Sports Betting For Dummies
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It’s been proven by sociologists that it doesn’t take more than a few dollars to increase the intensity of interest and emotional investment while you’re watching a sports game. At the same time, that instinctive drive to bet as an enjoyment multiplier leads many people to bet from the hip. Betting instinctively certainly has its place. You might win; you might not. But if you care whether you win or not, you’ll take some time to learn about the dynamics of the betting markets. You’ll probably find that your prognostications get more accurate, and your wallet gets fatter (or at least less thin).

Chances are, you’re not going to be able to quit your job based on your sports betting winnings. But if you treat sports betting as a hobby with a chance for monetary reward, you’ll find a small investment of time and knowledge can pay you back over and over in terms of enjoyment . . . and maybe profit!

Sharps and squares

A vocabulary of convenience has grown up around sports. You know how it works: As with any hobby, the vocabulary you use is a passport to respectability. There’s a lingo with computer programmers, stand-up comics, golfers, yoga instructors, and every other hobby, sport, craft, and profession.

Your first lesson in lingo is a pair of terms: sharp and square. Both words serve as both nouns and adjectives. A sharp is an experienced, discriminating sports bettor who wins money in the long run. And no, a square is not the only person at the high school party who refuses to break the rules for fear of getting caught. In this world, a square is an average member of the betting public. Most people are squares. We’re all a little square sometimes.

If you’re sensing judgmental undertones in the word, you’re not wrong. To be square is more than just being unprofitable in the long run; it’s about running with the herd. Being square also means that you not only are ignorant of but you also misinterpret and misunderstand key concepts in sports betting — to the detriment of your bank account.

(By the way, if you’re looking for geometrical logic in these terms, you’re not going to find it. Squares have 90-degree angles.)

In the figure, I attempted a Venn diagram of the betting population, but instead of circles and ellipses I used squares and triangles as an attempt to match the terminology. It’s like a Cezanne masterpiece, except better, right?

Sharps versus squares. Sharps versus squares.

Do you track what’s happening here? Bettors who know the word will always claim to be sharp. If you’re sensing some b.s. in the sharp-versus-square distinction, you’re probably onto something. Nobody claims to be a square, and many more claim to be sharp than actually could possibly show a long-term winning record. It’s only natural: As humans, it is our solemn genetic duty overrate our abilities and overstate our own success.

The lesson to take out here: Don’t put too much weight on these labels. Forget sharp and square. Just get better at betting and to have fun.

Advantage bettors

Somewhere along the continuum of betting skill and knowledge, a person moves from complete ignorance to a level of dangerous knowledge where you think you know more than you do and probably risk more than you should. Then on the far side of the spectrum are the dedicated professionals, who have as good an eye as anyone for sports wagers, who don’t merely consume the market price, but they set the market price. The pros know more than is teachable in a book.

In between squares and full-on professionals is the territory you should target. You’ll be a bettor who understands the marketplace, who has instilled discipline in your betting habits, who has a sound sense of your own abilities to evaluate both sides of a bet relative to the financial risks. When you’re sharper than square, but maybe not ready to quit your day job, you’re an advantage bettor. Being an advantage bettor is a reasonable goal. Even if you can’t get there, explore some methods, opinion, resources, and information that will help you evolve as a sports bettor, from less sophisticated to more sophisticated, from less profitable to more profitable, and hopefully from less fun to more fun.

What Kind of Sports Bettor Are You?

Maybe you’ve placed a few bets before, or maybe you’re an old hand. I’d suggest coming to terms with what you hope to get out of your sports betting career before going any further.

Financially interested fan

You’re a big sports fan with an interest in betting on games, but you’re not expecting to become a pro anytime soon. You’d be satisfied if you think and speak authoritatively on sports betting markets. You’d like to be able to walk into a bookmaker, understand the menu of games on the big board, and approach the betting window with the confidence of a seasoned bettor.

You follow some college and pro teams, and you want wagers on those teams and on games that you like to watch or stream. For the biggest games, you’ll look at player props for extra action.

If you win money, great. But you’re going to win some and lose some. For the financially interested fan, it’s mostly about the fun of taking your fandom to the next level.

Ace Rothstein-esque

Sure, you’re a fan, but you’ve got an eye for teams, coaches, and schemes. Maybe you played the sport you’re betting on, but it doesn’t matter because you have a feel for how athletes work. You look for hot streaks to ride and know when it’s time to hop off. You know why the center is the most important position on the football field, and that on-base percentage is superior to batting average in terms of offensive baseball stats.

In the classical sense, you’re a handicapper. You’re an equal opportunity bettor, ready to lay a wager on a winning proposition regardless of the sports. You know the numbers pretty well, but you don’t get caught up in whether a team’s YPP is superior because handicappers evaluate teams and players on a qualitative basis first. You go by feel and look, and you’re in tune with how situations and matchups lead to betting advantages.

Success is possible as a pure fundamental handicapper, but just understand that you’ll have to be better than Joe Sixpack and the rest of the general public when you go to the betting window, and that can be harder than you think, especially for the most popular betting sports like NFL football.

Knock yourself out, Ace. It’s always possible that your feel for the game is superior to the market’s. It will be even more important for you to keep a good record of your betting history so you can prove that it’s really true.

Data guru

In World War II, the generals called people like you boffins, which are people engaging in arcane scientific pursuits. But instead of inventing radar or the atomic bomb, you’re going to find statistical angles on sports that nobody has thought of.

You’re stats oriented; I daresay a stat-head. Did you watch the game? Some of it; at least the highlights. But the box score is far more important to you. You know the WHIP, FIP, and ERA+ for most pitchers in the league, and you’re not afraid to deploy standard deviation and ANOVA.

As a bettor, your plan is to deploy numbers to your advantage. I’m guessing you already know Excel inside and out. The topics that will interest you are the discussion of power ratings and technical analysis.

There’s lots of good news for data-oriented bettors. Profitable angles are out there, and the proliferation and availability of data online makes your life easier. What's more, there’s a growing literature out there for using mountains of data to find advantages, including Andrew Mack’s excellent Statistical Sports Models in Excel.

Now here’s the bad news: Oddsmakers are now data-driven too. They employ their own boffins, who toil away in bookmakers’ back rooms to identify the most important and predictive statistics.

Spread shredder

Sure, you’re willing to put time in on handicapping teams qualitatively and quantitatively, and that will get you some good days and some bad days. But if you’re willing to put time into seeking out and betting on tiny edges, and repeating it over and over, you’ll be flying in the rarified air of professional sports bettors. They lie in wait for situations where the expected return from their wager is slightly positive, and not only are they willing to pounce, they have the discipline to manage their bankroll to their advantages, and they maintain multiple options for placing bets: either accounts offshore, private bookmakers, or, if necessary, casinos. And they do it all without drawing attention to themselves by bookmakers who would limit their action.

If you’re familiar with the world of professional poker, you know that winning players are able to evaluate risk and reward on the spot. They make only smart bets, knowing that sometimes the smart bets lose and the not-so-smart bets win. In the long run, they’re comfortable that if they make enough wagers with a positive expected outcome, they’ll come out ahead.

Professional sports bettors have similar characteristics: They’re coupon clippers; they are grinders. If you have the time and discipline to invest yourself in the craft, your recognition skills will improve, and you’ll eek out more and more long-term profit. To do this means moving beyond sports betting for fun and entertainment; it has to be a job that you commit to. Very few gamblers have what it takes to reach this level and have a long stay. If you’re able to do it, I salute you.

A little of everything

When you start betting on sports, your eyes will be opened to a variety of prediction and betting techniques that all seem like they can put you on the road to profit. My recommendation is to take bits and pieces from each of the approaches I just covered. Each has its own costs, risks, and rewards.

But deciding early on how you want to approach sports betting can help set your expectations and focus your time and efforts. Chances are, you have natural inclinations one way or the other, so go with it. Put your time in and see where it takes you.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Kevin Blackwood is a highly successful blackjack and poker player. He has written for several gaming magazines and is the author of four gambling books.

Swain Scheps is a games enthusiast, numbers guru, sports betting expert and the author of Business Intelligence For Dummies and Sports Betting For Dummies.

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