emotionally. If you find yourself doing this, try to take a step back and think about what you are doing. Although sports betting is naturally an emotional endeavor, you need to try to limit how much your emotions influence your betting.
If you find you can’t stop, seek help. Call 1-800-522-4700 for more information.
Don’t Bet on Your Team/With Your Heart
Most people think they have an edge on their favorite team. The logic goes that they watch their team the most, and therefore have the best information on how they will perform.
This logic fails in a few regards. The first is that betting on your favorite team is likely due to a natural affinity for your team. The second way that fails is that you likely don’t know nearly as much about the other team or side of the bet.
While in general it is a bad idea to bet on your favorite team in the main markets (spread, moneyline, total), it can make sense if you have a real angle. For example, if you have watched every second of every Detroit Pistons game this year, you may notice things like substitution patterns or coaching tendencies that may be advantageous to you in a live betting environment.
Don’t Bet More Than You Are Willing to Lose
Only deposit what you can afford to lose. Despite what you have read elsewhere, you should not view sports betting as an “investment”. For the casual bettors, it should be treated as a form of entertainment and budgeted for accordingly.
Study the Market
One way to get a good feel for the market is to simply follow the lines throughout the day/week. When do lines move? Why? By how much?
Keeping tabs on line movements can give you hints as to what the market values. Lines will typically move on news that is expected to affect the outcome of the game. Injuries are the most common example of this, but other factors can move the odds such as weather, schedule, trades, or even comments from a coach, player, or ownership.
Sometimes lines can move on no “news”. This is likely due to a market making sportsbook receiving a big bet(s) from a sharp and respected bettor and moving the line.
Following the lines and news are a great way to get a pulse for the market and understand why lines are moving one way or another.
Never Stop Learning
There are many resources out there that can help you become a better sports bettor. Much like the key to getting good at anything, you need to continue to learn as much as you can.
If you are just getting started, you can’t go wrong with these books to learn more about the sports betting industry:
Check out our resources page for a full list of recommendations.