I suspect many of us go through a similar process early in our handicapping days. We finally win a couple bets or have a big week and wonder if maybe we have what it takes to make money over the long term betting on sports. It’s an attractive idea, making a living on your own through sports betting. There’s no boss, you’re not chained to a desk and it certainly beats filing TPS reports all day in some cubicle.
Let’s get to the point. Yes, it is possible to turn a profit over the long run. Real people have been winning consistently for as long as sports betting has been a thing. Most people utterly fail, but it is most certainly possible to be a net lifetime winner.
The key word here is possible. Nobody honest or knowledgeable will ever tell you it’s likely, guaranteed or easy. Professional handicapping is none of those things. Betting profitably on sports is a grind. It’s a job. It’s not glamorous in the slightest. But having said that, making money with betting is awesome. Any time you can turn a fun hobby into a profitable endeavor, you’re winning at life.
Why Most People Fail and Some Succeed
Most people fail because it’s not easy. Profitable betting requires actual, real work. Nobody is a natural born handicapping genius. Those successful sharps you hear about didn’t make their money overnight or stumble across some fool proof system. They didn’t pay for picks and then just follow the system.
The professional sports bettors of the world didn’t get there by luck. While everyone else slept, they stayed up late and shopped for lines. While everyone else went out partying, they put together spreadsheets. Perhaps most noteworthy of all, today’s professionals just kept on coming back day after day even when the novelty had long since worn off.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, by the way. Anything worth doing is challenging. It is only through defeating adversity that we get a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. It’s the same reason why people run marathons and climb mountains when there are much more convenient forms of transportation.
If you embrace the challenge, your odds of success rise considerably. Yes, you still need the technical know-how to make money betting on sports, but you also need to have a mindset that tells you to put in the work, avoid the so-called shortcuts and be disciplined in how you manage your bankroll.
Ask 100 professional sports bettors which is the single most important trait for success and 99 of them will tell you it is proper money management. If you want to make it a long term thing, you need to set and stick to certain rules for sizing your bets and managing your bankroll.
The generally accepted rule of bankroll management is to size each wager so that it represents no more than 2% of your total bankroll. If you have a $100 bankroll, the majority of your bets should be no larger than $2. This sounds extremely conservative, but sports betting is an uncertain business in the best of times. You need to play a conservative game to ride through the normal downswings and protect the bankroll.
Nobody wins every bet. Nobody even wins 60% of all wagers over the long term. If you’re able to hit 55% of all bets, you’re doing very well. The edge for even the best handicappers is small. And in any pursuit with a small edge, natural variance presents itself.
If you were to graph every bet placed by a winning sports bettor, the graph would look like the stock market. You’ll see lots of ups and downs over the short run but with an overall positive growth trend over the long run. A conservative bankroll management plan will keep you in the game during rough times.
Discipline means knowing when to bet, when to back off and how to stick to your bankroll guidelines. This is another important trait that you will need to develop if you want to have any hope of showing a long term profit.
Let’s say Major League Baseball is your specialty. You’re intimately familiar with 4 or 5 teams and tell yourself that you’re only going to bet moneylines when these teams are involved. If that’s your rule, you need to stick with it. Trust me, this is easier said than done.
Where people get in trouble is venturing out of their specialty areas. This can happen after a bad day, week or month and you get the itch to place unplanned bets in an effort to recoup previous losses. This is a recipe for disaster. You can also be tempted when you read about someone’s “guaranteed lock” and are tempted to take the play even if it’s not a play you would normally make.
Remember this: you don’t need to have action every day. If you can’t identify a valuable line, it is much better to pass than to force something that isn’t there. Discipline is more than just having the heart to sit down and do the research; it also involves not doing anything at all when the circumstances don’t fit your betting criteria.
If there were such a thing as “one weird trick” to improve your profits, it would be to go line shopping. This is the single easiest way to improve your win rate. As the great Prop once said, “I know far more winning line shoppers than winning handicappers.”
At its most fundamental, line shopping is simply finding a value bet on your own and then checking the odds at a couple betting sites. Place your bet at the book with the most favorable odds for your position. If Book A is paying +110 on your underdog pick but Book B is paying +115, go with Book B. Those minor discrepancies add up over the long run.
You can start with basic line shopping by signing up for an account at a couple of the best betting sites for your sport and funding each account with a little money. Once you’ve done so, check the odds at each book before you place each bet.
The Magic Number: 52.4%
The magic number in sports betting is 52.4%. This is the percentage of wagers you must win to beat the vig and turn a profit given standard odds of -110. Of course, this number will change as you place bets at different odds, but it serves as a nice starting point to demonstrate what type of win rate you need to win money.
Professional sports bettors usually end up with a win rate right in the range of 55%. Natural variance may push your win rate up to 60% or even higher for short periods of time, but things have a way of swinging back in the other direction. If you’re able to hit 55% over the long run, you’re doing well and will lock in a profit provided you’re not placing lots of -120 or worse bets.