Point spreads. Money lines. Prop bets, totals and in-game wagering, oh my. Sports betting is entertainment, but understanding the variety of sports wagers and what the numbers mean can be overwhelming in the beginning. Reading the market, handicapping games and knowing value requires experience.
To that end, Sports Handle offers this review of common pitfalls to consider, and a little advice for novice sports bettors.
Beginner Sports Betting Mistakes, Lessons: Homerism, Bankroll Management, Betting While Boozing and More
1) Betting With Your Heart, Not Your Head
Many beginners start out by placing wagers on their favorite team. Well, successful sports betting is complex, and betting solely on your hometown team will lead to trouble. As an example, the Denver Broncos started out 3-1 last season, before dropping eight in a row. Fans probably figured Denver would turn the corner. Didn’t happen. They finished 5-11 and 4-11-1 against the spread (ATS), better than only the Cleveland Browns (4-12).
Sports are often unpredictable and any team can take a wrong turn at any moment. Players can get hurt, chemistry slips, coaches change. There’s myriad reasons for stumbles. Loyalty does not pay in the sports betting realm. It’s best not to bet on the teams you love solely because you love them.
2) Getting Carried Away Seeking Higher Payouts From Parlays
JUST CASHED: $25 12-leg parlay brings home $62,475 for bettor. pic.twitter.com/1OMw1h83SO
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) December 4, 2017
Parlay wagers are attractive because you can risk a little for big payout. And straight bets may be “boring,” but bettors stand a better chance of winning over the long haul with straight bets.
That’s because the “vig” or “juice” that bookmakers take on parlays is higher than for straight wagers (it varies a bit from book to book). Put simply, the house doesn’t give “true” odds on parlays, and ends up keeping a big percentage of parlay wagers. From 1984-2015, Nevada books won almost 30 percent on parlay bets.
Here’s the 10-year span from 2006-15, numbers courtesy of Sports Insights of the Action Network, compared with the hold on straight bets in the columns under football, basketball and baseball.
The longshot 8- and 10-leg-plus parlays will hit from time to time … but mostly they don’t.
3) Bankroll Management
Bankroll or money management is crucial for sport bettors of every experience level. It’s something beginners probably think little about, if at all. Even if you’re only a “recreational” bettor who’s looking for entertainment, discipline will make your dollars go a much longer way.
Put in place a certain set of rules, such as setting cap limits (the max amount you’ll wager on any day), and determine the size of your sports betting “unit.” A unit refers to the standard size of your wager, often connected to a percentage of your overall bankroll. For example, if your bankroll is $200, based on 5 percent, one unit for you would be $10. Let’s say you feel especially strong about a game or side, you could bump up your wager to three units, or $30.
You can use units as a way to account for total wins or losses and track them over the course of a season. Although many personal rules may change over time, it’s vital to follow some personal guidelines, while maintaining self-control, rather than chucking dollars around — or chasing — with no rhyme or reason.
4) Managing Expectations
Let’s be real here. Sports betting for most is a hobby or entertainment that tests your knowledge — as opposed to a reliable source of income. Many beginners believe basic or even advanced knowledge of sports alone will make them a successful sports bettor.
But sports wagering is a complex and strategic form of gambling in which timing and market knowledge matters (it always pays to get the “best of the number,” i.e. a favorable line before it moves). So does the ability to understand chemistry and trends, good money management, having discipline, and knowing when the best bet is no bet at all. Novices must understand there are no locks in sports because, as my old soccer coach (and many others) say, “Anyone can beat anyone on any given day.”
5) Betting While Intoxicated
In a word, don’t. Betting under the influence is one of the easiest ways to lose your money fast. Alcohol is the official spokesperson for making bad decisions, and placing wagers while intoxicated can lead to poor money-management choices, and regret. Most of you are going to drink if you’re at a sportsbook lounge, so just put in your bets before you start pouring down beers.
5) Predominantly Betting Favorites and Overs
In sports wagering, many beginners get carried away by betting on favorites (often blindly), often heavy money line favorites. The Patriots are -1100 against the Dolphins and surely won’t lose here, right? Wrong. And it may cost a big chunk of your bankroll. Although favorites are indeed likely to win, there are no guarantees. Look for value on bets against the spread.
Consider this run of underdog covers early in the 2017 season:
NFL Last Month
38-18-2 Against The Spread (68% ATS)
30-28 Outright (as 5+point underdogs on average)
— RJ Bell (@RJinVegas) October 17, 2017
If you were pounding favorites, you’d have gotten whacked.
6) Over And Under
Likewise, the full game “over/under” is a popular bet in which bettors wager on the total number of combined points both teams will score. The over is a popular choice with beginners, because betting the over is a good way to root for both teams in the same game, and also people tend to prefer high-scoring games rather than defensive slogs and punts galore.
Well, what’s more entertaining doesn’t always pay. Over/under bets require a detailed and thorough knowledge of the many factors, individual match-ups in particular, that can sway the outcome of a game. And often there’s value to be had in first-half and second-half totals, not the full game.
Sports betting is certainly fun. But there aren’t any guarantees, and beginners will be best served by getting informed and avoiding these common pitfalls. Following a certain set of rules and guidelines can help with managing all the possibilities in sports betting, and make it so you’re having a good time and stretching your money as far as it will go — with nice wins along the way.
Justin Davis is a Sports Handle summer intern and rising junior at Syracuse University’s David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics.