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, 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 type 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 NCAA Tournament.
Much of the industry jargon considers money management as important as picking winners, if not more so. And it certainly is. 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, personally, are content with betting for entertainment purposes only than this essay will serve little purpose. But if you wish to be a successful sports bettor, even as an amateur, and earn a profit from your betting over an extended period of time, here are some tips that should help you in that quest.
Professional handicappers recognize the value of the half point. On the average college basketball Saturday, for example, there are at least ? dozen games that are won or lost against the spread by a point or less. If he bet on the game, the pro bettor will be on the right side of just about every one of those decisions. He'll either getting the push when others lost, or he'll get the win when others pushed. (I use 'he' because, to be honest, every professional sports bettor that I know is a man - this is a very segregated industry in that regard). The pro will take the extra time to shop around for the best number at multiple sportsbooks. He'll have accounts that are funded in enough places to ensure that when he finds the line that he is looking for, he'll be able to place the bet. And he'll have an idea of which direction the line is likely to move, enabling him to bet early or late, depending on which time offers an advantageous number. The pro wins by a half point far more often than he loses by the hook. Making a modest 20 bets a week (1000 a year, a number that is on the low side for most professionals), it is not unusual to gain an extra 10 or 15 wins a year and another 10 or 15 pushes just by betting into good numbers. Assuming the bettor is betting a modest 2% of his bankroll on any given play, those 20 or 30 favorable decisions translates into a 40-60% swing in his return on his sports betting investment. That's not chump change, folks, it's hard earned profit gained one half point at a time!
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, not always looking for the quick score that parlays provide. Amateurs are often lured by the big paydays that winning parlays provide, conveniently forgetting that a season largely consisting of steady 2-1 type days will be even more profitable than the big hits that parlays provide even in a good overall season. Straight bettors never curse the 4-1 days - when they pick more winners than losers - because they make a profit every time, while parlay bettors don't. There's a reason that every sportsbook in Las Vegas has their parlay cards prominently displayed - frankly, parlays pay the bills at most joints here in town. 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.
It's easy to look at the final score of a game and make all kinds of false assumptions. This team got killed, that team gave 'em all they could handle. But without reading game recaps and looking at box scores, you really have no idea of what took place, and what kind of current form the teams you are examining are in. It's key to handicap games again, after the games are over. 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 an example. The Pistons play the Bulls at home, as nine point favorites, but win by only seven, 97-90. But 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. Bu the Bulls hit some late shots in garbage time and made the final score closer than the game was. 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 4th quarter to steal the win. Toronto made an uncharacteristic 27-30 from the free throw line, and hit ten three pointers, while Denver shot just 4-19 in the 4th 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, making your future wagers involving those teams more likely to be successful, even though the final scores of the two games were exactly the same.
Linesmakers have a pretty good idea of which way the money is going to flow once they hang their opening numbers. And amateur bettors are a big part of this, falling in love with 'public' teams, betting them over and over again. In college sports, these 'public' teams are usually in the Top 25, from a major conference - well known schools. In the pro sports, they are the hottest teams, 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. Instead, the pro's concentrate much more on backing the 'good but not great' type of squads, teams that have fallen underneath the public's collective radar, as well as fading some of the mediocre type squads that are in poor current form. The pros bet against Top 25 clubs far more often than they back 'em - that's where the value is, catching six points with an underdog that should only be getting four. It's equally important to recognize when the linesmakers have priced you out of a play. Kentucky and Arizona have been red hot in college basketball for the last couple of months, and they are the top two teams in the whole country right now. While few bettors of any ilk like to step in front of juggernauts like these, they also recognize that the time to back these two schools has come and gone - there's no value on their respective sides. Both clubs had great records against the spread at one point this season, but neither is above .500 vs. the number here in February.
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 week/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. There's no 'double or nothing' attitude on Monday Night Football games for the pro. Conversely, the pro knows that winning streaks are the time to press your bets, not the time to pull back with a conservative approach to their recent profit. When a 'capper is in good form and good rhythm, with his read on the games in solid form and the bounces generally falling in his direction, he's not afraid to raise his stakes a bit, making larger plays when the percentages are in his favor (positive expectation wagers) It sounds so basic - don't chase losses, ride your winning streaks, but few amateur bettors are able to maintain an even keel during periods of higher rates than the norm of both successes and of failures.
Art Aronson is a tenured bottom-line professional sports handicapper. He is the best ROI handicapper in the business. He is not your typical handicapper.
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