Lessons That Experienced Sports Bettors Have Learned the Hard Way

Thinking Man With a Sportsbook Background

Sports betting, like anything else in life, takes a great deal of struggle to get to the top of the mountain. In fact, the vast majority of gamblers never get to experience that feeling of figuring it out to the point where profitability over the course of a year is a given.

With that being said, after years of doing anything there are some lessons gleaned that are worth sharing with those with less experience. In this article, I’ll outline the truths sports bettors have come to understand…at a cost.

When in Doubt, Take the Underdog

The problem with trying to fade the public – as easy as that sports betting handicapping strategy might be – is that often times, neither side has a high enough percentage of the overall action to make the concept valid.

For example, if you’re betting on the Patriots vs. the Dolphins and 53% of the money is on the Pats, is that really enough to “fade?” I mean, the sportsbooks are going to win either way, so the information you can take out of where the action is doesn’t really have enough weight to help you make a decision.

Because of the reason I just laid out above, I don’t want this section to get confused with fading the public, even if the public does seem to have a preference toward the favorite, generally speaking. And for what it’s worth, if you look at the numbers, fading the public does generally work out in your favor.

Race and Sportsbook

Learning any kind of lesson often comes about after feeling a sense of regret for having done something wrong (in this case, picking the favorite) or not doing something you should have done (pick the underdog). In my experience, when I’ve lost a bet I can stomach the result when I take the underdog. When I lose because I chose the favorite, I feel like an amateur.

Sportsbooks are well aware that most amateur bettors (which makes up most of the betting action overall) has a preference toward the favorite. It makes sense – betting on the underdog means putting your hard-earned money on the team that is clearly inferior. However, your goal should be to do the opposite of what the house wants.

At the end of the day, it’s inaccurate to suggest that you should always go with the favorite or always go with the underdog, but when you’re stuck between the two, go with the one the sportsbook doesn’t want you to pick; in most cases, the underdog.

When in Doubt, Gamble by Betting the Under

I know, I know – this sounds just like the previous section. And if you’re wondering, yes, nearly the same philosophy applies here as well.

Most sports fans want to see points. Not only do they want to see points, but they also like to bet on seeing those points. Guess who is well-aware of this truth? If you guessed the sportsbooks, you’d be correct.

To reiterate the same message as in the section that speaks to betting on the underdog when you don’t have a lean either way, consider what the sportsbook wants you to do when it comes to betting totals. In most cases, over/under lines will be slightly higher than they “should” be due to artificial inflation caused by sports fans who simply want to see points on the board.

With that said, there are some instances where this philosophy actually works the other way around. Notably, in matchup between two defensive-minded teams things work in reverse. If you’re first instinct is “under, all the way” that’s probably the best time to go with the over.

This will be a common thread throughout this article, but if I keep mentioning it perhaps it will stick: In all cases, do what you think is the opposite of what the house wants you to do.

It’s About the Money, Not the Win/Loss Record

I’ll admit – it took me years to get this through my head. Make no mistake about it, there’s a massive difference between knowing something is true, and acting like it’s true.

Sports, generally speaking, puts the overall win/loss record above anything else. At the end of the day, both fans and players just care about putting a ‘W’ up on the board. Though all wins certainly are not created equally, all wins count the same. This is not the case with sports betting.

The epitome of a true beginner move is betting the moneyline favorite when it seems like the outcome of a game is a sure thing. When I say “heavy favorite,” I’m referring to games in which one team is at least -200 or below.

If you take nothing else out of this article, remember that it’s never a good idea to take these types of bets. Yes, it’s great to get a win, but the odds just aren’t in your favor with a heavy favorite bet.

Las Vegas Sportsbook

Think of it this way: if you consistently bet on teams that are favored around -200, you need to win almost 70% of your plays in order to be profitable. For reference, first-place teams in NFL betting typically don’t touch this number. Although -200 might seem like a sure thing, in sports, nothing is certain.

Now let’s examine the other side. If you’re regularly betting on moneyline underdogs you might find that you lose more often than you win. However, those wins are a massive boost to your bankroll and over time they truly add up.

Baseball is one great example of the “moneyline underdog” philosophy because most of the action comes in on the moneyline and not the spread (or run-line, as it’s called in baseball).

Just about every available piece of data would suggest that regardless of sample size, be it a week, month, season, decade, or more, taking the underdog will result in winning money every time.

So why wouldn’t you always play the moneyline underdog in all cases? Simply, it would require you to bet on every single game and it’s unlikely that you have the time or bankroll to make that happen.

The next time you look at a matchup, give real consideration to the moneyline underdog and see if, over time, your bankroll goes up even if your winning percentage goes down.

Sports Betting Parlays are Fun, But Not Necessarily Smart

If someone asked you whether or not buying a lottery or scratch-of ticket is a good use of money, your answer would likely be “no.” Although this is probably the right call, in my opinion, your answer should actually be, “How much are you spending on them?”

The same philosophy applies to taking sports betting parlays. It’s easy to understand how new, inexperienced bettors get drawn in by the massive payout potential that can be won by risking a relatively small amount of money. As you get more experience under your belt, you’ll quickly realize that maybe it’s not nearly as great as it seems.

If you actually take the time to work through the actual numbers, you’ll find that parlays don’t actually have an advantage in terms of the true odds until you get to about four or five legs involved in the bet. It goes without saying (even to rookie gamblers) that stringing together four or five wins is extremely difficult.

Sportsbook Booths and TVs

Those stories that come out every few weeks about some gambler who turned a $50 bet into $100,000 might seem like the stuff dreams are made of, but the truth is those are the best advertising for the sportsbook. Even accounting for the massive wins that do occasionally happen, parlays are responsible for a nice percentage of the sportsbooks income on a regular basis.

Does all this mean that parlays should be avoided all the time? Not necessarily.

Returning to the initial analogy of a lottery ticket, I believe this is how parlays should be viewed. They’re fun, they’re unlikely to hit, but as they say “you can’t win if you don’t play.”

My recommendation would be to keep your risk low, but if you want to take a flyer on a parlay occasionally, it shouldn’t be a problem. The real issues arise when you make these plays the bulk of you strategy.

Make Smart Sports Betting Choices

It’s true that there’s no substitute for experience, but the closest thing might be getting the inside scoop from someone who has it.

If you’re just starting out as a sports bettor, these tips can help you avoid some of the growing pains that most have had to go through before starting to figure it out.