Any sports bettor worth their salt has a keen understanding of their breakeven point. The breakeven point for a sports bettor is the percentage of bets they must win to at minimum so as not to lose.
Obviously, the goal is to exceed this number and actually turn a profit. For the standard -110 odds, you need a winning percentage of 52.4%. This may seem like a cushy number, maybe for you it is, but you can make millions in sports betting if you can get to 54%.
I’m going to show you some of the math behind breaking even and determine whether a pick is profitable.
The Simple Math
American odds are based on a scale where a $100 wager is the standard.
For negative odds, you get the number needed to bet that results in a $100 win. So, you’ll see -110. You must wager $110 for a $100 return on a winning bet.
If you are offered positive odds, you will get the number you will win for a $100 bet. If you are offered +110, then you win $110 for a $100 wager.
Now that we have that cleared up, let’s break down these facts about sports betting. I’ll show you precisely how the odds work. If you don’t understand how you will win, it’s unlikely that you will ever break even.
Next, you add +1. By doing this, you are adding the amount of the bet back into the total. So, we have 0.91+1= 1.91. You can take this number and multiply it by the total amount of your bet. You now have the amount you’ll get for a winning bet.
Imagine you wager $300 and win. You receive your initial $300 wager plus $273 (or 91%) of that bet. This means you have a total of $573 for a win.
Finally, you would divide that same 1.91 return into a sample size of 100. For instance, 100/1.91 in this case. This will give you the percentage of winning bets needed to break even. Which we already know is 52.4%.
For the sake of illustration, let’s pretend you made 100 bets at $10 each. You’ve handed over $1000 to the sportsbook. You end up doing well and won 52.4% of the bets placed. Of course, you can’t win a partial bet.
Nonetheless, you get $19.10 for every win. This makes your total return $1,000.84. Okay, you’ve actually made a profit of $0.84. But you probably have more money lying under the floor mats of your car. Drop to 52.3%, and you’ve lost about a dollar.
Advanced Winning Percentages in Sports Betting
Now that you have a firm understanding of the basic math behind breaking even, let’s take a look at some other specific factors. The following can serve to better understand how to break even and how to personalize your habits to slightly edge the needed winning percentage.
Earlier, I used 100 bets at $10 to make the math simple for the novice sports bettor. Advanced sports bettors would simply replace the dollar amount with units. For beginners, a “unit” is the amount of a standard bet for that gambler. It varies by gambler.
This equation is based on the exact same unit being bet on every contest. Many green gamblers will vary the unit size without any sound reasoning. For those gamblers, sports betting can be akin to riding a rollercoaster with random sections of the tracks removed.
Even a small variation in unit size can destroy the equation for breaking even. Let’s say you make 100 bets and of the 100, half are $100 and a half are only $75. You could win 53% of your wagers and still lose money.
I often preach the importance of flat betting, and this example demonstrates a fundamental key to better sports betting results. To become a consistent winner, you must become consistent with your wagers.
Too frequently, I see sports bettors place wildly mixed action. Eventually, they end up deep in the hole and begin trying to swing for the fences. While they may have slowly gotten there by making relatively small $50-$100 bets. They now decide to bet $500 to $1,000 or more trying to get it all back.
Typically, this will end up with the bettor losing their entire bankroll and having to pause the action to rebuild.
The Vig’s Effect on Breaking Even
The amount of juice the sportsbook is taking also affects your breakeven percentage. I covered how -110 is the industry standard for spread bets and over/under. However, sportsbooks will, on occasion, reduce the juice in place of moving the line.
Unfortunately, this has the opposite effect if you’re betting the “favorite.” You are suddenly facing odds of -115. Now, to break even, you need to win 53.5% of your bets.
You can clearly see that even a small change in the vig will dramatically affect the winning percentage needed to break even. You should always pay close attention to the juice and take advantage of -105 as often as it is feasible.
Paying the Piper
Many sports bettors have another vital factor to account for when calculating the breakeven percentage. That’s whether or not they choose to pay for their picks.
Most of you have families, careers that don’t involve gambling, and other interests all vying for your time and attention. You may simply not have the time required to research every game and evaluate the best value picks on a weekly basis.
Enter the picks service. This is an entire sub-industry of people that make money by selling their picks to others. You are adding an additional cost that must be factored into what you’ll need to win to break even.
To account for this, we simply need to factor in the cost for the pick into our existing equation. Basically, you just need to subtract the amount you paid for the pick.
If you aren’t betting large units, then paying for picks can swiftly eat away your profits. In fact, if you are only wagering $20 per bet and have an astounding 55% winning percentage, you could still not break even.
I don’t encourage paying for picks. While there are a ton of places that will sell picks, only a small percentage of these are respected experts in the industry. You should be cautious of any handicapper offering you locks or some insane winning percentage.
Becoming Profitable as a Sports Bettor
Most sports bettors stick to wagering on NFL games versus the spread. If that’s all you are looking at doing, then it’s easy to know what you’ve got to profit.
You must win more than 52.4% of your bets. Armed with that absolute, you should never make a bet that you don’t think has a higher than 52.4% chance of winning.
This is wading into the waters of expected value or EV and not the intention of this article. I’ll give you a brief overview that will shed some light on how +EV can increase your profits.
If you made the same wager 1,000 times, would you expect to make a profit? Yes? You have found +EV and are ready to make profit sports betting.
What percentage of bets do you have to win to break even betting on sports? Like so many things in life and gambling, it depends.
The standard answer and one that should primarily suit the habits of most gamblers is 52.4%. I’ve discussed the factors that may have the most substantial effects on the bottom line. So, you now know how to best mitigate if not eliminate them altogether.
Making a profit in sports betting is difficult. It just is.
But you have a chance, and to first have a chance, you need to understand what it takes. Now that you know what you need to do to break even, you are better positioned to do so.