Pros liken betting to investing

Feb 13, 2008 4:17 AM

Staff & wire reports | Thereís 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."

Hereís another one: They call it gambling if you bet on a horse, but investing if you own the horse.

So, if youíre 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 canít do it to be entertained," author Michael Konik said in a Kansas City Star article. "People who trade foreign currencies, itís not that entertaining, you know? Itís not like, ĎWow, the drachma went up today.í Itís just buy low, sell high."

Konik is the author of The Smart Money: How the Worldís Best Sports Bettors Beat the Bookies Out of Millions, which points out that winning sports bettors Ė notably those who make a living at it Ė 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.

"Thereís a lot of crossover between (sports gambling and the stock market) and the people whoíve done both will tell you there are similarities," says William Poundstone, author of Fortuneís 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 donít 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.

"Itís quality of the information and analysis of the information," he says. "Thereís no secret fact that the syndicates have what everybody else doesnít have. Itís what you do with the information. Thatís where computer analysis and proprietary simulations pay off.

"Thatís stuff that your friend just doesnít have. Itís not a fair fight."

Perhaps falling into Konikís top 1,000 sports bettors is retired TV writer J.R. Miller. Although he doesnít divulge exact dollar amounts, heís made enough to own a second home in Las Vegas and pay the better part of 30 yearsí worth of bills betting on sports.

In addition, heís 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, thatís 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. Thatís six or seven a day, 50 a week and 200 a month.

Itís a "grinding" process, designed to overcome the house edge, typically 10 percent in Nevada sports books. The houseís 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 neighborís salary. He keeps his bets to a small fraction of the total bankroll, allowing him to withstand extended losing streaks Ė 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. "Itís 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-Renoís gambling department, says heís turned a profit on sports bets in 19 of the last 20 years.

Itís 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.

Heís from the south side of Chicago and wonít allow himself to bet on the White Sox Ė 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 Iíd 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.