There’s an old adage that goes, "The difference between betting on games and the stock market is with the games, you know if you won or lost in two hours."
Here’s another one: They call it gambling if you bet on a horse, but investing if you own the horse.
So, if you’re an aspiring sports bettor and would like to elevate your game to that of a professional stock or commodity trader, how do you do it?
"You can’t do it to be entertained," author Michael Konik said in a Kansas City Star article. "People who trade foreign currencies, it’s not that entertaining, you know? It’s not like, ”˜Wow, the drachma went up today.’ It’s just buy low, sell high."
Konik is the author of The Smart Money: How the World’s Best Sports Bettors Beat the Bookies Out of Millions, which points out that winning sports bettors — notably those who make a living at it — approach betting like investing in the stock market.
Toward that end, Konik says, successful sports gamblers are dispassionate and emotionally uninvolved, and that their bets are expressions of mathematics and not based on personal hunches or feelings.
"There’s a lot of crossover between (sports gambling and the stock market) and the people who’ve done both will tell you there are similarities," says William Poundstone, author of Fortune’s Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat the Casinos and Wall Street.
"I guess we have this idea that the financial investors are vital to our economy whereas we don’t have the same idea about sports betting."
On the sports betting side, Konik guesses there are 1,000 people in the world making $100,000 per year at it, and fewer than 100 making more than a million. He says he used to be one of them, but only because of the financial and informational resources available to him through a large syndicate.
He writes in his book of making $14,200 in his first weekend with the company.
"It’s quality of the information and analysis of the information," he says. "There’s no secret fact that the syndicates have what everybody else doesn’t have. It’s what you do with the information. That’s where computer analysis and proprietary simulations pay off.
"That’s stuff that your friend just doesn’t have. It’s not a fair fight."
Perhaps falling into Konik’s top 1,000 sports bettors is retired TV writer J.R. Miller. Although he doesn’t divulge exact dollar amounts, he’s made enough to own a second home in Las Vegas and pay the better part of 30 years’ worth of bills betting on sports.
In addition, he’s made enough of a name for himself that he now runs a Web site (www.professionalgambler.com) where he gives advice on how to beat the legal sports books in Nevada.
"I do it all the time," Miller told the Kansas City Star. "You flip a coin and you win 50 percent. All you have to do is make 53 percent to keep your money. You can win 55 out of 100, that’s not a problem."
Miller says the most important thing in sports betting is money management, and that means keeping bets steady and reasonable. Miller plays about 2,500 games a year. That’s six or seven a day, 50 a week and 200 a month.
It’s a "grinding" process, designed to overcome the house edge, typically 10 percent in Nevada sports books. The house’s advantage comes from the small amount it takes from winning bets, known as the juice or vigorish, a margin that means the break-even point for bettors is 52.38 percent.
Miller says he relies on his research and time for an advantage of around 2 percent that, when multiplied a couple of thousand times over, turns a profit that matches his neighbor’s salary. He keeps his bets to a small fraction of the total bankroll, allowing him to withstand extended losing streaks — like when he went 0-13 during week 15 of the 1985 NFL season.
"What will kill most people is greed, making their bets too big," Miller says. "It’s all about money management. The stats and information, with the Internet, are there for anybody to see. My god, yeah, it can be done."
On a smaller though more manageable scale, Richard Abram, a retired lecturer from the University of Nevada-Reno’s gambling department, says he’s turned a profit on sports bets in 19 of the last 20 years.
It’s not enough to make him rich, but does provide vacation money some years.
He says the key is betting what you know, and not what you love. He graduated from Wisconsin-Green Bay but likes to make his college basketball bets on the Southern Conference.
He’s from the south side of Chicago and won’t allow himself to bet on the White Sox — there are 2,000 other Major League Baseball games a year to make money on.
And Vegas puts a line on virtually all of them. Abram takes his advantage in picking a select few wagers.
"If you do your homework and you handle your money correctly," Abram says, "you may not win a lot, but I’d say you have a much better than 50-50 chance of turning a profit."
Which, no matter how you slice it, beats the dismal alternative.