I’ve realized that a lot of my sports betting advice is hypocritical.
I urge recreational gamblers to look at the big picture when wagering on the Alabama Crimson Tide or the Golden State Warriors. People can drive themselves insane comparing 2-deep rosters at every position for relative size, speed, agility and experience.
Instead of analyzing for hours-on-end to justify a bet you are probably going to end up making anyway, it can be fruitful to step back and apply some good old macro-analytics.
When the Clemson Tigers were distracted enough by Hurricane Florence to fail to cover the point spread against Georgia Southern last September, it had less to do with the 40-yard-dash times of reserve cornerbacks and more to do with the psychology of the contest.
But we can’t ignore details. Details are parts of the whole. Because I’m such a shameless sports fan, sometimes I look at the big-picture scenario on the field (or pitch/court/rink) without thinking about the actual end result for the gambler.
What happens when a pick goes wrong? Am I encouraging players to irresponsibly chase their losses with low-% underdog bets? What kind of honest online tout tells the reader to consider a 3-team parlay? Do I apply the same principles of bankroll management to my recommendations that I would use in my own betting adventures?
Maybe we’re having the wrong conversation. The idea is not just to handicap the sports we’re betting on, but to handicap our chances against a bookmaker. All of the best picks in the world are no weapon against a sportsbook that has a crushing advantage in probability.
Let’s get better at sports gambling by looking away from the sports world and toward a place where we know the house has an advantage…the casino. If there are ways to actually win consistently (or minimize losses) at the gaming table, sports betting sites are surely vulnerable against the same tactics. Knowing how to play the odds and how to properly handicap athletes gives the bettor a double-whammy advantage against which the tricks of the bookmaker are of no good use.
Here’s a few ways to apply the best casino-gambling principles to your sports bets.
Don’t Believe Everything a Casino (or a Sportsbook) Tells You
It’s not like there’s a guy out front of every riverboat casino who tells new arrivals that they’re going to win. Casino managers wouldn’t insult our intelligence that badly. We all know there’s winning and losing (typically more losing than winning) going on in a gaming house. It’s part of the thrill.
But once you’re inside the doors, a casino’s layout, sound effects, machines, and even the money exchanges can be designed to put you in the wrong frame of mind for success.
For instance, nobody in a modern casino bets with silver dollars or minted bills. We exchange our actual cash for tokens or chips when we go inside. That’s a big advantage for the house. The rooms sound and feel like arcades, complete with MIDI-music and “Game Over” sounds on losing spins. It’s all there to make you forget that you’re gambling with real money.
Even worse are the slot machines that tell the gambler she’s winning when she’s actually losing.
Online sportsbooks use a variety of similar tactics to make us think we’re getting ahead when we’re actually nowhere close to being ahead. For instance, a “Free Play” or sign-up bonus promotion can – and usually does – to the bettor being blocked from withdrawing funds until betting their entire stake 5 or 10 times over. It’s known as a “rollover” trap.
Roll Your Eyes and Stick With the Game Plan
When a sports bookmaker promises you a big “cash” reward for signing up, it’s actually trying to convince you to deposit more money and stay in the system betting as long as possible. The idea is that since most gamblers bet on sports for fun and aren’t experts on the odds, the betting site will turn a better profit as people play more and more.
I’m not here to tell you to make 2 or 3 successful sports bets and then withdraw all funds and quit. That takes the fun out of it, and assumes that it’s impossible to achieve long-term success beating the bookies. Billy Walters would disagree.
But don’t fall for the betting site’s own “losses disguised as wins.” The rollover clause on sign-up bonuses and “free” plays doesn’t just apply to the funds that the house gives you – it usually applies to an entire stake at once!
While it looks like you’re getting an automatic win, you’re actually giving up control over your own betting habits. Making 100 bets on a $1000 stake is fine but only if it’s the gambler’s choice…not when it’s the only way you can get (some) of your $ back.
Also, try to avoid reading the “tips” on blog posts that are part of the sportsbook’s own site map. While the people writing the in-house bet recommendations are probably honest folks who try hard, the bookmaker isn’t going to select the best handicappers in the world to tell her clients how to wager. Why would she? The so-called tips are just there to get people excited to gamble. Collect tips from external handicapping blogs only…and always back them up with your own research and analysis.
Avoid Betting Against a Huge House Advantage
Professional gamblers avoid the slot machines at a casino…unless they’re trying to dupe the floor man into thinking they’re rich when they’re really not.
There’s a good reason to avoid the slots under normal circumstances. They’re one the least-efficient ways to gamble and get a return. The house usually carries at least a 10% advantage on slot machines on which substantial amounts of money can be wagered on a turn. Penny slots are even worse.
So unless Philip Baker Hall – er, Sydney from Hard Eight – is telling you to, it’s a bad idea to play the slots.
What are the worst-percentage odds at an online sportsbook?
The odds for horse races like the Kentucky Derby and Grand National include many of the worst gambles available. Trifectas and Superfectas (bets on particular Thoroughbreds to finish 1-2-3 or 1-2-3-4 in order) are what I call “lottery” wagers, enticing the bettor with a low-risk-high-reward deal that is actually quite low-risk for the racebook itself.
Consider that there are 24,024 possible superfecta combinations for finishing placement out of a 14-horse field. The Run for the Roses is a 20-horse field and the Grand National involves even more animals in the running each season. Picking the right 1-2-3-4 order can be harder than winning a randomized “Pick 4” numbers game in a state lottery.
People play lotteries in full knowledge that the odds are stacked against them. The logic is that they won’t miss the extra $10 or $20 per week in exchange for the rare possibility of getting rich. Even though the chances of getting (and staying) rich from a winning “million-dollar” lottery ticket are almost as long as winning a trifecta at the track.
But why allow the bookie such a tremendous advantage when there are better bets to be played? Lottery tickets are come-as-they-are. The gambler actually has options when betting on sports instead.
Parlays Often Make You Poor
Parlays are another low-percentage style of bet. I’m actually in the minority as a handicapper because I don’t tell recreational players to avoid parlays altogether. Parlaying favorites in college sports can be a decent – if risky – way to boost your stake if you know the teams well.
Bookmakers are compelled to put some type of moneyline on a #1 vs #20 match-up in college football or basketball, but the chances of Alabama actually losing to Vanderbilt (even if the Commodores are having a great season) are also just about as low as the odds of winning a trifecta.
Generally speaking, however, parlays are there to entice the gambler to make a foolish bet.
The chances of 2 or 3 underdogs scoring upsets on the same weekend are ridiculously long, but the promise of an amazing payoff lures the less-studious sports bettor to put down cash with little hope of winning.
Don’t Win Too Conspicuously
Professional sports gamblers almost always sign up for accounts at as many books as they can. One reason is that career bettors know they’re in it for a high volume of bets over the long term, so they can actually make good use of sign-up bonuses. Another reason is that the betting odds are different at different sites, giving the player options to find the best line on a given team or individual.
But there’s another reason that you don’t read as much about – the benefits of laying low. Suppose a football handicapper can predict who will win on the point spread at least 57% or 58% of the time. If he signs up and gambles $50,000 at a single sportsbook over the course of a season (and wins at least several thousand dollars) chances are the odds-managers will start to take notice. I’m not an expert on the actual amount of money that needs to be won in order to hurt a typical online betting site. But I do know that they’re more likely to ban high-rollers who are killing them with win after win.
That fine print at your sportsbook that says it’s for “recreational” betting only? That’s the contractual loophole that allows managers to throw sharks off the system, just like a casino manager can refuse a card-counting blackjack player will the simple phrase, “I don’t want to book your action.”
Ask any expert dice-thrower you ever meet. It’s possible to manipulate a pair of thrown dice to increase one’s chnces to win at craps. But the most successful craps players do not waltz into the same casino week after week, boasting loudly of their victories. If they gamble and win too much money or look too conspicuous doing so, the bosses will eventually ban them from entering.
If our hypothetical gridiron-shark signs up at 5 or 10 different sites instead, and wagers only $5000 or $10,000 at each one of them, his chances of maintaining a long-term relationship with the bookmakers are much better. If he’s lucky, they’ll never even notice his skillful wins…or lucrative withdrawals.
So if you think you’ve found a formula for beating your betting site, that’s great. Just don’t crow too loudly about it. And if you’re earning 4 or 5-figures with your winning bets, be sure to spread your action around. It’s the best way to avoid unwanted attention from bookies when the tables have turned.
Claim My $1000 Bonus at BetOnline!