Ed. Note: The author played football at TCU and is now the research director at WAVE 3 News. This season he'll write a weekly piece offering against-the-spread predictions for those who like to wager on college football. Don't think he's qualified? Well, did you get offered a job at a Costa Rica sportsbook while sitting in a Las Vegas sportsbook?
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Before the season starts, let's get these commandments out of the way so you don't hold my employer accountable for your losses in 2017:
1. Thou Shalt Expect to Lose
If you think you can make sports betting a profitable long term endeavor, guess again. While you may have some short term and even medium term success, the odds of long term success are heavily stacked against you. Therefore, betting on sports should mainly be done to have fun and make games more fun to watch, not a way to pay the bills or earn some extra spending money. At -110 lines, you have to win 52.7% of your bets to break even. That sounds easy in theory, but is a lot harder in practice.
When you are betting on sports, what you are really doing is trying to bet against some of the brightest mathematicians and modelers out there. These oddsmakers set lines that will immediately be corrected by sharper, big money bettors if the line is off, meaning most of the time you will be betting on a razor sharp line. This is especially prevalent in the NFL, where oddsmakers(and bettors) have only 16 games a week to come up with sharp, tight lines. Because of this, the NFL is known as the world's most efficient betting market. Being able to beat the books in the long run is a longshot at best, and almost everyone who tries will fail. There is a reason you don't hear about a lot of people striking it rich betting on sports. Those who do succeed in the long run will stay in the shadows and keep their methods secret so the books can not adjust for them.
2. Thou Shalt Manage thy Bankroll Wisely and Know thy Limits
Many people with sports betting experience will tell you that the key to success isn't picking winners, it's managing your bankroll. And they are right.
The best way to bet on sports is to set aside a certain amount of money for the season, known as your bankroll. Your starting bankroll should be an amount of money you are 100% OK with losing all of. If you lose all of your bankroll, that's it for the year. Therefore, the key is to make it last. Don't blow half your bankroll on one game. At the same time, if you baby your bankroll and bet too little, it won't be worth the time to place the wager. Find a fixed "unit" amount and bet a certain amount of "units" on a game based on confidence.
Likewise, know your limits. Budget accordingly. You should only bet with money you are comfortable betting with and losing. The first commandment of Thou Shalt Expect to Lose comes into play here. Assume every bet you place will lose. If the amount you were to bet and lose would end up putting financial pressure on you, it's too much. If the amount of money you are betting causes watching the game to be more stressful than exciting, you are betting too much. Only bet an amount that would not hurt you in any way financially were you to lose it all. Think of it as the price you would pay to make watching the game more exciting.
3. Thou Shalt Use Exotic Wagers for Entertainment Purposes Only
When betting on sports, there are more wagers than simply betting on a team straight up or against the spread. You have exotic bet types like parlays, teasers, pleasers, and more. While the high payouts of parlays or getting the extra points on teasers may seem appealing, the truth is that these bets carry a much higher house edge for the book because of how the payout is structured versus the true odds of the bet. Therefore, exotics should not be a part of any kind of short, medium or long term bankroll strategy.
Instead, parlays should be treated as lottery tickets. Don't put a lot of money into a parlay. The more teams you bet, the more astronomical your odds get. It might seem easy on paper to pick 8 winners for a payout, but in reality the odds are about 1 in 256 to successfully hit an 8 team parlay. However, most books only pay out between 140-1 and 160-1 on 8 team parlays, which is nowhere close to the 256-1 fair odds. This is what creates the high house edge.
Teasers are another bet that look really good, and really easy on paper. You get to add points to a point spread. Unfortunately, the "cost" you pay in reduced payout is not proportional to the extra points you are getting. A winning 6 point, 2 team college football teaser pays 1 to 1, but the additional points are generally not worth the price of admission.
If your goal is to grow your bankroll, only sides, totals, and money line wagers should factor into your strategy. Exotics should be for fun only.
4. Thou Shalt Not Chase Losses
After you lose, do not try to chase losses and win your money back by doubling up or overbetting your bankroll. Slow and steady wins the race. It's easy to bet 2 units after a 1 unit loss and try to win your loss back and then some, but this will just accelerate your decline and dig yourself into a deeper hole. It's never a good idea to make a kneejerk bet in reaction to a loss. If you find yourself overbetting the midnight Hawaii game as a last ditch effort to try and save your Saturday, you have a problem. Stick to a disciplined approach with your bankroll and unit sizes.
5. Thou Shalt Pay Attention to Line Moves
In Las Vegas, there are multiple sportsbooks that deal different lines. Some of you betting online may only have one sportsbook you use, but if you have access to multiple books its best to shop for the best line possible. Last year in Las Vegas most sportsbooks were dealing Kansas State +12.5 against Stanford, but one book in particular, the South Point, was dealing Kansas State +13.5. I took 30 minutes out of my day to drive down to the South Point and take Kansas State +13.5. Final Score: Stanford 26, Kansas State 13. My line shopping paid off.
It's not just line shopping that pays off, but watching line moves in general. While the idea is to get the best line possible, whether that be early, late, or in between, line moves can tell a story. There are many websites out there that provide percentages on what percentage of bets each side is getting. If one side is getting only a fraction of the bets, but the line is moving their way, it means the "sharper" money is betting on that side and books respect that action more than the public's action on the other side. An example of this last season would have been the season opener between Appalachian State and Tennessee. Appalachian State only received 23% of the bets, but the line went from Appalachian State +23.5 to +20. Appalachian State lost by 7 in overtime and covered easily.
6. Thou Shalt Ignore Touts/Paid Handicapping Services
Unfortunately, sports gambling brings out the scam artists and the slime. Anyone who has ever bet on sports has probably at some point been tempted by a pick seller, also known as a tout. Touts sound like carnival barkers, advertising their "100% guaranteed locks", recent hot streaks and impressive long term records. However, most if not all of these touts are all full of hot air and use smoke & mirror tactics to embellish their records, or flat out lie. For example, one of the many gimmicks touts use is that a tout may say he is 11-1 in his last 12 picks. But why stop at 12? Why are the last 12 picks relevant, but not picks 13 and onward? It's because they are using an arbitrary end point to embellish their records. Not enough people are aware of this, and these people get reeled in like lambs to the slaughter.
Ask yourself this: If you had such great sports knowledge that you could string together an impressive long term record betting on sports, would you try to sell these picks to people, or would you be laying on a beach somewhere getting filthy rich crushing the books yourself? I know if I truly had the winning formula, I wouldn't tell anyone, because books would get wind eventually and adjust their lines.
If anyone is trying to sell access to their picks, there is a 99.9% chance they are liars or scam artists. Even if they were not liars/scam artists, it would be hard if not impossible to break even once you factored in the money you had to pay the touts for access to their picks in the first place.
7. Thou Shalt Only Trust Reputable Online Sportsbooks
As with touts, the scam artists and the slime also exist in the form of online sportsbooks. A lot of fly by night sportsbooks will pop up, advertising attractive bonuses to try and reel as many people in as possible, then no pay, slow play or even flat out steal the money of the customers. Online sportsbooks are for all intents and purposes an unregulated entity, so there is no legal action that can be taken should you be wronged.
Fortunately, there are many reputable websites out there that review online sportsbooks and give recommendations/accreditation to books that meet their standards, to go with hundreds of user reviews. If you get suckered into a scam book, it's your fault with the resources that bettors have in today's world.
8. Thou Shalt Ignore Small Sample Size Trends
Sports media loves to reference all kinds of trends. So does sports media when they delve into the world of sports gambling. For example: "Green Bay is 5-1 against the spread in their last 6 games played on turf" or "Of the last 7 games USC has played in the state of Oregon, the total has gone "over" 5 times". A novice bettor may see these short term trends and bet accordingly.
The problem with these trends is that the sample size is too low to be statistically significant. Also, a trend like "5 of the last 7 USC games in Oregon have gone over" doesn't factor in that those 7 games took place over a 5 year span. What does a game played 5 years ago, when USC had a completely different roster and coaches, have to do with today? There are too many variables involved to trust trends like this, and books aren't stupid – if the trend was meaningful, the line would be adjusted accordingly.
9. Thou Shalt Learn How to Understand Advanced Statistics
In 2017 we have websites out there that dive into deeper, more advanced statistics for almost every sport. One who bets on sports owes it to themselves to familiarize themselves with these advanced statistics and understand what they mean. These advanced statistics can be used to increase your edge and win you more money. Sports media still hasn't fully embraced advanced statistics, as there is no reason to – most of their audience doesn't bet on sports, so simple, elementary level statistics are the still best way to deliver statistics to audiences. These elementary level statistics generally aren't useful when trying to handicap games, as the oddsmakers use much more advanced metrics to set their lines. Learn sabermetrics in baseball, efficiency and tempo in basketball, and success rate in football.
10. Thou Shalt Seek Help if Gambling Becomes an Addiction
While betting on sports and gambling in general can be fun and exciting, it also has the ability to release dopamine chemicals into your brain which makes you feel good. This can become addicting, and is what leads to individuals becoming gambling addicts. If you feel betting on sports becomes compulsive and something you can not gain control over, stop gambling and seek professional help. One sign of addiction is gambling with money you can not afford to lose.