We talk a lot in this space about “sharp” bettors, the approximately 1% of gamblers who win money long term and are so respected bookmakers move the line after taking their action.
The remaining 99% fall into the category of “public” or “recreational” bettors, despite a recent survey finding 76% of bettors ages 21-34 view gambling as a form of entrepreneurship.
This means you, like me, are not “sharp,” and unless you are willing to put in a tremendous of amount of work, happen to be uber proficient in math and coding and also have the liquidity for a six-figure bankroll, a sharp bettor is something we’ll never be.
This doesn’t mean we can’t be smart bettors, which we’ll define as people who don’t allow their gambling to get themselves into financial trouble and who find ways to minimize the house edge so they win more often and lose less over time.
In addition to Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 from Atlanta Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), this week brings us the NCAA Tournament, one of the biggest betting events of the year. March is also Problem Gambling Awareness Month, so this feels like a good time to discuss some ways to approach sports betting intelligently. While this is far from an exhaustive list, it’s a good starting point for sports fans just getting their feet wet in the sports betting waters.
Treat sports betting as entertainment, not a potential income source
The key to this tip is accepting the reality you’re probably not going to be a long-term winner. Still, if you gamble amounts you’re comfortable losing, you can get plenty of enjoyment from betting on sports. Many gamblers say they would rather lose a bet than not make a bet at all, and that’s because watching a race or a game with some action on it is exponentially more fun than having no skin in the game.
You may already have an entertainment budget, an amount of money you have earmarked to go out to eat, see a show or visit the amusement park. If you enjoy betting on sports, carve out a certain amount of money for this form of entertainment and consider anything you lose money well spent.
One’s sports betting bankroll is, of course, a personal choice. At risk of stating the obvious, it should be budgeted after your mortgage or kids’ college tuition is taken care of. Sweating $100 on a race can be fun. Losing $1,000? Not so much.
Have multiple outs
Some bettors download and deposit money into a single sports betting app – don’t let this be you.
“Outs” are places you’re able to get a bet down, and the more options you have, the better chance you have at winning, or at least losing less. That’s because odds vary from sportsbook to sportsbook, and having multiple outs presents the opportunity to shop for the best prices on the bets you’re looking to make.
Let’s peek at the numbers from two NASCAR partners for Sunday’s Atlanta race to illustrate this point:
If you like Martin Truex Jr. to notch his second straight victory, you’re better off making that bet at BetMGM, where Truex is offered at +650 (bet $100 to win $650), than at Barstool Sportsbook, where he is +600 (bet $100 to win $600).
On the other hand, if you’re picking Aric Almirola to finish in the top three, Barstool has the nicer price on that prop, +1500, compared to +1200 at BetMGM.
Try to get the best of the number
While bookmakers move their odds for a variety of reasons, sharp action – wagers from professional bettors – are at the top of the list. When recreational bettors hear a line moved because sharps are on a certain side, their tendency is to jump on that same side, regardless of the price. This is typically not a winning strategy.
In NASCAR matchups, a type of bet where you wager on one driver to finish ahead of another, sharps might like a driver at a certain price, but once they bet into that price and the line moves, that side may no longer be advantageous.
Before last Sunday’s race in Phoenix, the Brad Keselowski-Kevin Harvick matchup opened a -110 pick ’em (bet $110 to win $100 on either driver). As bettors pounded Keselowski, his line vs. Harvick moved to -140. No matter the price, Keselowski tickets cashed, since he finished two spots ahead of Harvick, but a bet on the No. 2 Ford at the -140 closing line wasn’t necessarily a smart one. It’s doubtful sharps were still betting Kes at -140 at race time.
The -110 line implies a 52.38% chance to win; -140 implies a 58.33% chance. Most likely, Keselowski’s true chances to beat Harvick that day fell somewhere between those percentages. Moreover, a $100 bet on Kes at -140 odds resulted in a $71 win; the same bet at -110 odds netted $90. Conversely, had Harvick beaten Kes, which certainly could have happened, a bet for the same potential payout would have cost more money.
Getting down at the right number makes a massive difference when it comes to long-term betting success.
Don’t buy picks
People or companies that sell picks – “touts,” as they’re often referred – have long been the scourge of the sports betting industry, and as legal betting expands, this issue is likely to worsen.
Almost by definition, tout services are scams. Betting into -110 vig (the standard juice on point spread bets and odds we commonly see for NASCAR matchups) requires a 54% winning percentage to make money long term. The best of the best may hit 55-57% of their bets, and as we mentioned above, only about 1% of bettors are able do that. Since touts charge for their picks, their win percentage has to be even higher for their service to be worth the price, a near impossibility.
There are a few legitimate pick-selling services out there, but even if you find one, there’s still a catch, and it relates back to the “multiple outs” and “get the best of the number” tips discussed above. Bookmakers are aware of these services and are likely to move the odds once their picks become public. That means if you’re a customer of one of these legit pick sellers, you must get your bet down before the line moves in order for that pick to still have value, and some books are quicker to move a line than others.
Marcus DiNitto is a writer and editor living in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has been covering sports for nearly two-and-a-half decades and sports betting for more than 10 years. His first NASCAR betting experience was in 1995 at North Wilkesboro Speedway, where he went 0-for-3 on his matchup picks. Read his articles and follow him on Twitter; do not bet his picks.