Everybody who has ever generated one of these “How to be a better sports bettor” always seem to say the same things; Manage your bankroll effectively, stay disciplined, shop lines, don’t bet with your heart, talk to knowledgeable bettors, and limit your action to a few sports you can follow thoroughly. All of these are in fact extremely important and critical to you being a successful sports bettor. In my few years of sports betting I have also learned some valuable lessons myself that I wish I would have known earlier and I would like to share. Most of them are either related to or make up a portion of the above typical “how to be a better bettor” responses.
Follow Sharp Line Movement
As most of you know, nobody is better at beating the books on a regular basis than those who do it for a living, the professionals (a.k.a. Sharps). In an ideal world they would provide all of their knowledge and info to you. unfortunately the world of sharps is a very tight lipped community (in most aspects). So how can you get a good idea on what the Sharps are doing?
I have come across many articles that say Sharps make up about 2-10% of all sports bettors, for the sake of this article we will say Sharps make up 5% of all sports bettors. This means the general public make up about 95% of the sports betting population. So it should come as no surprise that a majority of betting tickets placed come from the Public. But most of these tickets are typically lower in dollar amounts because most of us aren’t willing to wager a weeks worth of pay on a sporting event. Meanwhile Sharps are typically betting in much larger dollar amounts because they win more than they lose, so more dollars bet means more winnings, and they aren’t going to make a living betting $100 at a time.
But where is the Sharp action??? Pick your favorite betting site that provide betting info for a particular game or event, for me I like referencing Actionnetwork.com. Here you can get a bunch of info right at your fingertips, one of which is the number of bets placed on a given outcome. So lets say KC Chiefs are facing the NY Jets coming up. A week before game day you see 87% of the bets coming in on the KC Chiefs -20, most people think “Yeah, that makes sense, Chiefs are great Jets are terrible.” But then 2 days before the game you still see 87% of bets are still placed on the KC Chiefs… but the line is now KC Chiefs -15.. but how is the line going down with all those bets placed on one side? Easy, the public is betting the KC Chiefs, while the Sharps are pounding the NY Jets. Remember, Sharp money is typically in much larger amounts than the average public bettor. If you could see the money % bet on each side it would probably show something like 87% of the bets are placed on KC Chiefs ATS, but 75% of the dollar amount has been placed on the NY Jets. This indicates Sharp action is on the NY Jets… Most of the time. Occasionally you will have some rich billionaire bet $1M on the Jets simply because he is a die hard fan of the team (Google Mattress Mack and the Astro’s). But for an average regular season game this typically isn’t the case. [Disclaimer: Any site you use for this info doesn’t have access to the entire betting landscape, meaning Fanduels numbers will reflect only Fanduels customers, but Sharps can be found just about everywhere that’s legal]
It isn’t always as clear as the example above either. Sometimes it will show 54% of bets placed on KC and 51% of the money is on the KC, indicating possible slight sharp action on NY, but not enough for me to get behind it based on this alone. Other times Public and Sharps will be on the same side and you cant get a good indication of which side the sharps are on, 54% of bets on KC and 54% of the money is on KC. But the principles are there and this can be applied to moneylines, spreads, Over-Unders, and most other available outcomes.
Here is a quick example I pulled from the 2021 Division games in the NFL (courtesy of Actionnetwork.com). Here we can see 59% of the total bets placed have come in on the Packers… but the Line moved from Packers -7 at the open, to Packers -6.5 at the time of the pull. This indicates more money has come in on the Rams than the Packers, which indicates some (small) Sharp action on the Rams.
Another thing to consider here, some sportsbooks are open and are pretty open about “If we get well respected money early on one side we are going to move the line that direction” so early line moves can be a good indicator too.
Don’t Overlook Value
Most new bettors (myself included) see manage your bankroll effectively and find value when reading the “how to be a better bettor” posts and think yeah I know find the best lines and make sure you are wagering the right amount for that bet. While that does have a little bit to do with value, value is much more than that and probably the most important aspect if you want to make money over the long run.
When I use the word Value it means many different things (which may differ from how others use the word). Value is finding the best line, understanding the line, knowing the ‘edge’, and knowing the ROI. But how do you find value in your bets? Simple, do your homework!
Finding the best line is no secret, shop around and get the best number you possibly can. If you are like me when I started you are only using 1 book and likely just taking whatever line is offered. But do you know the benefits to line shopping…
If you have done research you know you have to win 52.4% of the time in order to break even at the standard -110 line. What this is saying is that we need to win more than 52.4% of the time to make profit assuming everything we bet on is priced at -110. But most bets I make aren’t at -110, how do I know if what I’m betting is good value? This is where implied probability comes in and you absolutely must know the implied probabilities if you want to be successful. The implied probability for sports betting is what the line price says the probability of an outcome is, and that probability is based on what the break even percentage for that line price. In English now, for a line price of -110, the break even win percentage is 52.4%, thus there is an implied 52.4% chance of that outcome happening (implied probability). The table below shows a brief breakdown of implied probability along with the implied probability equations for positive and negative American odds.
So let’s say you are one of the many that bet the super bowl coin toss. Most of us know that if the coin is tossed a thousand times it probability of heads is 50% and the probability of tails is 50% and it should land on heads about 500 times and tails about 500 times. So you go to the sportsbook to put a wager in on tails as super bowl coin toss, because “Tails never Fails,” and see tails priced at -110. What the sportsbook is saying is there is an implied probability of 52.4% that the coin will land on tails. But we know that’s false! So you try to bet heads, but heads is also priced -110 resulting in the same implied probability. Sure, you might win one of those bets this year, but over the long run you will never win a coin flip at better than the implied probability of 52.4%. This coin flip line has what I call a negative Edge. What the Edge is, is a way to quantify the value based on the difference in probabilities. It’s essentially the probability of the outcome minus the implied probability. A positive edge indicates positive value, negative edge indicates negative value. This also is directly related to expected value, as expected value is the amount of value you are getting for a single bet. So what the edge means is: positive edge = positive expected value = better profits over the long run. So finding the edge is critical in ensuring your bet has good value. [To find your ROI, take your EV and divide by the amount you are wagering].
A coin flip is easy to determine the probability of the outcome is 50%, but what about our example of the KC Chiefs -20 over the Jets? There isn’t a good way to determine the probability of the Chief covering -20, right? Sort of… While nothing can 100% predict future outcomes, data analytics and models can provide a good projection. I have built a bunch of models to do a bunch of things, many of which are designed to predict sports outcomes, all with varying degrees of success. So lets assume I built a good model. If that models says there is a 60% chance of KC covering the -20 and the -20 line is priced at -110, then there is a good positive edge on taking the Chiefs and it is worth a bet. To be exact, Edge = 60% – 52.4% = +7.6%. But if the KC -20 line was priced at -150, the implied probability would then be 60%, resulting in an Edge = 60% – 60% = 0%. This means at that -150 price KC would have to cover -20 60% of the time for you to break even and all your models say they will cover the -20 spread 60% of the time. That won’t win over the long run and any line priced lower than -150 would result in losses even if you won the bet 60% of the time. Sure this example is exaggerated which was intentional, but consistently getting -105 vs -110 can absolutely be the difference between making money vs losing money over the course of a year.
…So the benefits of line shopping essentially mean the implied probability of the outcome is lower, which gives you a better edge and ultimately you significantly better EV over the course of a season. If you still aren’t sold the chart below shows the return of a bettor who places 10, 100, and 1,000, $100 wager on a coin flip (50% odds) at different line prices. So if you placed 1,000, $100 bets on Tails at a line of -110, your expected return would be losing $4,500. So you may win the super bowl coin flip this year, but over your lifetime you will likely lose.
If you are interested in learning more, there are value based betting systems, such as Kelly betting, which structures your wager based on your bankroll and the edge. Kelly is a tool i reference to tell me how much value is on a team although I don’t structure my bets this way. A simple google search can find a lot of good info.
Find Your Process
One of the key things I’ve learned is there are multiple ways to win. Everyone has something that works for them, some like to bet early, some wait until the last minute, some use models, some use their eyeballs, some love parlays, some hate them. Most successful bettors all have a winning process (business plan) that includes what they want to take advantage of for that year, set rules and limits, and set goals for themselves. The most important thing you can do is do the hard work to figure out your winning process and stick to it! Don’t pay somebody for picks! You are already starting off in the hole by doing that and most of the time they are busier selling picks and bringing in clients than putting in the work required to win in the long run. Put in the work (and it’s a lot of work) to find what works for you, set rules for yourself, write it all down on paper and hold yourself to it. [I may seem like a hypocrite because I ask for donations but I’m trying to provide resources for you to leverage, not sell ‘winning bets’].
A friend of mine only bets 2-4 team parlays. He relies on a lot of his own models, projections, and whatever other methods he has and he is very successful at it. The allure of hitting it big is extremely appealing but also very hard to hit. I encourage parlay players to do research on value and parlay odds. I will occasionally play parlays (mostly correlated 2 leg parlays) but I don’t typically play them that often.
My process initially starts with my eyeballs I look for anything I think is off in the lines or totals. If I see something off, I immediately check my go to models to see if they support my opinion, check on rotowire.com (and other news sources) for any injuries or key players sitting out, and check actionnetwork.com for sharp action that may support or go against my opinion. Regardless of if I find any lines I think are off when first looking, I do all of the above for just about every game for the sports I follow. If I find something I like, I run it through to make sure there is good enough value for me to place a wager, and I place my bet. I have lost a lot getting the early line (even though catching the line before it moves can be an advantage) so I wait a few days first and I have a lot of success doing so. One of my big rules that helped me succeed is I only play games I have a lot of confidence I can win and not do things like play Monday night football simply because its the only game on. I primarily bet NCAAF, NBA, NFL, and MLB with win percentages of ~59%, ~57%, ~55%, and ~50% respectively over the last 3 years. I don’t have a team I root for in NCAAF and NBA and I almost never bet on the Oakland A’s or Miami Dolphins because I am a die hard fan and struggle to remove personal bias. That’s my process that’s what works for me.
By sticking to your process and your rules you set for yourself, you will then be a more disciplined bettor.
Hope you all enjoyed this and maybe you learned something new. If you appreciate good grammar, I apologize for the above, but I’m an Engineer cut me some slack. I am not all knowing and still have a ton of growing to do, so if you want to offer some advice or help to expand my knowledge please send me a message.
Best of Luck!