Can a Recreational Sports Bettor Be a Long-Term Winner?

GamingToday.com is an independent sports news and information service. GamingToday.com has partnerships with some of the top legal and licensed sportsbook companies in the US. Gaming Today may receive referral compensation from the sportsbook company when you claim a bonus offer or promotion through a link on this site. Although the relationships we have with sportsbook companies may influence the order in which we place companies on the site, all reviews, recommendations, and opinions are wholly our own. They are the recommendations from our authors and contributors who are avid sports fans themselves.

For more information, please read How We Rate Sportsbooks, Privacy Policy, or Contact Us with any concerns you may have.

Gaming Today is licensed and regulated to operate in AZ, CO, CT, DC, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MS, NJ, NV, NY, OH, ON, PA, TN, VA, VT, WV, and WY.

LAS VEGAS — A small fraction of sports bettors — 1 to 2%, according to estimates — win money over the long term. Some of these winners are good enough to make a living betting sports.

What about the rest?

Are there gamblers with day jobs who have the chops to come out ahead over multiple seasons?

Based on the attendance at Bet Bash 3 in Las Vegas last week, the answer is yes. Of the 550 people at the conference, many claim to be “recreational” bettors who play with an edge.

I put quotation marks around “recreational” because that term may be used to describe many types of bettors. The bettor we’re discussing here is not the one who just opens his sports betting app on a Sunday morning and fires at NFL lines — that bettor has no shot to be a long-term winner. None.

For a “recreational” bettor to have a chance to win, he must be intelligent, have the right tools, persevere through losing streaks, be neither too aggressive nor too conservative, and work hard — treat gambling, in fact, like a part-time job.

“They have to get past the short-cut mentality,” pro bettor Captain Jack Andrews told Gaming Today. “Everyone wants to find the easy button.

“The easy button doesn’t exist in sports betting.”

My Father — A Professor but Also a Winning Horse Player

Seeing a friend with his nose buried in the Daily Racing Form one day piqued my father’s curiosity. “What’s that?,” Pap asked his buddy, Dick.

“Ever since that day, Andy was a world’s top-five handicapper,” Dick says.

Sure, Dick’s been known to exaggerate for comic effect, and while my dad — a college professor of political science — did elevate his game to become a winner, it took a lot more than a quick glance at the Racing Form.

Over the next few years, he devoured every bit of knowledge he could about horse racing, reading at least two dozen books on the topic, attending seminars, and learning from the best in the game. Years before the Beyer Speed Figures were printed in the Form, he invested ($395, I believe was the price) in a system that allowed him to calculate speed figures with data gleaned from the Form. Each night, he spent around 90 minutes applying that system, calculating and recording speed figures for the next day’s races.

He learned speed handicapping and trip handicapping — a quantitative approach with qualitative nuances, and yes — with intelligence, the right tools, and hard work — he beat the game.

A Multitude of Approaches, but Always Dedication

Of the dozens of recreational winning bettors I met at Bet Bash in Las Vegas, all have different approaches. Among them:

  • A firefighter who uses a “top-down” method to bet NBA and NHL in-game lines (top-down means betting into sportsbooks that are slow to move their numbers. For example, Sharp Book A moves the favorite from -120 to -150; Square Book B is still dealing -120; you bet the favorite at -120 at Square Book B).
  • Props specialists. Props markets have less liquidity than point spreads or totals and thus offer softer lines. With the right model (bottom-up) or a top-down approach, beating, say NFL props, is far more feasible than picking winners against the spread on game day.
  • One bettor we met plays Korean baseball exclusively, applying a model he built, and VPNing in to watch the games to gain knowledge of the sport.

“There are so many ways to skin a cat,” said Spanky, a pro bettor and organizer of Bet Bash. “There’s some guys that do props. There’s some guys that focus on one sport, some even go to a granular scale and focus on one conference within a college sport. Top-down, bottom-up, some guys are information guys.

“There are so many ways to be a successful sports bettor.”

Sports gamblers gather at Bet Bash 3 in Las Vegas.
Bet Bash 3 in Las Vegas. (Marcus DiNitto/Gaming Today)

No matter the approach, winning takes hard work, and everyone has different amounts of time they’re willing or able to dedicate to betting.

“One of the things I’ve been trying to solve … is to meet the people where they are and the time they have to devote to this,” Captain Jack said of Unabated, the website he founded that’s designed to give bettors tools to help them succeed. “If you had one hour a day to use on Unabated, how would you use it? I gotta think, ‘What’s the best use of your time?’

“It wouldn’t be trying to beat the NFL. It would be trying to beat something that’s more beatable, like player props, or something like teasers where you just run through a calculator, rather than having to track what players are doing, what coaches are saying, which takes time, or watching the screen for news and information. But then there’s a lot of other people that actually want to put a lot of time into this.”

Harsh Reality: Win and Get Limited

At Bet Bash 2 last year, I reported on a salesman named Jim who complained to DraftKings about having his wagers limited to literal pennies.

“It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse,” Jim, back in downtown Vegas for Bet Bash 3 this year, lamented about recreational sportsbooks’ practice of limiting winning bettors.

This is a reality of the industry: Work hard, find your edge, start winning, and get limited to the point where betting is hardly worth it.

Now comes the next step to winning long-term: figuring out ways to get your action down.

Jim said now that he’s been effectively banned from betting on the apps in his state, he travels to various retail sportsbooks, where he has a better chance of getting down over the counter or at kiosks. This usually involves a long drive, but he actually flew to Louisiana this past spring to bet on the NFL Draft.

Other ways limited bettors get their action down include playing at, ahem, “off-market books,” using “beards” (their mom has a different email address and SSN), and forming partnerships with other gamblers.

“Winning eventually becomes trivial,” Spanky said. “I know that for the average reader, that might sound like, ‘What do you mean winning is trivial?’ — winning really eventually becomes easy when you know how.

“The hard part in winning at scale is to be able to bet enough to make it worth your while and to not get chased (out of the sportsbook). Account longevity, because there’s a constant cat-and-mouse game between sportsbook and sharp bettor.”

About the Author
Marcus DiNitto

Marcus DiNitto

Managing Editor, News
Marcus DiNitto was news managing editor of Gaming Today. In past roles, he has been managing editor at national sports websites SportsBusiness Daily, Sporting News, and The Linemakers, as well as with licensed sportsbook operator USA Sports Gaming. Marcus graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, earned his MBA from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, and studied sports and entertainment marketing at New York University.

Get connected with us on Social Media