Point spreads. Money lines. Cash outs, same-game parlays, 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 newcomers to legal online sportsbooks. Allow us to be your humble guide, your sherpa, the Jimmy to your Greek as we navigate the 10 biggest pitfalls you’re likely to encounter when becoming a sports betting hobbyist.
(Go here to check out our article on expected value and how to factor it into how you look at your bets.)
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Beginner Sports Betting Mistakes, Lessons: Homerism, Bankroll Management, Betting While Boozing and More
1) Betting With Your Heart, Not Your Head
While it’s fun to put a few bucks down on your favorite team or player, please note the “fun” and “few bucks” portion of this sentence. Rooting for the home team is one thing; willing to lose money on them is a whole ‘nuther ballgame.
In short: Don’t let your homerism hinder your sports betting research.
And don’t think this “can’t happen to you.” Let’s, for instance, look at some intel provided by DraftKings. They went live in Tennessee halfway through the NFL season in 2020. They launched in November. The hometown Tennessee Titans were the most-bet team in Tennessee for the football season. They didn’t crack the top five in any other state DraftKings operates.
But it wasn’t just Tennessee; the Pittsburgh Steelers were the most bet team by Pennsylvania bettors, and they only cracked the top five in a few other states.
Bottom line: The lyric is “root, root, root for the home team,” not “bet, bet, bet on the home team.” Check your home squad biases at the door.
2) Getting Carried Away Seeking Higher Payouts From Parlays
Parlays are a sportsbook’s best friend. They bring in the most profit — by a lot — at all sportsbooks.
And they are so very, very tempting.
$250 ➡️ $103,041.28… Are you kidding me?!? 💰
The dream parlay 💯 https://t.co/14gzcjXlwd
— FanDuel Sportsbook (@FDSportsbook) January 21, 2021
Putting together two, three, four, five, six (stop us any time), seven, eight, nine or more bets into one parlay — and watching that “if you win” number climb exponentially — is fun. Hitting a parlay is even funner (not a word, but you know what we mean).
So why beware? Well, for starters, the odds aren’t in your favor. Literally. You might think you put two bets together, you’ll get a 4-to-1 payout, three bets an 8-to-1, four 16-to-1, etc. But you don’t. You get maybe 3.6-to-1, 6.84-to-1, etc. So to be clear: While your odds increase with each successive bet, the individual odds that go into the whole bet shrink up. In short: Parlays aren’t worth the money.
But they are fun, which is why we recommend going easy! Parlays should not be your bread and butter. Put another way, the won’t butter your sports betting bread. Consider this: Generally speaking, sportsbooks “hold” around 30 percent of parlay bets. Compare that to single-game NFL bets, for instance — where the “hold” is roughly five percent — and you’ll see why sportsbooks love those parlays.
A few bucks here and there, no big deal. But chasing down six-figure takedowns is a fool’s errand.
3) Bankroll Management
Bankroll 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) Not Line Shopping
Pennies from heaven … add up after a while. For most states with legal online sports betting, competition is the name of the game. And with competition sometimes comes … well, competition. As such, before you place a wager, you owe yourself the few minutes it will take to make sure you’re getting not only the best number, but also the best odds.
Let’s say you love the Detroit Lions at home against the Chicago Bears, and the Lions are getting 3.5 points at -112 on DraftKings, where you already have a DFS account, and so it’s just easy to bet there.
It always, always, always, makes sense to shop the line. Maybe it saves you a dollar here, makes you a dollar there. Those dollars add up, and can even be the difference between a profitable year and a not-profitable year. Don’t get married to any one sportsbook; shop, shop, shop.
5) Betting While Intoxicated
Things you should never do while drunk, a sublist:
- Get behind the wheel of a car.
- Call or text or ex.
- Place a bet.
We’re going to be talking about chasing losses in a moment, but how easy is the following scenario to picture: You bet the Philadelphia 76ers -4.5 against the Charlotte Hornets, you have a few beers while watching the game, your bet is clearly going to come down to the wire, you have a few more beers, and … the Sixers win by four after they allowed a meaningless layup to the Hornets as time expired.
At this point of the bad beat, you’re angry. You’re also a little drunk. Your decision-making capabilities are not what they normally are. Now is not the time to bet twice the amount on the Warriors-Clippers 10:30 game, a game you’ve done zero research on.
Seriously: If you know you’re going to be drinking, it’s best to also keep your fingers off the “place bet” button.
6) Predominantly Betting Favorites and Overs
There’s probably some psychology behind it, who knows, we’re not psychologists, but Joe Q. Public loves to bet the favorites, and they love to be the overs. I guess it makes sense: Who wants to root for an under? We want to see points! And favorites are favored for a reason: They are subjectively, and often objectively, the better team. Unless you have true conviction, betting an underdog feels … well, “squishy” is the word that comes to mind for some reason, psychoanalyze that and get back to us.
So what to do? Well, consider betting the underdogs and the unders, for starters, with the notion you’re probably getting the (ever-so-slight) good side of the deal. Did you know in the 2020 NFL season — playoffs included — favorites were 119-149 against the spread? Of course, that’s a bit of a dramatic difference, but still: Underdogs and unders should not be ignored.
7) Over And Under
Let’s talk over/under for a moment: These are tricky to navigate, because you’re not betting on the outcome of any one game more than you are betting on the flow of any one game.
Sometimes, over/unders are straightforward: Two top offensive teams doing battle, or two top defensive teams doing battle. Maybe you have a lean one way or another, if so, go for it, have fun.
But it’s rarely as straightforward. So much comes into play, from home field to pace of play to the one thing that can always flip an over/under on its head: The blowout.
Let say you’ve got the Brooklyn Nets and the Atlanta Hawks tipping off against each other. Two offensive-minded teams. The over/under might be 230 or so, and for ease of example, let’s say the game is a pick’em. Each team is “expected” to score 115 points. Well, what happens if the Hawks are keeping up their end of the bargain — and then some — and put up 65 first half points. But the Nets are struggling. Kevin Durant banged knees with Kyrie Irving, and the squad has only managed 40 first half points. Not only is the “expected” score not going to come in as the over, but now we’re in a potential blowout situation. Both teams might be playing reserves in the fourth quarter, and the final comes in somewhere in the 110-90 range. (Insert sad trombone.)
Of course, this cuts both ways. A tight NFL game, a real defensive battle, can have an over/under of 43. And maybe it’s 21-20 with minutes left and one of these great defenses … returns an interception for a touchdown. There goes the under.
In short: There are a lot of variables in over/under sports betting, and just because one side or the other looks — and may even be — obvious, shenanigans can shake things up.
8) Chasing Steam
Steam is ethereal in nature, right? Delicate and light and one minute it’s here and the next it’s gone and … so might be your bankroll.
So what is “steam” in the sports betting world? It’s when the line is moving quickly across all sportsbooks, usually because sharp bettors or syndicates have just dropped a ton of money on one side.
To a novice, this would seem like a screaming “buy!!!” sign: People who do this for a living moving the Indianapolis Colts from four point favorites to six point favorites against the Texans. Just run and bet the Colts, right?
Not so fast. What if the sharps plan is to then wait for all the not-sharp money to roll in, and then take the Texans at +6.5, at even higher amounts than they put down on the Colts? If this causes your brain to swim a bit, no worries: But always keep in mind the sharps and syndicates are betting numbers, not teams. Always. So if they think they can move the line with big bets in order to get the actual bet they want, of course they’re going to do it.
Sometimes, though, the steam isn’t coming from big bettors. If everyone and their mothers jump on one side of a game, the oddsmakers are for sure going to start moving that line quickly, giving the appearance of “steam,” when, in fact, all that’s happening is a market correction to what is probably the “correct” number.
In short: It’s probably wise to ignore steam, because by the time us regular Joes hear the tea kettle whistling, it will be too late.
9) Managing Your Sports Brain
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 ask any professional sports bettor: They’re not betting on the Steelers or against the Lakers; they’re betting on or against the number. Having a base of knowledge in sports is wonderful, but really, it’s not going to get you very far.
Timing matters, money management matters, discipline matters, being able to walk away from a night’s action matters, line shopping matters … there is a lot that goes into this stew.
Being an expert in any one sport is certainly going to help, and can be a real benefit when looking at player prop bets, but remember they play the game because anything can — and often will — happen.
10) Tilting, Chasing, Losing
Losing sucks. Let’s get that out of the way.
Let’s also get this out of the way: Top sports bettors, the cream of the crop, the guys who make a living doing this, are “only” winning 54, maybe 55 percent of the time. Any Sports Betting Twitter touts you see with their “We’re 234-5 against the spread this year!!!” are simply lying.
To be clear: The best sports bettors are losing about 45 percent of the time. So when you lose — and you will lose — you have to remember that you are not alone. Just simply recognizing that the top guns in this space are losing, figure, nine out of every 20 times should give you peace of mind, and help you avoid the dreaded tilt.
In our best Yoda voice, then: Tilting leads to chasing, chasing leads to losing.
If you lost a bet and feel the need to try and recoup that money immediately, the best advice is also the simplest: Don’t. There’s always tomorrow, there’s always another game. Don’t lose your head and start trying to recapture what you lost. Sure, you might win that second bet and get square, but you’re equally, if not more, likely to lose and now you’re in a big hole.
No tilting, no chasing. Those should be your house rules.
And that’s that.
So what do we know? We know sports betting is fun, and following the guidelines above will certainly go a long way into making sure it remains fun. Losses are going to happen, but it’s imperative that you don’t compound them with rash, often bad decisions. Manage your bankroll, manage your expectations, and you’ve got yourself a nice little hobby to keep you busy. Get ahead of yourself, bet with money you don’t have, tilt your face off, and … well, nothing good will come out of that, that’s for sure.
So. Who do ya like tonight?