The (Mis)Education of a Sportsbettor...By
Most new sportsbettors start on
exactly the wrong foot - with ESPN and statistics. There is a
reason ex-jocks and sports broadcasters make terrible gamblers,
even though they might know more about the players, coaches and
"intricacies of the game". Unfortunately, this is also why
almost all sports gamblers are destined to eventually lose their
shirts. All the hoopla, press coverage, speculation, and
prognostication surrounding sports are pretty much irrelevant to
beating the handicapping game.
For a beginning handicapper,
most statistics are about as helpful as the display of past
spins at your favorite roulette table. Fun to look at, but any
pattern you discern is nothing more than an illusion, a
temporary blip in "long-term probability". Short-term trends are
a favorite of new handicappers that should be completely
avoided. They sound great in sports service advertisements and
as talking points on ESPN, but they are mostly useless until you
have an idea of how it affects the underlying spread of the
game. Otherwise they are little more than messy traps for novice
handicappers. Likewise, the garden-variety statistics found in
newspapers and on internet sports sites are mostly worthless,
having long been factored into the lines.
New sports gamblers aiming for
success should reach for the low-hanging fruit first.
Concentrating on betting into weak lines will allow you to get
your feet wet and is really the easiest way to get started.
Consider the lines at "sharp" books as the most accurate line,
and look for games that are scalpable - that means a game that
if you bet one side at one book and one side at another book you
would at least break even. Play only the weak end of the scalp -
the line at the weak book. For instance, if you see Pittsburgh
+180 at Bodog, and their opponent at -178 at WSEX, play the
+180. If WSEX is offering you -178 on the opposite team, that
means they are more than happy to take +180 on Pittsburgh - and
WSEX is likely smarter than you at making lines, especially if
you are just getting started. Use the big boys' opinions to make
you money while you learn the ropes.
Understanding public betting is
essential, and you can use it to hammer away at some of the
"public" books. Many sportsbooks cater to a more recreational
clientele, and that means you will have a better chance of
finding "off" lines on high-profile events that have attracted a
lot of public wagering attention. A telltale sign of a book that
is easy pickings is to find operations that tend to impose
unreasonable limits on players or even outright eject players
for winning too much. This is the sign of a book slow to move
their lines or otherwise offers prices that are favorable to
players with their eyes open.
While opinions of what books
are "sharp" can vary widely, consider any of the top-tier books
to be among them: WSEX, The Greek, CRIS (Bookmaker), and
Pinnacle. They haven't built successful businesses by giving
money away, so their linesmakers tend to be more experienced and
their lines sharper. They also have high limits and are not
known for "booting" winning players, so they tend to attract a
lot of sharper action, tightening their lines through market
note- BetonFighting is part Cris. 5Dimes is also
considered a "sharp" book.)
Of course, every beginning
handicapper likes to make "picks" on his favorite sport, usually
one of the "Big Three" for U.S.-based bettors: football,
basketball, or baseball (hockey no longer deserves inclusion on
the list). The big-market sports naturally attract the most
betting action due to their popularity. The downside for
gamblers is that these games often tend to have the most spot-on
lines, at least as far as the big sportsbooks. For that very
reason, these are among the worst sports you can choose to focus
your handicapping on.
Any handicapping you do should
focus only on the potentially weakest lines available. Mostly
this means proposition bets and small-market sports. Again, look
to the sharper sportsbooks to give you a clue to what they
consider their weak spots, by looking for markets with
consistently low limits. Pinnacle will take $100,000 on NFL
sides, but only $1000 or less on some offerings.
You can think of this as the
sportsbook as the bettor: Pinnacle is willing to risk $100,000
on a bet on either side of an NFL game, so you can be sure that
they are pretty confident that they have an edge there.
Conversely, they may be only willing to risk $1000 on an obscure
boxing match, knowing that they very well may be taking the
worst of it on some of their lines. If the book is not willing
to take a big bet, it is probably less confident in its line and
can potentially be the source of favorable wagers.
The spreads on the market are
also a good indicator of confidence in lines. Many books use 30-
or even 40-cent lines on propositions. This leaves the
linesmaker more room for error in setting the price. When the
bookmaker is trying to avoid getting beaten by sharp players,
spreading the line out makes it more likely that both sides of
the wager are bad bets for the players.
Smaller markets frequently
offer more favorable lines since the low limits discourage the
real heavy hitters from combing over those lines, and negates
the effect a big bettor or group of bettors can have on the
line. A big bettor dropping his max bet on a prop might still
only be $500, easily balanced by ten $50 "squares" on the other
side. This causes less drastic line moves, as opposed to major
sports where a big syndicate can get hundreds of thousands of
dollars down in a short time, making the public opinion mostly
irrelevant and correcting the line rather quickly.
Another advantage of smaller
markets is the variety of lines. Not only do prices vary quite
widely, the handicaps themselves are often quite different. You
may see LeBron James over 22 points at one sportsbook while it
is over 28.5 points plus assists at another, or the Steelers
over 120 rushing yards at -120 at one book and over 130 +120 at
another Which line is better? The linemakers at many books
couldn't tell you, and the small market (and profit potential)
on props leaves them less willing to take the time to find out.
Handicapping or database analysis can leave the handicapper some
room to find edges on these kinds of bets. Some sportsbooks will
have unique match-ups or propositions that can't be found at
other books. Again, the narrow market means these lines are more
likely to be in error, and without the benefit of "cloning"
lines from other shops, the linesmaker's opening number is more
likely to be in error.
If you've been finding your
gambling piggy-bank depleted, or are trying to turn your
recreational betting into something a little more profitable,
consider focusing on finding weak lines and concentrating on
smaller market sports. There's nothing wrong with throwing down
a fun wager on the hometown team on a football Sunday now and
then, but making money often requires going somewhere that
everyone else isn't.