Lessons I Learned From Losing as a Sports Gambler

Upset Man With a NFL Stadium and Sportsbook Background

I started betting on sports when I was eight years old. This might not sound like a great childhood story, but it was a small friendly $5 wager on my favorite NFL team with someone that my dad worked with.

It wasn’t until I was in college that my sports gambling really started getting serious. And it was about 20 years later that I actually learned how to win on a fairly consistent basis.

I learned many lessons about sports gambling during all of those losing years, and I’m going to share the seven most important lessons in this article.

Being a Super Fan Isn’t Enough

I’ve been a sports fan for as long as I remember. One of the first sports memories I have is watching the World Series in 1975 and 1976 with my dad and my grandpa. I played college baseball and have been a sports fan of baseball, football, and to a lesser degree basketball for close to 50 years.

I made the same mistake as many sports fans make. I always assumed that being a big sports fan would give me an edge when I was gambling on sports. This was one of the biggest lessons that I had to learn. Being a super sports fan simply isn’t enough if you want to be a winning sports gambler.

MLB Rockies Stadium

No matter how much I watched games and read statistics, I couldn’t turn the knowledge into a consistent winning gambling ability. Eventually, I learned to handicap games like a sports gambler. And this isn’t anything like evaluating games like a sports fan.

In fact, being a huge sports fan can actually hurt your ability to handicap sporting events. You need to know a lot about sports and watch a lot of games, but you need to watch them in a different way than a fan watches them.

This can be one of the hardest things for sports fans who want to bet on games to overcome.

Handicapping Games Isn’t Enough Either

The next big lesson I learned was that handicapping sporting events is hard. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever learned how to do. But even when I learned how to become a good sports handicapper, I learned another important lesson.

Being a great handicapper still isn’t enough to be a winning sports gambler.

Don’t get me wrong. Handicapping is the most important skill you need to build if you want to win when you bet on sports. And it’s something that you have to be able to do in order to win over time. But it’s not the only thing that you have to know.

Handicapping is hard, but it’s also a somewhat simple concept. When you handicap sporting events you look at all of the players and teams involved as well as where the contest is being held, weather, travel, and every other thing that might influence the outcome of the game.

You use statistics for teams and players and try to determine how everything you look at is going to influence the outcome of the contest. Sometimes you’re going to be right and sometimes you’re going to be wrong.

But if you can figure out how to be right more often than you’re wrong you can make money gambling on sports.

The Value Is in the Lines

The missing piece to being a winning sports gambler is the lines that you can place wagers on. Handicapping a game is of no value unless you can find a line that offers value.

For example, you’re betting on an NFL game between the Browns and the Bengals. You decide that the Browns should win the game by somewhere between 4 and 7 points. This is a fairly large spread, but if you’re right and can find the right line you can make money even when you determine a wide spread like this.

NFL Washington and Chiefs Players

You look at the line at your favorite sportsbook and you see the Browns are favored by 6 points. If you handicapped the game correctly, this means that the line agrees with your evaluation. This also means that there isn’t any value on the game.

If you look at the line and the Browns are favored by 10 points, then there’s value in taking the Bengals and the 10 points based on your handicapping. Or if the Browns are favored by 2 or 3 points, there’s value in taking the browns and giving the points.

The point is that there’s no value in handicapping a game until you see what the line is. Many games don’t offer value. You have to do a good job handicapping games and only bet on the lines that offer value.

Your Biggest Enemy Is the Sportsbook’s Vig

If you made 100 bets that paid $100 for $100 when you win and you won 51 games you’re making a profit. But most sports gamblers place wagers with sportsbooks and have to pay $110 to get $100. The extra you pay is called vig, and it’s how sportsbooks make money.

When you have to pay vig you have to win 53% or more of your wagers to make a profit. The actual break-even number is 52.38%.

This has two important lessons in one. The first lesson is that you have to be really good and handicapping and finding great lines to make a profit. The second lesson is that any wager you can place with reduced vig or with no vig helps you make a profit.

Home Sports Teams

While some sports gamblers place profitable wagers on road teams, the best way to start is by looking for home teams that offer value.

Home teams tend to perform better than road teams. This is true whether the home team is favored or not. How teams perform better for many reasons, and part of learning how to handicap games is learning these reasons.

I always look at every game where the home team is an underdog. Not all of these games offer value, but some of them do.

When a home team is getting points you can win a wager if they win the game or perform better than the sportsbooks think they will.

You can learn how to find value on some road teams, but be very careful when you think you see value. It might be more profitable to wait for a game that shows more value than taking the chance on a road team.

Sports Are Unpredictable

No matter what you do or how good you get at handicapping sporting events, you’re going to find that sports are unpredictable.

Upsets happen every week and there’s nothing you can do about some of them. As you improve as a handicapper you can see some upsets before they happen and avoid them or profit from them but sometimes you do everything right and still lose.

NHL Players During a Game

You have to learn to accept that you can’t control everything as a sports gambler. If this drives you crazy you should probably find something other than sports gambling to do.

All you can do is keep working on improving your handicapping skills and finding value in lines. If you do these things the long term profits are going to come.

Sports Betting Is a Long Game

One fact you need to embrace is that sports gambling is a long game. Because sporting events are so unpredictable, you’re going to have losing streaks even if you’re good at handicapping and finding good lines.

You have to take a long term view as a sports gambler. You can’t get stuck on immediate results. You have to focus on making the right plays and finding value. If you find value and make the right wagers, eventually you’re results are going to be positive.

The downside to this is that it can take a long time to figure out when you’re not finding enough value for long term profits. Keep records of everything you do and evaluate your results over a long period of time.

And when you make adjustments, make small adjustments and see how they work. Making big adjustments can take you far off track.


Most sports fans think that being a super fan is all that they need to start making money gambling on sports. But being a fan can actually hurt your chance o winning as a sports gambler.

Smart sports gamblers know that they have to learn how to handicap sporting events, but they also know that handicapping is only half the equation. The other half is recognizing a profitable line when they see it.

Every handicapping exercise starts with the home team. In fact, some profitable sports gamblers never bet on a road team. In the end, sporting events are unpredictable, so betting on them can be a wild ride.