On Wednesday morning, a quick look at the odds for the evening’s Dodgers-Reds game across sportsbooks in New Jersey showed the following: You could bet the Dodgers moneyline at -160 on WynnBET, you could bet the Dodgers moneyline at -175 at PointsBet, and every other sportsbook was in between the two.
A question, then: Why in the world would anyone ever bet the Dodgers moneyline at PointsBet?
This isn’t meant as a slam of PointsBet. Different books have the best and worst price on different markets. For instance, on the run line, Tipico was offering the Dodgers at -105, whereas FOX Bet was at -118.
For seasoned and serious sports bettors, the price discrepancy is a good thing. They’ll shop around and take the better odds. But for the average recreational player — a person who may price shop when it comes to cars, cookies, or ketchup — that usually isn’t the case. If they want the Dodgers, they’ll just bet with whichever sportsbook they generally use and won’t take the time to find the best price.
Don’t take our word for it. Here’s Jason Robins, DraftKings co-founder and CEO, speaking at the Canaccord Genuity Digital Gaming Summit in December 2021: “What we’re seeing and as far as research goes, there’s definitely evidence that players coalesce onto one product. Certainly there’s evidence that there’s downloading and trial of different apps, particularly in the early phases of a market. But usually what we see in research is that most players favor one app and direct the vast majority of their game play there.”
The research arm at Betting Hero concurs: Nearly 85% of sports bettors use no more than two sportsbook apps, and only 13% of bettors say “better odds” is the reason they use their favorite app.
So what’s wrong with the general sports betting audience, leaving money on the table every single day? The answers are many and varied.
Alex Kane, the founder and CEO of Sporttrade, a sports betting exchange that launched in New Jersey last year and routinely offers some of the best odds in both pre-game and in-game markets, chalks a lot of this behavior up to how the 10% vs. the 90% look at value.
“Every sports bettor, no matter where they are on the spectrum — and the spectrum being my mom on one end because she wants to place a bet on the Super Bowl, all the way to [a professional bettor like] Spanky, and everywhere in between — is betting because of perceived value. That’s the only reason any sports bettor will ever do anything.
“On the sharper side of the spectrum, the customers that tend to bet a lot more, that tend to have every account open, the actual delta between actual value and perceived value is almost zero,” Kane continued. “Meaning it tracks directly to dollars and cents. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, for players who are betting more recreationally, that want to do things like a 10-game parlay, there’s a very wide gap between perceived value and actual value.”
Kane said his exchange is “doing very well” at acquiring the 10-percenters.
“They’ll come onto Sporttrade and be like, ‘Wow, Tigers +157 and Phillies -162? Holy cow, that’s such a tight spread, I can now infer that Sporttrade has tight spreads and the cost of placing a bet on Sporttrade is very low compared to other places.’ For someone on the opposite end of the spectrum, that actual value doesn’t translate into perceived value for them. For some bettors, the potential of a big payout is value.”
Spanky — real name Gadoon Kyrollos, the pro bettor name-checked above by Kane — sees it differently.
“The number one answer, I’ll say, is laziness,” he commented this week on the US Bets podcast, Gamble On. “In Las Vegas, they now have triple-zero roulette, where they have a zero, a double zero, and they’ll have like the logo of the casino there.”
Spanky says many of those players know perfectly well there’s a double-zero table offering better odds to them somewhere nearby, or even a single-zero wheel, but they can’t be bothered to take the stroll.
And if it’s not laziness, it’s a laissez faire attitude toward the dollars and cents.
“Or just not mathematically inclined, thinking, ‘Oh, what’s a half point? And who cares? Or what’s a few pennies here and there? What the hell does it matter? It’s only a $25 bet,’” he said. “But that’s the thing. All that stuff adds up, and people don’t realize how quickly it adds up. I just think it’s either laziness or naïveté.”
Perception of control
Another notion is that sports bettors think they have way more control over the bets they place — meaning they think they’re going to win, so it’s not worth the effort for the few extra bucks.
“I think that what is going on is that, especially in sports gambling, people have an unjustifiable sense of control,” said Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University and author of the New York Times bestseller Predictably Irrational. “So people feel like they know what’s going on, they know who to choose, and because of that, they don’t pay as close attention to the other things.”
A notable corollary to Ariely’s notion: A 2022 study from Sports Betting Report found that nearly a quarter of sports bettors think they win 75% of the time.
“If you just gave people a choice between two tickets — one for this horse, one for that horse — I think people would pay attention to probability,” Ariely said, explaining that when faced with an obvious, stark choice, the bettor would pay attention to the odds and prices. “But what betting on sports does, it gives people a tremendous sense of control, and once people have this feeling of control, nothing else matters. And because of that, they go on and make terrible decisions.”
Time and money
Then there’s the legwork.
“Line shopping is a lot of work,” said Dean Sisun, co-founder and CEO of Prophet Exchange, a second exchange sports betting site in New Jersey. “It’s a grind. If you’re a casual bettor, you want one or two shops to take your action. Our goal is to be the straight bet platform for those bettors, getting them to understand that a majority of the time, you’ll get the best price and experience with us.”
Spanky doesn’t disagree.
“It’s a pain in the ass to fund all these accounts,” he said. “Guys might have a certain limited bankroll, and … say, ‘Listen, I only have $500 or $1,000 for the season, and I’m not going to spread it across 10 different places. I want to be able to put it into one shop and that’s it.’”
The education factor
But perhaps the biggest hurdle to recreational sports bettors getting sharper is simply the education factor.
“The big sportsbooks never say, ‘Shop around and you’ll find our price is best,’” said pro bettor and co-founder of Unabated, Capt. Jack Andrews. “They know that the average U.S. sports bettor has one or two betting apps on their phone. They are aiming to be in that select group. The disruptors like Sporttrade and Prophet tell you to shop around.”
Sporttrade CEO Kane agrees, noting that the education piece is hard-earned among sports bettors.
“I see it with my friends,” he said. “They start with just DraftKings, or just FanDuel, and then they find out about the other books, and then find out they don’t always have the same pricing, and then they find out they all have different nuances. It’s the natural trajectory of the player.
“It’s a progression. The more experience you have, the more aware you’ll become. Otherwise, for those with less experience, there needs to be an education piece.”
And the education is simple enough for recreational bettors: Go to a site like Vegas Insider (a sister site of Sports Handle) or Andrews’ Unabated and take a peek at the day’s odds across the sportsbook spectrum. Simple as that.
“The single sharpest thing bettors could do to lose less is just line shop,” Andrews said. “Take a few minutes to find the best line for what they want to bet. It’ll cut their loss rate dramatically.”