In last week’s article we explored how hard it is to tell the difference between winning sports and losing sports information. On the surface, the answer seems simple – guys who profit are winners, those who lose money are losers.
It’s certainly true when looking backward, but only that way. The key question is: How can you identify winning information moving forward?
Although the financial commercials say, in a sped-up garbled voice: “Past results do not guarantee future performance” – previous results are the best place to start.
I look at a professional bettor like Chuck Edel, who left Chicago for Vegas decades ago and hasn’t had a straight-job this century. I’m thinking at a gut level that “this guy wins” – and when I look at a $5 parlay old-timer in rags at the LVH, I think that this guy doesn’t.
It’s not that easy to tell from the outside. Stu Ungar was often broke, yet one of the very best poker players of his time. The highly recommended book “One of a Kind” by Nolan Dalla details Stuey losing at every type of gambling other than poker.
We’ve all heard the stories of the millionaires who don’t shave. And we all know guys who appear to be successful at one thing, while really making their money from something totally different.
Sure, if a public handicapper is documented by a reputable tracking platform, you can be sure of his history based upon the picks/ratings he submits, but looking from the outside there are always unknown factors.
There’s two ways to win at sports betting: handicapping and originating winning picks; or following a winner. Originating is difficult, though it has many advantages. The dirty little secret of most sports bettors is they do not keep accurate records of their results. It’s not easy to learn from your past if you do not track it in detail.
Obviously, most people don’t track because they know how they do – they lose. Not knowing exactly how much they lose makes it easier for them to continue doing something they love.
Let’s say you are the rare handicapper who assiduously logs every bet and result. You might be surprised to hear it’s still extremely difficult to know if you’re winner.
The first complicating factor is sample size. The statistical reality is, most of the time when a series of events appear to be a genuine trend, the true cause is simple randomness.
Sports bettors often approach me with tales of their 35-25 college football winning streak, telling me they plan on grinding out that modest but profitable 58% from here on. The fact is, when you bet year after year, you would have many 58% runs even if you were flipping coins.
The starting point when analyzing past history is making sure it’s enough history that results are more than luck. A common minimum number of games stats guys talk about being comfortable with is 600. But is that overall bets, those in a specific sport, sides or totals, over what period of time? There are no easy answers.
Full disclosure: We will not be able to answer these questions definitively in next week’s column, but we can explore what it means to a bettor knowing these answers.
RJ Bell is the founder of Pregame.com - and co-host of FIRST PREVIEW, heard Monday through Friday at 10 am on ESPN 1100/98.9 FM. Follow on twitter: @RJinVegas. Discussion of this article continues at Pregame.com. Contact RJ at [email protected]