Wisest plays investing 2% of bankroll on any sports bet

Jun 12, 2012 3:10 AM

Last week, I wrote about the difference in expectations between “wiseguy” or “sharp” bettors (those who expect to earn a profit from sports betting over the long term) in comparison to “recreational” or “squares.” Part II examines some major differences between the two groups of bettors in terms of approach and strategies.

Most casual bettors don’t make a profit from their sports betting hobby. This includes bettors who are relatively sharp as well as those who couldn’t pick a winner if their lives depended on it. That’s not a bad thing either – if every bettor won, sports books would be going belly up and bettors would run out of places to play.

Much of the industry jargon considers money management as important as picking winners. And it certainly is. But throwing around buzzwords like “money management” and esoteric concepts like “isolate a percentage of bankroll” and “positive expectation bets” really doesn’t help the fortunes of most recreational bettors.

If you, personally, are content with betting for entertainment purposes only, this article will serve little purpose. If you wish to be a successful sports bettor, even as an amateur, here are four key tips wiseguys use that should help in that quest to earn a profit.

Avoid bad numbers

Professional handicappers recognize the value of the half point. On the average college basketball Saturday, for example, there can easily be a dozen games that are won or lost against the spread by a point or less.

If he bet on the game, the pro bettor will be on the right side of many. He’ll get the push when others lost, or gain the win when many pushed. I use “he” since every pro sports bettor I know is a man. This is a very segregated industry in that regard.

The pro will take the extra time to shop around for the best number at multiple sports books. He’ll have accounts that are funded in enough places to ensure that when finding the right line he’ll place the bet. And he’ll have an idea of which direction the line is likely to move, enabling him to bet early or late, depending on which time offers an advantageous number.

Recreational players, on the other hand, bet whenever they have time to call their bookie or to stop by the sports book – taking whatever line they get at whatever place they play.

The pro wins by a half point more often than he loses by the hook. Making a modest 20 bets a week (1,040 a year, a number on the very low side for most pros), it is not unusual to gain an extra 10 or 15 wins a year and another 10 or 15 pushes just by betting into good numbers.

Assuming the bettor wagers a modest 2% of his bankroll on any given play, those 20 or 30 favorable decisions translates into a 40-60% swing in his return on his investment. That’s not chump change folks, it’s hard earned profit gained one half point at a time!

Focus on straight bets

Professional bettors make the vast majority of their bets as straight bets, not as parlays. For amateurs, the number is much closer to 50:50, and there are many, many amateurs who rarely straight bet at all. But the straight bet is the wiseguys’ bread and butter.

Professionals are satisfied with the return on investment from a 3-2 day, or an 11-8 week. They are in it for the long haul, not always looking for the quick score that parlays provide. Amateurs are often lured by the big paydays that winning parlays provide. They conveniently forget a season largely consists of steady 2-1 type days that will be even more profitable than big hits parlays can occasionally provide.

Straight bettors never curse the 4-1 days – when they pick more winners than losers. That’s because they make a profit every time, while parlay bettors don’t. There’s a reason that every sports book in Las Vegas has their parlay cards prominently displayed (frankly, parlays pay the bills at most joints in town).

That’s not to say pro bettors never go for the longshot score, but when they do, it’s for a considerably lesser percentage of their bankroll. They do it in conjunction with their straight bets, not in lieu of them.

Deal calmly

with luck factor

Good bettors are going to get unlucky. Sometimes, they’ll be on the unlucky side every night for a week or every other night for a month. There have been times when I’ll look at my spreadsheet at the end of the season and say “Hey, I should have won 20 or 30 units more. How the bleep did that happen?”

In sports much like in poker, the better wagers you make the more unlucky you’re likely to be. Why? Simple! You’re going to be on right sides more than wrong and when right the luck factor can only work against you!

This is very disconcerting for many casual bettors. Being on the wrong end of an error induced bullpen meltdown or a disastrous pick six on the wrong side of the two minute warning in the fourth quarter of a football game is a painful experience. Sharp bettors know that these beats can and will happen, sometimes in streaky fashion, and they do their best to wipe the slate clean on their psyche on a daily basis.

This is not to say that wiseguy bettors don’t occasionally go ballistic when they suffer a particularly bad beat – hey, everybody is human. But sharps generally let many of the tough beats roll off them like water off a duck’s back, accepting them as an inevitable cost of doing business in the sports betting arena.

Be smart

betting streaks

It’s one of the common mistakes that recreational players make and quite possibly the most costly. Amateurs press their losses, raising the stakes to get back to even off a losing week or a losing streak. Pro bettors know that there will be times when you lose more than win. Hopefully, those times are few and far between, but inevitably, they will happen to everybody.

Rather than raising the stakes during a bad run, the pro lowers his stakes, conserving bankroll while waiting and working hard for things to turn around. There’s no “double or nothing” attitude on Monday Night Football games for the pro; in direct contrast to the approach that many recreational players take.

Conversely, the pro knows that winning streaks are the time to press your bets, not pulling back with a conservative approach. When a ‘capper is in good form and rhythm (seeing things clearly before they happen) he’s not afraid to raise his stakes a bit. He will make larger plays when the percentages are in his favor (positive expectation wagers).

When wiseguy bettors win big, they don’t go blowing half their bankroll on a fancy new convertible or a dream vacation. Money spent on splurges isn’t going where it should be – back into the bankroll, so the wiseguy can be ready to pounce at the next opportunity.

It sounds so basic – don’t chase losses and ride your winning streaks. Few casual bettors are able to maintain an even keel during periods of higher rates than the norm of both successes and of failures.