This story is part of a Sports Handle miniseries looking at sports bettors across the country: Regular Joes who bet recreationally or semi-recreationally, most of them in the black market at some point. Some have families, and jobs in accounting, law, journalism and other fields. Several of our subjects asked to remain anonymous. (Part I here.)
Meet Bill: This 28-year-old native of Texas state works and resides in the nation’s capital, which is one of the many jurisdictions to have legalized sports wagering since the federal ban fell in May 2018. But legal sports betting is not yet live in the District. Bill works in healthcare administration.
He’s been married two years and says “my wife knows I gamble and has a good idea about how much. I bet more than the average recreational bettor and she knows that.” She’s an avid sports fan, too, he says, and has placed bets on her own when visiting Las Vegas and New Jersey. No kids or pets for Bill, who play golfs and travels whenever he can.
How long have you been actively sports betting? My dad had me pick my favorite mascots when I was a little. Holidays revolved around football games and sporting events for my dad and uncles (and they always had money on the line). I was 16 (2006) when my dad let me bet my first game. The 9-0 Colts traveled to Dallas to play the 6-3 Cowboys in Tony Romo’s first home start. I was shocked to see the Cowboys were only 1-point underdogs. Thinking it was a sure winner, I asked my dad if I could bet on it. He warned me it wasn’t as easy as it looked and that this was a classic “trap game” where the public was betting on one side. Reluctantly, he let me try to double up my $5 dollar lunch allowance. Needless to say, I woke up early Monday morning to pack my own lunch. It was a good lesson.
After that, I would bet on games with friends. Being from Texas, they tended to be Cowboys games, and I would always try to shade the line in my favor with friends who wanted to bet on Dallas. A few of us would typically throw in $5 every weekend in our own pick’em contest (with spreads). A friend and I would also try to guess the lines for each game before they came out — the person who came the closest on most games would win $5. When I moved off to college, I found two upperclassmen aspiring to be bookies. Using the money I saved up from my summer job, I won probably $400 the first two weeks. I thought I was invincible, only to give all of it back, plus a little more, throughout the rest of the season. I didn’t bet again until couple of years later when I found a couple of more established “bookies” who had pay-per-head sites.
My dad always said that $20 for a three-hour game is about what you spend going to the movie theater, but at least you have a chance win when you bet. I’ve always thought that was a great point for people interested in gambling and for those against it. The main thing is to be responsible and not get carried away.
How much do you bet and how often? If I’m betting on a side or total it’s usually anywhere from $200-$500. I bet on NFL and college football every week. I only bet on baseball if I’m going to a game or if I’m going to be watching it on TV. Most of my NBA bets are during the postseason, but I do bet on college basketball regularly. Most of my action in NBA is on player props and I have a significant amount of action on NFL player props every weekend during the football season.
I also bet on golf every week, typically $50-$200 per golfer, anywhere from 4-10 golfers a tournament. When I bet, it’s quite a bit more than the average bettor, but it’s important for everyone to realize it’s all relative. Bet size is dependent on a lot of things, including but not limited to income. I have sweat a $50 bet more than I have a $500 bet just because of the time of my life I was in. My risk-averse dentist friend, who has a large family, sweats $20 more than other people do $200 or even $1,000 bets. His sweats are every bet as real as mine. The size of the bet doesn’t necessarily make it any more or any less of a sweat, and recreational bettors who bet big aren’t necessarily smarter or more legitimate.
What are your favorite sport(s) to bet on? My favorite thing to bet on, by far, is the PGA. If you’re lucky, you get a four-day long sweat. You can also hit a long shot any week (anywhere from 40-1 to 100-1 odds), whereas you typically have to wait a whole season on long shot futures tickets. After that, I bet a lot of NFL. These markets are obviously pretty damn efficient, so I don’t have much of an edge but it’s where most of my interest is and I enjoy it. I actually made my largest football bets during the preseason last year. I think there’s an edge in preseason quarter and halftime lines. I bet on college basketball during the season, but like most people, the majority of my college hoops action happens during March.
Where do you make your bets (mobile app/computer/at a sportsbook)?
I make most of my bets on pay-per-head sites that work with my phone. When I’m in New Jersey and Vegas, I’ll bet at sportsbooks and mobile — basically wherever I can get the best line.
How do you handicap games? I’m more of an intuitive bettor. I listen to a lot of podcasts and read whatever I can. I don’t necessarily take all of the advice I read or hear, but I think people who can digest a lot of information and then pick out what is important and applicable can be good bettors (that’s not necessarily me). A lot of what I do for NFL DFS translates to prop betting.
What was your biggest sports betting win and biggest loss? My biggest win is a recent golf outright where I won $25K. It was by far the most I’ve ever risked on a golf outright, and it happened to be pretty good timing. The most I’ve ever lost on a single bet is roughly around $5,000. Again, most of my bets are closer to $500, but I’ve unwisely pressed pretty hard more than once.
If you live in a state that now has legal sports betting, how has that changed your interests? It doesn’t, because I highly doubt Intralot [Washington DC] will give me odds I can stomach betting.
In the past, have you used an offshore sportsbook or local bookie? Yes, I’ve used both. Mainly the latter, but occasionally offshore sportsbooks. Most of my experiences with local bookies have been good, but I’d definitely prefer to bet with my choice of legal online sportsbooks like New Jersey residents do.
What do you make of the expansion of sports betting in the U.S. and recent developments, such as FOX Sports working on its own sportsbook? I think it’s long overdue. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in some states (and Washington, DC), not everyone is passing legislation that incentivizes legal sports betting. Hopefully more states will follow models that foster competition so bettors will have a better chance at winning, legally and safely.
Do you gamble in any other way? Such as casino games, lottery? If so, how often? I used to play poker, but not so much anymore. I reluctantly play casino games, like blackjack and craps, when I’m with friends. I buy lottery tickets once or twice a year. I gamble almost anytime I play golf. I also make a ton of prop bets with friends (enough that I track them in a spreadsheets). I’ve bet some pretty significant money with friends while playing NBA2K, Rocket League, Madden, and Tiger Woods PGA Tour. I’ll really bet on anything (e.g., sports, politics, video games and personal endeavors) if I have conviction.
Do you or have you in the past participated in daily fantasy sports? If so, what sport, how often?
I play DFS golf every week and NFL every week during the regular season. I gave up on MLB and NBA a long time ago, but I hope DFS remains popular going forward even with the expansion of legal sports betting in the U.S.
Check back for more profiles in this series as an accountant, television producer and others discuss.