How does someone become a ‘Sharp’?

In the goofy, yet hilarious movie from 1985 called Spies Like Us, comedian Dan Aykroyd delivers a profound line.

His character, along with fellow Saturday Night Live alum Chevy Chase, plays a CIA agent who is sent to Afghanistan in order to hijack a Soviet missile. They somehow find themselves in a tent having to perform an appendectomy in front of a bunch of Russian operatives.

As Aykroyd is about to make the incision on the wrong part of the body and thus questioned by a detractor, he looks up and proclaims, “We mock what we don’t understand.”

What I don’t understand is how media outlets and the ultimate authority, Twitter, toss around the term “sharp bettor?” It’s as if the newbies who sign up for sports betting apps in many states that recently approved sports betting are supposed to automatically understand this:

• Does one have to go to sharp bettor’s school and receive a certificate upon completion of a course?

• Is there a certain wagering amount that qualifies someone to achieve sharp bettor status?

• Can a sharp bettor on a losing streak ever become dull?

Although this label has been used in Las Vegas and offshore sports books for many years, it’s now in the daily sports betting lexicon. The opposite of a sharp is called a “square,” basically the rest of the betting universe.

Until I got into this business two years ago, the only person I understood to fit this moniker was legendary gambler Billy Walters. Ironically, he was in the news last week concerning media leaks.

In an attempt to educate both myself, and those who deserve to comprehend this mythical term, I spoke with an esteemed group of industry folks.

Matt Metcalf is the sportsbook director for Circa Sports. To say he was kind to give me an interview the week of opening the world’s largest sports book is the understatement of the year.

“A sharp bettor is an extremely subjective term,” he explained. “What one bookmaker or bettor perceives as sharp may be perceived as not by others. 

“In general, a bettor who is described as “sharp” is someone who is consistently making + EV bets or bets that are expected to be profitable in the long term.”

I asked Metcalf, who for a time carved out a niche as a NASCAR sharp, about the different classifications in the category.

“The top of the chain of sharp bettors would be the ‘Originator,’” he said. “Originators are players who do their own work, and bet their own opinion and are the most respected players in the sports betting ecosystem. 

“These players typically get the best of the number but often bet into market numbers and can even sometimes appear at first glance to not have an advantage.” 

Longtime bookmaker John Avello continues to see his fair share of “sharp” bettors. He’s had notable stints at Bally’s and Wynn in Las Vegas. Currently he serves as the Director of Race and Sports Operations for DraftKings. Avello feels that sharps can provide critical information to sportsbook operators.

“Sharp bettors’ action can be useful to the bookmaker, conveying their price is out of line and they should make an adjustment,” he said.

The perspective of an AP (Advantage Player) was critical for this piece. I’ve discovered a gentleman whom is highly intellectual, yet eager to share his knowledge with newcomers to the burgeoning U.S. sports betting industry.

He goes by the name of Captain Jack Andrews. Quite proficient in modeling and statistical analysis, Andrews uses both Twitter and an extensive library of YouTube instructional videos to educate bettors in a simplified format.

I asked Andrews if the amount bet was a determining factor on who may or may not be sharp?

“Definitely not,” he said. “I’ve seen bettors who were plenty sharp betting no more than $100 a game. Of course, if a sportsbook profiles you as being too sharp for their liking, there’s no bet size low enough that will save you. Sportsbooks can, and do, limit or ban sharp bettors. Their simple reasoning is that sharp bettors don’t lose enough and the sportsbook is in business to have people lose to them.

Our colleagues at the Vegas Stats & Information Network (VSiN) refer to sharp action on many of their programs. Josh Applebaum is a VSiN reporter, podcast host, and author of the book “The Everything Guide to Sports Betting.” He believes in following the sharp money.

“They won’t win 100% of the time or even 75% of the time,” Applebaum said. “They will win about 55% to 60% of the time. You always want to be with the sharps, never against them. Over the long haul, they win more often than they lose.” 

I’ll no longer mock what I now understand.