How to Win at Sports Betting

As legal sports betting continues to grow at an astronomical rate, so do the dreams of users who are looking to make money off of something they love. After all, there are plenty of stories out there about legendary hustlers beating the books long-term.

Someone has to join them, so it may as well be you — right? Those new to the game will generally come to terms with an indisputable fact pretty quickly: Turning a profit from betting on sports is really tough.

But wait — what about those guaranteed picks and locks of the week that are constantly floating around? How about those simple systems like going against the public that bettors are making serious bank off of?

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees when it comes to betting on sports. That’s true no matter how finely tuned a system may be. Those who claim to be able to project it all out with 100% certainty just aren’t being truthful.

So does anybody ever win at sports betting or is it all so unpredictable that you’ll wind up getting nowhere while your money is drained? As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, so you should look at betting as a form of entertainment and wager responsibly.

For those looking for something more than that, it’s possible to build your skills up to a level at which you can turn a profit, but it’s going to take some doing. Read on as we explore how to win at sports betting one simple step at a time.

How to win guides:

Let’s define “winning” at sports betting

Picture this: You’re scrolling around social media and come across a pic of a big winning ticket that was recently cashed. That means that the person who made the huge score is a winning bettor, right?

Not necessarily. While you may know the amount of the single wager that person placed, you need more details to determine overall profitability. How much has that person wagered in total versus that person’s actual winnings since starting out?

The answer to that question can be a real eye-opener. A single big score may make you feel like a winner, but closer examination may reveal that you’ve actually spent more than you’ve won on a long-term basis.

OK, but what if you’re winning more often than you lose? That means you’re a winner, no? Maybe, but it still comes down to what you’ve made versus what you’ve spent. If your winners are coming at less-than-favorable odds, then you may actually be losing money.

We’ll explain why that is in a bit (hint — sportsbooks are for-profit entities and charge a vig for facilitating wagers), but just know that merely winning over 50% of your wagers doesn’t guarantee that you’ll turn a profit.

On a long-term basis, there just aren’t that many bettors who will consistently beat the books. After all, if it were that easy, books would have some trouble staying in business, no? The well-run ones certainly have no problems on that front, so let that sink in.

To be clear, there are professional sports bettors out there, as well as plenty of folks who aim or claim to be. Getting to the point at which you actually turn a long-term profit is very challenging, and it’s a trick that only a few can turn as a result.

Understanding vig and how it works

When it comes to sports betting, there is one guaranteed winner that you can bank on: the sportsbooks themselves. They’ll make money in the long run, but we can’t say the same for scores of bettors.

Beyond the net hold on losing bets versus payouts on winners, sportsbooks also make money thanks to what’s known as vig. Also known as juice, this is basically akin to a commission being charged for placing bets, and it’s built into the odds you see.

To demonstrate, let’s consider a standard point spread bet. The default odds on both sides are set at -110, and it may fluctuate from there based on betting action.

  • Baltimore Ravens       +3.5 (-110)
  • Pittsburgh Steelers     -3.5 (-110)

The Steelers are favored by 3.5 points for this contest. The odds are the same on both sides, so you’d make the same for a winning wager in either direction. A winning $100 bet at odds of -110 returns a profit of $90.91.

So why don’t you just double your money? That’s because of the vig. The book is keeping 9.1% of the return in this case as juice. In order to profit long-term, you not only have to win more often than you lose, but you also have to beat the vig.

The amount of the vig isn’t always clear cut, either, such as in the case of a moneyline bet. For these wagers, the numbers can be vastly different on both sides

  • New York Yankees           +105
  • Los Angeles Dodgers      -125

For a quick calculation, if you bet $100 on the Yankees, you’d get $105 back for a winner. To get $100 back on the Dodgers, you’d have to wager $125. Armed with that information, we can then work through some quick formulas to find the vig.

  • Bet $125 on Dodgers to win $100.
  • Total return of $225.
  • Amount of wager divided by total return gives us the implied probability: 125/225 = 55.5%.
  • Bet $100 on Yankees to win $105.
  • Total return of $205.
  • Implied probability: 100/205 = 48.8%.

If we add together the implied probability that we found on both sides — 55.5 + 48.8 — we get a total of 104.3. One side is going to win while the other will lose in a coin flip scenario, so that works out to 50/50, or 100%.

The implied probability according to the odds checks in at 104.3%, so what gives? The amount over 100% equals the vig being charged by the book on the bet, which in this case is 4.3%.

Sportsbooks are in the business of making money. The vig is always there, no matter how well disguised it may be. It’s one the biggest hurdles for consistent and sustained profitability, so understanding how it impacts the bottom line is imperative.

How often do you need to win at sports betting to make money?

Let’s say that you approach the NFL season with a plan to place 100 point spread bets over the course of the year at the best NFL betting sites with the goal of winning more than you lose to turn a profit. The season plays out, and you post a record of 51-49.

Have you made money? Here’s how the math works out using a wager size of $100 per game and standard odds of -110.

  • Total bet: 100 * $100 = $10,000
  • Winning wagers: 51 * $100 = $5,100
  • Profit on winnings: 51 * $90.91 = $4,636.41
  • Complete losses: 49 * $100 = $4,900

We hit on 51 bets, so the $5,100 laid out comes back to us, as does a profit of $4,636.41 for a total of $9,736.41. The 49 losing bets are gone with nothing to show for them. If we take our total amount wagered of $10,000 and subtract $9,736.41, we have a loss of $263.59.

Even though you had more winners than losers, you still lost money. That’s because you didn’t earn enough to beat the vig. Just to break even against the juice, you’d need to hit 52.4% of your bets.

If you manage to win more than that, then you’re turning a profit. Those who bet regularly and at a decent amount of volume would be pretty happy with a 55%-56% win rate, while those who are absolutely crushing it are at 60% or more.

When you consider the touts who promise “guaranteed winners” and extraordinary won-loss records, that may not sound like much. On the other hand, that should place it in even better perspective: Those claiming to win at even greater clips are telling some rather tall tales.

What is a betting unit?

A betting unit refers to the amount you are placing in play on a game. In order to accurately measure your results — and to properly manage your bankroll — many successful sports bettors subscribe to the theory that your unit size should be the same for each game.

Additionally, a unit should be in proportion to your overall bankroll. If you have a total of $1,000 to play with, a conservative gambler may only want to place 1% at risk at any time, so the unit size is $10.

For those with larger amounts at their disposal, the unit size climbs accordingly. Also, the ratio of units per bankroll can vary based on your strategy and risk tolerance. For a general ballpark, it’s 1%-2% at the low end and up to 5% for those who are more aggressive.

What is bankroll management?

Your bankroll refers to the total funds you have available for sports betting. This can be money that you hold on site, as well as an amount you would be comfortable depositing as needed to replenish the roll.

It’s important to remember that betting on sports is risky. There’s a good chance that you’ll lose, so you should be betting only with amounts you are comfortable with. If you treat it as entertainment, then the expenditure should be in line with what you’d spend elsewhere.

There is absolutely zero justification for putting funds at risk that you would need for other purposes, such as paying your bills or buying food. If you hope to have anything resembling long-term success, then understand and subscribe to the concepts of responsible gambling.

How much money should I bet on each sports game?

The answer to this question is based on the total size of your bankroll. For one bettor, wagering $100 on a single game may work fine, while another may be better served by betting a nominal amount such as $20.

As outlined earlier, your total betting bankroll should be based on what you can afford to lose without issue. While no one wants to think of the possibility of losing it all, it’s not out of the ordinary to have that happen.

That being the case, the level of your bankroll shouldn’t be causing you discomfort. If it does, then you’ve allocated too much for sports betting. When you land on a number that won’t cause you any hardship if you lose, that’s a good starting point for your roll.

For the individual games, it’s a good idea to stick to a certain percentage per wager. This can range from 1%-5% depending on your risk tolerance and long-term goals. For example, if you have a $5,000 bankroll with a maximum of 2% per wager, your unit size is $100.

How to win consistently at sports betting

There’s no one magic bullet that will guarantee that you will find success with betting on sports. Instead, it’s a matter of putting together a lot of different moving pieces as you continuously try to solve the puzzle. To help in your quest to get to that point, there are some tried and true principles that you can lean on.

  1. Understand the importance of bankroll management: If you don’t manage your funds well, then you’ll be replenishing your account an awful lot. Your bankroll needs to be respected and valued. It can help to think of your wagering dollars as soldiers. The idea is to bring them back home safely, and hopefully with some friends trailing along. You should have a strict budget in place for your total roll, as well as for each individual bet that you plan to make.
  2. Instill a strong sense of discipline into your approach: Everyone wants to hit a home run, but there are plenty of singles and doubles hitters who wind up doing quite well, too. For sports betting, the name of the game is to turn a profit. You’ll have a much better chance of doing so if you can impart a sense of discipline into your game. Taking a wild approach where you wing it and constantly go for the gusto is not a recipe for sustained success.
  3. Have a willingness to adapt and constantly improve: No matter how finely tuned of a handicapping system you may have, you’ll take your share of lumps along the way. There may even be bad rough patches in which you can’t seem to get anything right. As opposed to continually banging your head against the wall while hoping for a different outcome, take the time to reassess your plan, educate yourself further and make tweaks where you need to make them.

There is no single magic moment in which you’ll “get it” and have everything fall into place while your account grows to an eye-popping level. Learning how to win at online sports betting takes time, and it also takes constant effort to stay on top of your game. Oddsmakers are very good at what they do, and that won’t be changing anytime soon.

Is live / in-game sports betting better?

Live betting opens the door to even more chances to win as the games play out. The action moves quickly, and you’ll have a number of opportunities to consider for each contest on the docket.

There’s no rule of thumb that says you’re more likely to win or lose with live sports betting. It’s important to use caution with these fast-moving wagers, however. If you get swept up in the action, you can find yourself down more than you anticipated before you know it.

As with all types of betting, it’s important to have a strict budget in place. For example, let’s say you’ve set $50 aside for live betting on a game you’re looking forward to. You need to stick to that amount.

Once it’s gone, enjoy the rest of the game and examine where you may have gone wrong. If you manage to get ahead, that’s awesome. Continue playing with the profits and make sure you walk away with at least your initial $50.

Also, it’s important to know what kind of bettor you are. Do you prefer to make well-thought-out decisions, or are you more inclined to make judgments on the fly? Those in the former camp may not find live betting appealing, while folks in the latter group may love it.

What are the worst mistakes you can make in sports betting?

Just like in any other area of life, you can enhance your chances of success with sports betting by simply avoiding the big mistakes that can really set you back. There are going to be missteps and bad calls along the way for all of us, but there are some particularly treacherous potholes that we should all do our best to avoid.

  1. Overestimating your abilities: Being well-versed in sports is a great start, but that’s not all that it takes to find success with betting. There have been plenty of newbies who have entered the game with the thought that their knowledge gives them an instant edge. Then the rude awakening happens. It takes time to get up to speed with betting, so start small and don’t be so overconfident that you go all in from the beginning.
  2. Chasing losses: You’re going to lose games that you think are sure things, and victories that appear all but certain are going to turn against you at the last minute. These things happen, and it can sting. It’s important to accept them for what they are: losses. Learn what you can and move on. You’re not “due” for a win because you had a bad beat. Those who chase losses with that mindset are in line for more disappointment.
  3. Taking too many moonshots: Continually shooting for the stars with lots of risky parlay bets is a recipe for disaster. There’s a reason that sportsbooks will pay out so much if such bets hit. That’s because the chances of it happening are really slim, and the overall hold they keep on parlays more than makes up for it. Feel free to have some fun with a lottery ticket on a small scale, but don’t bank on making regular returns this way.

Each of these mistakes can lead you on the road toward scratching your head and clicking the deposit button much more often than you should be. Don’t let that happen to you. Instead, have some knowledge going in, including the specific pitfalls that you need to keep an eye out for.

Who are the most successful sports bettors of all time?

While we’ve cautioned that turning a profit from betting on sports consistently is a big challenge, there are some who manage to do so. In fact, there are some rather well-known professional handicappers whose accomplishments are the stuff of legends. Here’s a quick look at some of the biggest names in the game.

  • Billy Walters: Walters built up his skills to the point where he was so successful that he had trouble getting enough action. The solution was that he enlisted folks to place his bets. He was even profiled on 60 Minutes to further cement his legacy, but the story doesn’t have a completely happy ending. Walters spent time behind bars for insider trading.
  • Haralabos Voulgaris: Voulgaris developed an NBA betting system that led him on the path to riches. He had a great feel for totals bets and halftime lines, and got to the point where he was essentially on point with how coaches would react in certain situations. Voulgaris clearly demonstrated that having a specialty can really pay off.
  • Bill Krackomberger: Krackomberger has consistently honed his skills since his younger days. It’s paid off handsomely, as he has been profiled a number of times on major broadcast outlets. One point that he continually stresses is the importance of line shopping. No matter how much of a handle he has on a game, it comes down to the numbers for him.

The dream of betting on sports for a living has been achieved by some, but it’s a very select group. Be sure to keep that in mind no matter which stage of the game you’re in. There’s nothing wrong with striving to get better. Just know that the odds are against you.

Should you pay for sports betting picks?

If you spend enough time in gambling circles, you’ll be exposed to a good deal of boastful claims. It seems as if everyone has a “lock” pick these days, and there’s a steady stream of folks who portray themselves as sports betting geniuses on social media.

Beyond those attempting to draw attention to themselves, there are plenty who are looking to draw something else, as in your money. There are lots of touts to be found, and far too many of them prey on unsuspecting folks while making outlandish claims.

No one wins all of the time with sports betting. Period. Anyone that tells you otherwise is simply not being truthful. That being the case, why are there touts out there who claim to have ridiculous winning percentages and picks that “never lose”?

Quite simply, they’re looking to attract as many paying customers as possible. Some will stick around, others will catch on quickly, and the cycle will rinse and repeat. For the touts, as long as they have a stream of folks willing to pay, all is well.

There are touts and services out there that do a respectable job for their clients. They’re honest about their results, provide full transparency and legitimately do their best to keep their customers happy.

Unfortunately, the touts who take the opposite approach cast a cloud over the industry. If you’re considering paying for picks, tread carefully and fully vet your selections. When you come across those with horrid reputations and ridiculous promises, move along quickly.

Do sports betting systems work?

A betting system can help you with your overall decision making. That said, there is no system that’s perfect. There’s no such thing as instant riches with sports betting, so use caution if and when you think you’ve come across the holy grail.

Systems can range from incredibly simple concepts — wagering on rested home favorites, taking streaking home underdogs plus the points, etc. — to complex. On the complex side, there can be lots of pieces that you must put together to lead to the optimal decision.

A well-defined system takes some time to put together, but it can be a worthwhile endeavor. You’ll learn a lot along the way, including how to sort through what really matters. However, the fact remains that there is no single system that will consistently beat the books.

You may hear theories that sound great — i.e. just always bet on the favorite and you’ll come out ahead — but further research reveals that there’s some faulty logic being applied. The same applies to the “can’t lose” systems that appear frequently on the interwebs.

A betting system that you devise on your own while leaning on trusted resources can be a step in the right direction, but don’t expect instant results. Even the top handicappers are always evolving and learning as they attempt to consistently beat the book.

Which sports gives you the best odds/are easiest to pick winning bets?

When getting started with betting on sports, it’s always good to begin with what you know. There’s no one sport that you should focus on because it’s so easy to beat. If there were, don’t you think the sportsbooks would plug that leak pretty quickly?

Yes, they would. Sportsbooks are not in the business of giving money away. If you want to win consistently, then know that there will be some work involved and that it’ll take some time. As such, it makes the most sense to begin by building off what you know.

For example, if you love hockey but don’t know a thing about basketball, start with the former and stay away from the latter. If you’re a big fan of golf but couldn’t care less about tennis, then stick to the links.

There will always be time to broaden your game down the road if you so choose by learning other sports. Additionally, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a focused approach by zeroing in on a select few sports.

In fact, many successful handicappers do just that. One other note to keep in mind: Sports that are less heavily bet than others don’t receive as much attention from oddsmakers. As a result, some prognosticators view the lines as softer and easier to beat.

Sports that fall into this category are generally of the niche variety, so we would advise using caution before diving into the deep end of the pool. If you don’t know a thing about the sport, then how can you justify putting your money at risk?

How to beat Vegas / the bookies?

Sorry, but there’s no simple answer here, either. Consistently beating the books is far from simple. However, just like you can improve your overall handicapping skills and knowledge, you can enhance your chances of doing so by leaning on some key tenets. Here’s a trio that will set you off on the right track.

  1. Stick with legal sportsbooks: First and foremost, you should always be taking your business to sportsbooks that are legal and regulated in your state. There may still be a black market for sports betting, but that doesn’t mean you have to go there. Legal shops will keep your funds safe, pay out on time and provide clear-cut steps to resolution if problems arise. The same can’t be said for unregulated offshore operators.
  2. Fully understand what the lines are telling you: When getting set to bet on sports, one of the most important steps you can take is gaining a full understanding of what the numbers are telling you. The odds board can point you to the more likely outcome (at least in the eyes of the oddsmakers), show you where the public money is heading, and reveal what you would get for a winning bet. Be sure to take the time to understand all three of those components.
  3. Shop around for the best odds: All sports betting lines are not created equal. While the leading operators may be in the same range on games and events, you can find ticks of difference on the odds, spreads and totals. It may not seem like much, but it can all add up and impact your results. If you take the time to line shop, you can spot these discrepancies and identify the most favorable spots to wager on the contests you’re interested in.

Additionally, keep in mind that you should use sports betting for entertainment purposes. The ranks of those who find long-term success are small. If you want to join them, know that it takes lots of work and effort to get there. Instead, approach sports betting with an eye toward fun while working toward developing your skills and improving your game.

Pro tip: Take advantage of sports betting bonuses & free bets

There are some outstanding ways to build up your bankroll without much effort required. That’s especially true as legal sports betting continues to enter new markets. Each legal state attracts some of the top names in the game, and they all want you as a customer.

In order to gain consumers, sportsbooks aren’t shy about offering up special deals for new users. Known as sign-up offers, these are incentives that are there for the taking. Here are some examples of what you’ll see.

  • Deposit bonuses: After you create an account, many operators will match your first deposit up to a certain amount or percentage.
  • Risk-free bets: There are books that will allow you to place your first bet risk-free, which means you get a refund of site credit if the bet is a loser.
  • Free bets: A few operators will offer out free funds for you to use on the site just for signing up. Any winnings you get from the sportsbook’s free bets are yours to keep.

We’ve assembled the best of the best free bet offers here. When you’re ready to try out a new spot, be sure to click on our exclusive links to get the ball rolling. By taking this step, you’ll be in line for the best possible bonuses out there.

One other note to keep in mind: Once you’ve signed up, be on the lookout for featured promotional offerings from the operator, such as odds boosts and parlay insurance. These are additional ways to get some extra benefit and keep that bankroll growing.

Importance of line shopping in sports betting

Sports betting is a numbers game, and we don’t just mean with the gobs of stats you have to consume or the volume you should bet to have a chance to win. The most important numbers are the ones that oddsmakers dish out for each game.

If you’re new to sports betting, then you need to devote some time to understanding the odds board. Sports betting odds point you to the most likely outcome in the eyes of the oddsmakers. You can also determine potential winnings and which side the public likes.

It takes time to get up to speed on those points, but it’s time well spent. Understanding the odds is one of the most important steps you can take as you work toward finding success in sports betting.

Once that’s under your belt, digest and understand this tidbit: All odds aren’t created equal. The numbers major sportsbook operators offer may be in line for games and events, but they won’t always be exactly the same.

To find the best prices, you can engage in what’s known as line shopping. This simply means that you are checking the odds at multiple books to find the most attractive ones. By shopping, you can find ticks of difference here and there.

While it may not seem like much at first glance, it absolutely adds up in the long run. To demonstrate, consider the potential payouts for winning bets at the following odds:

  • $100 bet at odds of -105: potential return of $95.24
  • $100 bet at odds of -110: potential return of $90.91

The difference here is only $4.33. However, if you multiply that amount out over the course of 100 winning bets, that nominal figure turns into $433.00.

Line shopping takes just minutes in the modern world, so be sure to take the time to do it whenever you’re ready to place bets. Your bottom line will thank you in the long run.

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