How to Win at Sports Betting: A Guide to Sustained Profitability
This article was originally published by Betting Predators and is part of a Stadium Talk partnership with Betting Predators, a sports betting podcast/media platform with a hunger and drive to make sports bettors more successful bettors.
Does it really come down to a coin flip?
The number is 52.38 percent. A vast majority of the world has never given thought to that number. But if you are a sports bettor, it should be all you are thinking about. That 52.38 percent is what you need to win in order to break even.
I know what you are thinking: That’s basically 50 percent, a flip of a coin. I’ve watched sports my whole life. Surely, I can pick games at least at a 53 percent clip.
Maybe you are right. For a short period of time, you may even bet correctly at a much higher rate and get to toss bills in the air like Money Floyd Mayweather. But over time, the vig gets you.
This article is not Sports Betting 101. We aren’t going over what a point spread is, totals, futures, etc. This article is strictly devoted to the bettors that want to win consistently. The ideas below should be commonplace and the foundational principles of your sports betting career.
Editor's note: Steve Rieder has accumulated a 205-166-1 record, +22.06 units over the course of the 2021 and 2022 NFL seasons. Get access to his full record, pick by pick, on the Betting Predators NFL bets tracker spreadsheet.
Bet Lines Early or Late
When the lines are posted, the sharps analyze the lines and pounce on any perceived value. With such a limited handle, the books usually adjust the lines very quickly in reaction, which means the value is only available for a very short period of time.
In order to combat this, sports bettors should be ready to read the market, identify value, and bet early. This requires the bettor to handicap games before the sportsbooks have time to adjust their lines. When you bet early, you are betting against the oddsmakers. When you bet late, you are betting against the best handicappers.
As the opening lines get bet and the sharps move the line, you can try to catch the steam before it bottoms out. However, this can be a dangerous proposition. Often times there is an overreaction to the line move, and you can get caught with a worse number than the market eventually settles on. This is why it is best practice to handicap the games yourself, create your own opinion, and bet accordingly.
For most sports bettors, this is difficult to do. They are still watching the games they bet on and not preparing for future plays. If you miss the opening lines, it doesn’t mean there won’t be value later on, but there are important factors to know.
There can be a lot of movement in the line at the openings, but for the most part, the lines become stale as the week progresses. The limits usually remain low throughout the week and get incrementally larger on Friday through Sunday.
The sharps and the syndicates usually sit on their plays until they bet at a larger denomination, which is why most game lines don’t move until the weekend, unless there is a major injury or extenuating circumstances that would require immediate bet or a reassessment of the line on the book’s part.
As the sharps bet the openings, remain quiet during the week, and then bet again when the limits are raised. The public bets almost exclusively on the weekend. If you missed the openers or are unprepared to bet it, it is often advantageous to bet late. Over 90 percent of a book’s handle on an NFL game comes on the weekend. The public often overwhelmingly bets one side of a game, pushes the line, and creates value. This is a great opportunity for a contrarian play. Fading the public has made many people rich.
If you can identify games where the public is crushing one side, but your handicap has you looking the other way, it may be a good time to bet, especially if the sharps are on your side. If you can find a spot where it lists the dollars bet on a game versus the percentage of bets, you usually can identify the sharp plays. When there is a vast disparity between the dollars bet and the percentage, bet on the dollars over the percentage.
Shop the Lines: Multiple Sportsbooks
Full disclosure: I hate having multiple books. Opening up different applications, searching for the game, comparing lines, before finally betting is a huge time waster. But this tedious, exhausting practice is a money saver.
Saving a half a point or some juice will pay huge dividends in the long run. It is good practice to keep a running list of games that you would have won or lost had you been a half a point off. Over the course of time, these numbers will add up. When sports betting, a few percentage points either way can make you rich or broke, real fast. It is prudent to shop the lines.
At Avoid the Vig, we recognize the value in shopping lines and the headache of having to do so, which is why we are creating The Lines as a way for you to compare lines without opening up multiple applications or driving to different sportsbooks.
Through this site, you can also identify line and steam movement, track your plays, and see our best bets. This is not a sales pitch. Shopping lines is a necessity to winning consistently. Have at least 3 outs (sportsbooks) and use Avoid the Vig: The Lines to shop the lines and avoid the vig and the hook.
Use Power Ratings
The public bets teams. The pros bet numbers. Sports bettors need to have a system for valuing teams in order to handicap the games. Power rankings is a macrocosm view of the ability of teams on neutral fields. Most casual bettors who work 9 to 5 don’t have time to run analytical models, check a team’s yards per attempt, DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), etc. In which case, it is important to find someone’s power ratings and tweak them.
Jeff Sagarin’s Ratings, ESPN’s Football Power Index, Bill Connelly’s SP+ Ratings are great places to start. From there, you can tweak the power ratings to your opinions without having to start from scratch.
Creating power ratings is a time-consuming, arduous process. Find a rating system that you trust, make it your own, and identify value from there.
It is possible to hit over 55 percent of your games and still lose. I cannot tell you how many times I talked to a bettor who said they hit a majority of their games and still came out a loser.
It is imperative that you have good bankroll management if you want to win over time. Most professional sports bettors use the Kelly Criterion as a rule of thumb. Without going into the mathematical minutiae, it essentially states that you should bet between 1-5 percent of your bankroll per bet. I have a tendency to bet between 2-3 percent of my bankroll per bet without wavering. If I have a higher EV (expected value), I bet incrementally higher.
If you win a few small bets and then get brazen enough to bet a larger one, you are opening yourself up for a losing endeavor. Sure, you could win it, double up, and then bet it all again, but the odds are not in your favor.
There are a lot more successful grinding stories of Joey Knish from "Rounders" than there are of people hitting it big quickly.
Key numbers are those that happen most frequently in a given sports. In the NFL, for example, the following numbers are the difference in score that occur most often: 3, 7, 10, 6, 4, 14.
The NFL favorite wins by 3 points approximately 10 percent of the time. Because of this, the difference in laying 2.5 versus 3.5 is substantial. Earlier in the article, it was suggested that you shop your picks at different books. You should be doing that with the key numbers in mind.
When getting on or off a key number, there is usually additional vigorish (or vig for short) because of the value associated with that number. Keep that in mind when you are looking for lines.
Although I’m not a fan of parlays unless it is correlated, I often play advantage teasers. Advantage teasers allow you to parlay teams through the key numbers of 3 and 7. This gives you additional percentages to win the games, while increasing your value by hiding some of that extra vig.
Books used to offer teasers at -110. Because of the frequency bettors were hitting them, many have increased the juice up to -120 or higher. Be mindful of what your books’ teaser odds and be mindful to shop for those key numbers.