You can either be a victim of it or use it to your advantage. Of course, I’m talking about bias in sports betting.
It’s hard to fight it, but if you recognize the most common mistakes that the majority of the public makes, you can not only avoid them, but make them a tool in helping you consistently choose the right plays. Fading the public is not a new concept. However, this goes a step further than simply taking the side with less action.
In this article, I’ll lay out five common sports betting biases and explain how they can help you make better plays.
Recency Sports Betting Bias
Personally, this is one that I struggle with the most. Whenever a team seems to perform beyond expectations in one game, the general sentiment among sports bettors is that they’re actually better than was previously believed.
Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that they did just that – performed better than expectations for one game. If you put too much weight on the game (or most recent games) that have taken place, you could be relying too heavily on recency bias yourself.
So how do you use this to your advantage? By recognizing when it’s happening.
For example, if an underdog NFL team wins a game that is considered a major upset, you should expect the sportsbook to give them better-than-normal odds to win the following game, regardless if this is deserved or not. Simply put, a high percentage of sports bettors don’t look far enough back on the schedule to realize that the most recent game was probably an anomaly, and the high performance shouldn’t be expected going forward.
Here’s how to put this philosophy into use: Find a team that exceeded expectations in their previous game, and bet against them in the next game. Chances are, the sportsbook will have shifted their odds in the over-performing team’s direction, and the only way to combat this is by going the other way.
Home-Field Advantage Bias
First, I want to make it clear that home-field advantage is a real thing. Teams playing in their own stadium, in front of their own fans, undoubtedly are better off than if they were playing on the road. With that being said, how this home-field advantage will impact the final score varies significantly.
Gamblers usually don’t like choosing the away team – especially if they’re coming in as the underdog. This is especially true when looking at college football. But not all underdogs are created equal.
When you’re going over your betting options, make a note of all the games where the away team is an underdog by just a couple of points. This is the time to hop on board due to the fact that the public really likes taking favorites at home when the spread is minimal.
If you find home team bias with a visiting underdog getting less than three points, which means the sportsbook is telling you that the underdog would be favored on a neutral field, consider taking the moneyline underdog and rest-assured that you’re making a high-value play.
The Gambler’s Fallacy
Perhaps the most popular of all betting biases is the Gambler’s Fallacy. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, you might understand it as thinking that something is “due” to happen because it hasn’t happened in a long period of time.
For example, if the Cowboys haven’t covered the spread in the last four weeks (not like that would ever happen…), many bettors would be more likely to bet on them thinking that eventually, they’ll have to cover. The reality is that each game is its own contest, and past results have no impact on future trials.
Somewhat counterintuitively, many bettors seem to be afraid to hop on current trends. If an NBA team has covered the spread four games in a row, why would you think they’re less likely to cover on the fifth game?
Use this bias to your advantage by avoiding betting fallacies. Yes, there will come a time when a team who is on a streak of covering will eventually fall short, but betting on the present trend makes more sense than betting on the present trend to end.
Confirmation Bias and Sports Gambling
From the sharps to the weekend amateurs, just about everyone has used confirmation bias to make a selection.
Confirmation bias, to put it as succinctly as possible, means actively seeking out information that supports the direction in which you’re already leaning. For example, if you think the Lakers are going to cover, you’ll put more weight on the articles or stats that would back your idea up. But the side of this that can really get you into trouble is that you’ll ignore the data which tells you you’re wrong.
Even as someone who recognizes this phenomenon, it’s still hard to ignore it. Each time you look through the sportsbook’s betting options, chances are you’ll lean one way or another based on anecdotal evidence that may or may not be the most valid.
The only way to use confirmation bias to your advantage is to recognize that you have it – just like everyone else – and do your best to combat it by being open to changing your mind. If you do this, at the very least you’ll be more informed, and impartial (a crucial part of sports gambling), and hopefully make better decisions than the general betting public.
The Over/Under Dilemma
Every sports bettor has taken a look at an over/under (total) number and been surprised to see how high, or how low, it is. Most games will fall within the standard range for what we expect in that particular sport, but that ones that fall outside it can feel like an especially good opportunity to win.
The mistake that many gamblers commit is thinking that when a number seems too high, they’re being smart by taking the under. The same can be said for when bettors take the over when a total number seems low. In fact, the opposite is usually the better move.
When a sportsbook sets their number there are two things at play: the first is the actual over/under prediction based on their data, and the second is way the public’s money has moved the line.
In my personal experience (so take it for what it’s worth), I’ve found that you should bet in line with what the house is predicting. Meaning if the line seems a little too high, take the over. If you think it’s too low, they’re telling you something – take the under.
The sportsbooks know that if they set a noticeably high over/under number, the public is going to favor the under – and vice versa when the line is set high. This is where the “fade the public” mentality, once again, comes into play.
No matter how experienced or how knowledgeable you are as a sports bettor, biases are going to occasionally cause you to make the wrong betting decision. The only thing you can hope to do is recognize when you’re relying too heavily on your biases, and think about things objectively.
Sportsbooks have been relying on the different forms of bias laid out for decades – and the results speak for themselves. The next time you log on to your sportsbook to place a bet, run through this list and, at the very least, give your decision a few additional minutes of consideration.