Sports Betting Strategy
If I’m being honest…
I don’t sports bet to win money.
I sports bet to add stakes. It lets me back the team I want to back, and tell people about it when they win. It lets me root for a team I otherwise wouldn’t care about. It allows me to compete.
So I’m playing to win. And yeah, I lied… I’m also playing to win money. It’s just not the only reason I’m playing.
This guide is going to walk you through my research on the most successful sports betting tips I’ve found, so we can maximize our profits.
That’s why we’re here… make money while watching sports. If nothing else, winning allows us to keep playing.
This guide we’ll cover everything I’ve learned about sports betting. The first parts are most important but also the most boring. These cover sports betting vocabularly, basic fundamentals, how much you can expect to win, and how much you should betting. These take you to performing about as good as a monkey. And that’s saying something, because many sports gamblers perform worse than a monkey.
Don’t be over-confidnet here and skip the early stages. Then, we’ll move on to specific strategies to take you from monkey-level to sharp-level. And as you’ll learn in the early parts of the guide, there’s not a huge separation between how much monkey’s and sharps win. But getting that little extra bit is the difference between losing a little and winning a little… or a lot.
Here’s the details of what we’ll cover to make you a better sports bettor:
- sports betting 101: basic vocabularly and other things worth knowing if you don’t already
- how much you can expect to win sports betting (it won’t sound like a lot)
- bankroll management (need this so you can keep playing)
- our general sports betting tips
- the one can’t lose sports betting strategy (can’t make a lot on this, but it works)
- 7 sports betting models/theories
- what to avoid
- most profitable sports bets by sport (coming soon)
Step 0 Sports Betting 101. Basic vocabulary and things to know
You can skip this section if you’re not new to sports betting, but I want to start with some basics you should know before you start placing bets:
- The Most Common Types of Bets: This page will go over what a spread bet, moneyline bets, over/under bet and a few others are. These are by far the most common bets, and really the only bets you need to know to be successful in sports gambling. Usually in the betting world, simple is more profitable.
- How to Read Betting Odds: Many sports sites will calculate your payout before you place the bet, but it’s still super important to know the most common language in sports betting–odds. This goes over how to tell the underdog vs favorite, and how much you’ll get paid for the risk you are taking. It’ll also cover fractional, decimal, and American odds, so you don’t get thrown off if a site lists odds differently.
Those are the 2 pages you have to learn if you don’t know already.
There are a few other pages over basic concepts worth knowing if you aren’t familiar but maybe not a requirement. These are “what is” pages.
What is a… (click any topic you don’t know about below)
Now we’ve covered the basic terms for sports betting. Let’s dive into some strategy. I’ll warn you it starts a little boring covering how much you can win, and how you should manage your gambling money. But please don’t skip these. They not only help you stay out of bad gambling habits, but they are the most important step in avoiding gambling losses. Every pro bettor starts with this strategy in mind.
Step 1–> Expectations: How much can I expect to win sports gambling?
I’m going to start by being a Debbie Downer…
You’re not going to win a lot.
Sharp bettors know this, and it’s one edge they have. If you don’t have an idea of how much you need to win, you’ll either run out of bankroll too quickly or get overconfident and place too big of bets.
So you need to know how much you can expect to win. To do this, you need to know…
- How often do the best sports bettors win
- What percentage of bets you need to win to break even (it’s more than 50% due to the sportsbook’s cut)
- How much bankroll you need to make sports betting a full time job
What percentage of bets to professional sports bettors win?
The best sports bettors in the world win about 55% of the time. The range over the long term is usually 53-55%.
What about my friend who told me he wins “way over 50%” of his bets?
The most likely answer is he hasn’t bet that much. A monkey can flip a coin five times and win 60, 80, or even 100% of the time wouldn’t be too likely. But have the monkey flip a coin 1,000 times, and they’re going to be close to 50%. Luck can win in the short-term.
The other reasons your friend might have won way over 50% of his bets are either he’s lying or he’s bad at math.
It’s important to be upfront that even the great gamblers don’t win a whole lot over half their bets. One of the most common ways new gamblers get in trouble is overconfidence. They go on a win streak for their first 5-10 bets. Then, they start increasing the bets right as their luck starts to swing the other direction digging a hole.
Gambling pro tip #1: realistic expectations and being humbles about your winnings (you don’t have the system figured out) is the most important step to increasing your bankroll
What percent of sports bets do you have to win to break even?
Okay, so now you know you won’t win much over 50% of your bets, but what percentage of bets do you have to win to break even?
You need to win 52.4% of your sports bets to break even. This assumes you’re playing 50/50 odds bets like betting the spread or over/under.
Why do I have to win more than 50% of my bets?
In one word: juice.
Vegas or the online sportsbook will take their cut. It’s almost always through the odds. A 50/50 bet most commonly has -110 odds (learn more about how to read sports betting odds), which means you need to bet $11 to win $10.
How much money can I expect to make sports betting?
How much you win sports betting is going to be directly related to how much bankroll you have.
You now know that if you get really good you can win a slightly higher percentage of your bets than you need to break even. But how much money does this turn out to?
Since it’s such a small percentage, you need to gamble a lot to win a lot. Let’s look at what it would take to make a full-time income.
We’ll say you’ve used this guide and now are an expert gambler. You win 55% of your bets. You need to be gambling $10k a week to earn enough be the equivalent of a full-time job.
That can sound a little scary, but let’s end on some good news.
First, the $10k gambling isn’t as bad as it sounds. Why? You aren’t really risking anywhere near $10,000 if you’re following the advice in this guide. In fact, a monkey betting $10,000 a week with good bankroll management (more on this next) would lose about $500 a week. That sounds a lot better than $10,000.
(if you’re interested in why, it’s basically the monkey would follow bets like money/line and over/under that have a 50% chance of winning. that means the monkey would break even–not win or lose any money–against a friend, but the $500 loss comes from Vegas’ cut.)
Takeaway: you need a big bankroll to make good money, but you don’t have to risk much of it.
The other good news is this is full-time income level. Not beer money, fund my hobby money, or even vacation money. Sports gambling can be fun, and you can make money doing it.
To add to this, as you make money, your bankroll will increase if you don’t take it out as beer money every week. This let’s snowball into making more and more each week.
The best news is for those saying I don’t have close to $10,000 to put into sports gambling.
There are ways to win a much higher percentage than the sharps with smaller bankrolls. Doesn’t this go against everything you just said on what to expect sports gambling? You’re right, but here’s the catch. There are a few “arbitrage” strategies where you can guarantee you win money. I know this can sound too good to be true if you haven’t heard of it, but casino’s are willing to do it to attract more users. They just limit how much you can bet–not a problem for those without big bankrolls.
Stay tuned to the strategies below and we’ll cover all the ways I know to make more than the professional bettors.
Before we dive into specific gambling strategies, bankroll management is the second most important fundamental of sports betting: bankroll management.
Step 2–> Best Bankroll Management Strategy: How much money should you risk to maximize long-term wins?
This is a section you shouldn’t skip. It’s boring, but bankroll management is the most important part of being a responsible gambler.
Gambling bankroll is how much money you have set aside to gamble. It’s important not to have a higher bankroll than you’re comfortable losing. But if you’re gambling right, 99% of the time you won’t come close to losing all this money (and hopefully, you’re increasing it with time!).
How you manage your bankroll is maybe the most important fundamental of sports betting. Let’s use an extreme example:
You have $200 to bet. You place it all on NY Giants to against the Patriots. Giants lose. Your game’s over. No more sports gambling. OR a worse-case scenario: you don’t quit, but refund your account. This is how bad gambling habits start because you haven’t set a true line for how much you’re willing to bet.
So it’s probably obvious to you that you shouldn’t bet your whole account on one game. But how much should you bet?
Most sharps bankroll strategy is to bet around 1-2% maximum on any given bet. This means if you have $1,000 to gamble, you’d bet $10-20. This makes it very unlikely you can get caught with no money to continue.
But you’re not a pro, and I think this means you can actually be a little riskier (with a few warnings). Pros have huge bankrolls, often funded by other people. So 1% is still a massive bet.
I think if you want a simple system, betting 5% of your bankroll makes it very unlikely you will ever run out. That means $50 bets if you have $1,000. The one rule with this system is you avoid risk bets. What do I mean by “avoid risky bets?” Stick to bets that have -125 to +125 odds (make sure to check out how to read sports odds if you have any questions on what this means).
I prefer a little more flexible system that lets me indulge in a little bit riskier bet occasionally. Sometimes you’re just feeling it. For this system, I change the amount I’ll spend on a bet based on how risk it is. If it’s a less risky bet (think against the spread bets, spread bets, and other bets around -125 to +125 odds), I’m comfortable betting 5% of the bankroll. However, if you’re betting parlays or longshot bets, the math changes quickly. The risky bets I limit to 1% of my bankroll because there’s a good chance I’m losing it.
One more important key to bankroll management: your bankroll is changing, so make sure to update your math. To give an example, let’s say you have a $100 bankroll, you’re making $5 bets (5% of $100) but you get a string of really bad luck and lose your first 5 bets. You now have a $50 bankroll, so you’re allowed to bet $2.50. This can work in your favor as well–here’s to hoping you get hot early!
Why it’s so important not to lose money. You might think, “Well, if I run out of money, I”ll just refill my account. I have the money.” This is how bad sports gamblers are formed. There’s no system here, so you get “sucked in” and can go down a spiral of not keep track of how much your gambling habits cost you. It can also just make you a sloppy sports bettor. Rules are important for sports betting–to win and to make sure it’s not a bad habit.
Congratulations! You’ve read enough that you should have the ability to not perform worse than a monkey. I know that part wasn’t most entertaining. And really, that deserves credit that you took the time to read it. Many gamblers don’t know that stuff, and performing worse than a monkey is how you get in trouble.
Our next step is to squeak out the little gains that take us from monkey to sharp.
Step 3–> 3 Betting Fundamentals We Live By
Now we’re on to making you a bettor that doesn’t lose more than they should to a good better. Keeping afloat in sports betting is easy, winning like a sharp isn’t.
This is a learning journey for me, too. Sort of a journal of principles and tips to keep in mind to squeak out more wins.
Let’s start with 3 fundamentals we live by. Like bankroll management, these are important to keep in mind no matter your strategy…
Fundamental #1: You don’t have a number advantage over Vegas.
There are many genius mathematicians and programmers who create computer models to predict sports scores. Not surprisingly, they can be extremely accurate. The problem is that Vegas is too. Vegas’ whole game is to create spreads for games, so you know they have no problem spending money on smart people to help them out.
They also have the resources to include experts and insiders who give them information that the models crunching numbers can’t. I’ve written on this before, but this human edge can make all the difference.
This doesn’t mean I ignore my favorite sports prediction models. If multiple are pointing in a different direction than Vegas, it’s worth paying attention to. But it’s also worth considering that Vegas is including valuable information that the other models aren’t (one example would be a recent injury).
Fundamental #2: Stay humble and never forget your bankroll strategy
I already did a full section on bankroll strategy, but it’s important to repeat here.
Almost everyone I know that drops out of sports betting or goes broke is for one of two reasons:
- They just dropped money in their account with no money plan.
- They won early bets, and thought they had it “figured out.”
The first point is doesn’t need much explanation. Many people start without a bankroll strategy, but this often causes their account balance to draw down quicker than they expect.
The second point is all about being humble. Remember, sharps win less than 6 out of 10 of their bets. It’s not uncommon for amateurs to win 7 or 8 of their first 10. But this is a dangerous place to be.
Because it’s not going to last. Right after riding this high of a few consistent wins, they say why stick to these “small” bets? They get more aggressive, but then the law of averages kicks in and they go on a little losing streak.
The problem is that losing streak is amplified because the bets are bigger. Soon, they can’t make big bets to recover their money because their balance is low. It gets really hard to claw back.
The saddest tale in gambling is when one of these two scenarios happens, and the bettor refills their account to make up for it.
That’s where bad habits and gambling addicts are formed. So please, just stick to a bankroll strategy. It’ll keep you in the game and keep sports gambling fun.
Fundamental #3: Snowball your betting success
When you roll a snowball, you start small but with every roll the increase in size is easier and easier. Sometimes it gets big enough that the snowball rolls and picks up snow on its own.
You should take the same approach to gambling. As you place more bets, your wins will become easier. You’ll find what you’re best at it. Maybe it’s a certain sport, may it’s pre-game bets or in-game bets, or maybe you like looking for specific conditions–weather, injuries etc.
It doesn’t really matter what you end up liking. There are many ways to win, but it helps to start small while you’re figuring it out.
Here’s the good news:
While you’re figuring this all out, you can win the easiest money in sports gambling: betting arbitrage aka can’t lose betting strategies.
These don’t work, or at least not as well when you have more money. But they are super beneficial at building up your bankroll.
Your bankroll strategy will help with this. Naturally, as you win more money, you can make bigger bets.
Step 4–>Sports Betting Strategies: the fun part
So far, we’ve covered the most important tips to be a successful sports bettor. But the focus has been on not losing money. Kind of boring.
Now we’re going to cover what most people want: specific strategies you can use to boost your gains. I’m learning with you here. These are the betting strategies to win more bets. Some are easy and guaranteed money, some take more time and practice.
Let’s see what we’ve got:
Okay, parlays are fun. They make news headlines:
“Orlando man turns $10 bet into $25,000 with 8-leg parlay!”
And, you should avoid them.
Sportsbooks profit 6x as much on parlays as they do straight up bets. That’s a huge cut from gamblers paycut.
The smart play is simple: avoid the paralys.
Bet the big games
Super Bowl, World Cup, NBA championship, March Madness, Stanley Cup, World Series, big fight?
It doesn’t matter what big game it is, I’m always betting it.
The sportsbook want to draw you in, so take advantage of it.
I rarely put multiple bet on a game, but the Super Bowl this year I put 8 bets. There were too many boosted bets that I couldn’t pass on.
Many of these promotional bets make your odds better than a sharp. Remember, there’s not a huge difference in how often a sharp wins vs average joes. But that small difference is a huge difference because they can reliable print money–even if it’s just a little of money.
Many promotional bets do the same for you. A slight switch in the odds (and often it’s more than slight. for instance, the Super Bowl bets changed a lot of payouts by a 50% increase) result in a big chance you’re profitable.
So watch for big games, even if you’re not a big fan, because they’ll likely make a sharp out of you.
Be a narrow expert
This strategy comes from stock picking.
There’s always a debate in the stock world of “efficient markets.” Basically, some people believe that there is so much information out there, and stock traders have become so good that stock prices are “perfect.” This means you don’t have an edge in picking stocks.
But other people argue this isn’t true. There is an edge it’s just difficult to find. Here’s a joke to explain it. A professor who believes in efficient markets is walking down the halls with a student. There’s a $10 bill on the floor. The professor says, there’s no way that’s a $10 bill because if it was, someone would have picked it up already. The student picks up the bill, takes it to a bar, and buys the professor a drink.
The point is the professor was right in his thinking that in a “perfect world” someone would have picked up the $10. And eventually, someone would. But the student was ultimately right. It was $10. And because he was quick to act, he “won” the game.
I believe the same is true for sports gambling. It’s an almost perfect market. But you can still sometimes find an edge.
You have to do what pro stock pickers do. They don’t try to win every game in the stock market. They try to find their niche.
That might mean they specialize in beat down stocks on the verge of bankruptcy that they believe will dig their way out. Or maybe they specialize in hyper-growth tech companies and are one of the best at recognizing when growth is “real” and when it won’t hold up.
This is all a long way of saying specializing in a narrow part of gambling may be the only way to get an edge. Vegas is so good that you have to know your bets better than 90% of the other people to make money. The best way I know to do that is because very familiar with a narrow part of sports betting.
What do I mean by a narrow part?
- specific sport
- specific type of bet: over/under, spread, prop bets, etc
- specific team
- specific player
The more specific the more likely you’ll start to pick up on things that average bettors (and maybe even sharps) are missing. An instance is betting on college basketball, maybe you like a team that’s performed well but whenever another team has a really tall center they struggle. Well, now you have your edge.
You’ll come up with your own rules, and you’ll be able to capitalize on it.
Shop for the best odds
Sportsbooks rarely are too far apart in their lines, but it doesn’t take much to make a difference.
I remember one of my first times sports gambling was a trip to Vegas for March Madness, and I remember toward the end of the first day thinking how exciting it was that so many games were hovering right around the Vegas line in the last 2 minutes.
So what if you got to take the line and give yourself 0.5 to 1 point in your favor every bet? It could make the difference in a good vs bad day.
So this tip is pretty easy to execute: Pick the team or over/under you want to bet on, and then do a quick scan of your Sportsbooks (helps to have at least 3) and see who’s giving you the best odds.
Go with your gut… sometimes
A lot of people will tell you to avoid your emotions when sports betting, but I disagree.
It’s important to look at the data: how have the teams performed, what are the sports models predicting, who’s injured, etc.
But I think the edge we get over Vegas, especially the more we bet narrow (see above), sometimes we get feels that are right.
Humans are able to pick up on things we sometimes can describe. I’m not saying your psychic, so go easy here, but I still think it’s worth listening to your gut. It may be the best edge we have.
Doubling your bet after each loss
This doubling up your bet system works like this:
- Place a small bet
- If you win, place another small bet.
- If you lose, double your previous bet
You can see how this works. If you bet $5 and win, great. But if you lose? You place a $10 bet. If you lose that? You place a $20 bet.
This works because you’re eventually going to win, and when you do, your bet is big enough to make up for the previous losses.
This is one of my favorite systems. It’s easiest to stick to point spread bets and over-under bets since they have about 50/50 odds that you’ll need to make this strategy simple.
What is the risk?
Losing much more money than you planned if you get very unlucky.
Let’s say you’re a $10-bet kind of guy. So you decide to start this strategy at $5. You’re getting super unlucky and lose 9 times in a row. It’s possible, and your next bet will $2,560. And, you will have already spent $2,555 on losing bets. A lot for a $10-bet guy.
What are the odds of that happening? About 1 and 1,000. So unlikely but possible. Key takeaway: make sure you have enough bankroll for this strategy.
Piggybacking on the sharps
Sometimes the bets of sharps leak out. But there are other ways to get an idea of who the experts are betting on.
One is you can look at where most of the bets are. If the line starts moving away from that bet, the sharps are likely on the side of the line movement. Another way you can look is if there’s a big difference in the handle (how much money) is on one side vs how many bets are on it. If there are less bets but big money, that likely means professional bettors are on the side with more money.
You have to be a little careful here. Sometimes the popular bet can move the line (so just a line moving in a direction doesn’t mean it’s “smart money”).
It’s also important to remember that sports gambling is a game of inches. So sharps may like a line, but once it’s moved a point or two causing you to notice, they may not like what you’re getting it at.
So not foolproof, but I find this information very valuable when making bets. You can use it for the opposite too–if you like a bet and find out the sharps are going against you, you might stay away or hedge it (of course, if you love the bet and followed all of our gambling tips, you might want to stick with it).
Reverting to the mean
Sometimes teams or players go through slumps. They might look really bad, and the common fan has a recency bias.
That means they expect this recent game is who the team is now. Sometimes that’s true. Maybe something has changed with the team, or they aren’t who we thought they were.
But often times it’s just a bad game, and you can win some money by being a little more level-headed. Try to zoom out and look at the big picture. Was there a reason they lost that predicts how they’ll play down the road (an injury being a good example), or was it just an off night?
If it was an off night, consider taking the bet in favor of the team that just played poorly. Sharps often do this, where the public tends to take recent winners.
Hedging the right bet
Sometimes it’s good to take risk off the table. Vegas does this all the time by moving line purely to limit their maximum loss (even if they think the move will make them more likely to lose).
There are a few ways to do this. One we discuss in our zero-risk strategy.
Here’s how you perform a hedge:
- Place a bet
- If the bet starts going in your favor, you can place a bet again your original bet
This lets you limit how much you’ll lose, but it also caps how much you can win.
I don’t like this strategy for smaller, less risky bets because the cost of reducing the risk probably isn’t worth losing less. An example would be you bet $10 on the Chicago Bulls to beat the LA Lakers with even odds (you’ll win $20). The Lakers go up 18-2 early, and now the Lakers have +150 odds, so you place a $5 bet on the Lakers that would pay $7.50.
This is how you changed your bet. With the original bet, if the Bulls win you profit $10, and if they lost, you lost $10. With the hedged bet, you win $5 with a Bulls win, and if they lose, you lose $7.50. The only time I consider hedging in a small bet like this is if you see something you really don’t like (not just the Lakers going on a run). A key player on the Bulls is injured or the Lakers are exploiting something you don’t think the Bulls can react to.
I like hedging big bets. Let’s say you bet $10 on Butler to win the NCAA tournament before March Madness started and it pays $5,000. Butler miraculously makes the final game. They’re playing Villanova who’s the favorite with -220 odds. You could place a $100 bet in Villanova. If Butler wins, you still profit $4,890. A little less than before, but if Villanova wins like they’re supposed to, you don’t come out empty-handed. You profit $35.45 that you could use on your next long-shot bet.
Middling your bet to increase payouts
Middling is another form of hedging. The difference with middling is you’re increasing you take a little off your winnings, but the benefit is you increase your chance of winning and get an exciting option for a “double” win.
The way middling plays out is let’s say Alabama is playing Texas in college football. Alabama is the favorite with a -21 spread. You bet on Alabama ATS, so the start of the game you’re hoping Alabama wins by more than 21. Lucky for you, Alabama goes up by two touchdowns early, and now the line has moved to Alabama -28. This time you decide to take Texas +28.
So what are you rooting for? The middle. If Alabama wins by 22-27, you win the Alabama -21 bet and the Texas +28 bet. Big payday.
So here’s how a common middling would work (let’s assume a $100 original bet and a $50 middle bet with even odds):
- Alabama wins by between 22-27 (stays close to the line). You profit $150–$50 more than you have without middling
- Alabama easily covers your original bet (wins by 29 or more). You profit $50–but you have profited $100 if you didn’t middle
- If the game swings the other way, and Texas wins or loses by less than 20, you lose $50 in profit, but you have lost $100 without middling
You can see how middling allows you an exciting chance to boost your winnings while decreasing the downside. It’s a good strategy if you think the game won’t continue its current trajectory that went in your favor.
Can’t lose sports betting strategy
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Well, not in this case.
There are ways you can guarantee that you’ll win small amounts of money. I like this strategy best for people starting out with small bankrolls they want to increase.
There is free money when it comes to sports betting. But it makes sense for you to be skeptical, so it helps to know why.
Online sportsbooks are still new. And these companies are competing to get users on their systems. They offer promos to get you to sign up and to try to keep you around.
You can take advantage of these offers and instead of being greedy, take the money and run with it. This is the most common scenario:
The Sportsbooks offers a profit boost of 50%. Let’s say the Las Vegas Raiders are playing the Denver Broncos. The spread bets pay -110, but with the boost, it pays +138 for your chosen side. There’s a max bet of $50 (this is common), so you want to max that out on your preferred side. Let’s say you’re going with the Raiders. Right now with just a straight up bet, your $50 bet will win you a total payout of $118, which equals $68 in profit (the math: 118 – 50 = 68).
But you can choose not to risk the $50. To do this, you’ll hedge your bet, which means make a bet that’s opposite of your current bet. Normally, this would be silly because you’d end up guaranteed to lose money due to juice, but since your bet was boosted, it works out.
So how would exactly would you hedge?
One way would be to put $55 on the Broncos. Just to keep up with the math, you’ve now bet $105 total ($50 on the boosted Raiders bet and $55 on this broncos bet). If the Broncos win, your bet will pay a total of $105–exactly the amount of your total bet!
So Broncos win, you get $105 which covers your two bets. Raiders win, you get $118 for a profit $13 (118 – 105 = 13). In other words, you’re now have a 50% chance of winning $13, but if you lose, you lose nothing.
Keep in mind: you don’t have to hedge so you don’t lose any money. You can actually go a step further and put a little more on the Broncos to make sure you win no matter who wins the game – see how it’s a can’t lose strategy? Or you could take a little more risk and put a smaller bet on the Broncos, so you can still get a benefit on the Raider if you like the bet, but have some hedge so you don’t lose all $50.
Let’s have fun winning
This guide is continuously updated to include new sports betting strategies and tips.
My basic philosophy is to use strict “fact-based” bankroll and fundamental gambling strategies, which can include sports prediction models. This keeps us from letting Vegas win the way it likes to win–getting you on tilt. Then, we turn the tables by using our tips, strategies and human insights to get an edge.
I hope you enjoy following the journey and we can win some money together.
Feel free to contact me if you have any suggestions or your own thoughts on sports betting.