I have been betting on sports in Las Vegas for almost twenty years. During that time, I learned a lot of basic lessons and betting jargon that every sports bettor should know.
First of all, the main fundamental to sports betting and investing is to maximize your return while minimizing variance and risk.
Elihu D. Feustel, author of Conquering the Risk: Attacking Vegas and Wall Street, explained that “Money management is the method of allocating capital towards available opportunities.”
Bankroll management is an important part of long-term success as a sports bettor. Here are some general bankroll tips, which can also be applied to other aspects of gaming and gambling.
Maintain good records.
Keep a record of every transaction and wager you make. Record the opening line and closing line of your wager. Study your records and make sure you are consistently beating the closing line. As one pundit said, “the winning side is the right side.”
Find out if you are making too many parlays or accumulators bets. You give up some value to make those special wagers. Someone in Vegas once told me, “Parlays make bookies rich, especially during football season.” Sure, those are fun wagers to make, but try not to bet too many parlays and accumulators.
Keep your bankroll separate.
Biggest tip: don’t spend your bankroll! You have to treat your betting like a business, which means keeping your roll separate. Resist the temptation to dip into the funds. You need a resilient bankroll to help absorb any variance and downswings.
Know your bankroll and determine your unit size.
Some gamblers use the Kelly Criterion to determine wager sizing. The Kelly Criterion system incorporates betting a percentage of your bankroll as your wager instead of a specific amount. Other gamblers with larger rolls will bet with a specific number and they will deviate slightly higher or lower, determining their confidence in the wager. Many pros I know bet anywhere from 1% to 2% of their bankroll per wager. Flat betting occurs when you bet a standard amount no matter what. The difficulty in determining bet size is removed from the equation…if you want to wager on a football match, then you bet your standard amount (for example, say £50 a match).
Set a max bet.
You have to set limits and stay within those limits. Those ceilings are set in order to keep you in check. It’s never wise to bet a significant amount of your bankroll, but it’s also important to take advantage of instances when you have the best edge. A maximum bet (£100 for example), represents the maximum amount of risk you want to take.
Pick your best game and avoid your worst.
Sounds simple. Sometimes punters have the urge to wager on games outside their comfort zone. Pro bettors avoid games and sports where they have no edge. For example, my best ability as a handicapper was in college basketball and the NBA. I posted my best months during the March Madness college basketball tournament and the NBA Finals. Although the bulk of the betting season for me was 3 months, I resisted the temptation to wager on different sports the rest of the season and focused on basketball as my main priority.
Do not foolishly waste any of your bankroll playing games you’re not good at, or lack an edge. In poker terms, many pros will only play a specific game like Omaha, because they feel they have a better edge than playing Texas Hold’em.
Determine your Min-Edge.
Legendary sports bettor Stanford Wong talks about setting a Min-Edge, or only making a wager if it falls under certain circumstances in which you think you have an edge. Wong suggested 2.5% Min-Edge as a starting point. If you have a 2.5% edge or greater, then you have a green light to make a wager.
Bet for value.
The sharpest bettors seek out bets where they have value. Professional roulette players will always seek out the best edge, and that means playing with a European style table versus an American wheel. The American wheel has a 00 in addition to a 0, whereas wheels on European roulette tables only have a single 0. The payouts are the same, but the odds are slightly better at a European table. Sharp bettors always seek out the best value when it comes to playing the game of roulette, and the same can be applied to sports betting.
Trust the numbers.
Although mathematical analysis is without bias, it’s how you interpret the numbers that matters. Be careful not to put too much emphasis on stats and be conscious of confirmation bias. At the same time, it’s tough to argue against historical analysis and numbers within a large sample size. You have to know when to put aside the personal bias and trust the numbers. For football handicappers, you have to know if your best value is to remove a draw from the equation and bet a team based on Asian handicapping.
There’s so much information out there on the internet that it can be intimidating and confusing. Which stats do you trust? Which are overrated? Sometimes you have to go by simple old-school analysis. Does a team “pass the eye test?” What did you see when watching previous matches and games? Sometimes the numbers say one thing but the actual outcome was something else. Did you see a tennis match when Roger Federer dominated his opponent, but the numbers did not seem right? Often blowouts in basketball have been determined early in the game which means a majority of the second half or 4th quarter is garbage “time” and teams rack up points and statistics with little resistance.
Never lose your head. Remember, it’s all just a game. It’s supposed to be fun, so never get upset if things don’t go your way. Variance is an unpredictable aspect of sports betting, so you have to go with the flow and roll with the punches. There’s going to be good days and bad days. You can’t get too worked up during the rough days, so don’t lose your cool. Tomorrow’s a brand new day!
Don’t bet just to bet.
Avoid the impulse to make a bet without researching anything. It happens all the time… the game is on and you want action… and you’re betting blind, which is not an optimal opportunity whatsoever. Also, making wagers just prior to kick off or tip off is a losing proposition over the long run because you are rarely getting the best line. You almost want to play like a tight-aggressive poker player, when you play fewer hands, but you bet heavily on the hands you selectively play.
Pick and choose your spots. A wise gambler once told me, “Sometimes the best bet is not to bet.” If your best skill is handicapping hockey games, then you should stick primarily to the NHL.
Those are some of the basic tips I would give beginner bettors. The key to successful bankroll management is maximizing your bets when you have the best possible edges, and betting less than usual when you think you have less of an edge. Your bankroll is precious and you must protect it at all costs!