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For many avid sports fans, a career as a professional sports bettor seems like the dream life.
Crunch a few numbers, place a few bets, take a nap on the couch and then watch that night’s games on TV as the winners roll in, one after another. Sounds simple, right?
No, not at all. There’s a ton of work that goes into being a professional sports bettor, almost certainly more work than you’d be willing to put in. And you’d need a very large bankroll (possibly six figures) in order to be able to make the size of bets necessary to generate an annual income large enough to support your lifestyle.
In other words, don’t quit your day job.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t use sports betting to supplement your income.
By picking winners against the spread just 55 per cent of the time and following a few simple keys to sports betting, you should be able to do well betting sports.
What does it take to succeed betting sports?
Here’s a breakdown of what it would take to make $5,000 a year betting sports.
- Using $100 as a standard unit (amount you bet to win per game), $5,000 profit would represent 50 units won
- Picking 55% against the spread at standard -110 juice, you would win 55 of 100 bets (a $5,500) profit and lose 45 of 100 bets (a $4,950 loss), representing a profit of 5.5 units ($550) every 100 bets
- At that rate, you would need to bet on approximately 1,000 games a year (winning 550 of 1,000 bets for $55,000 and losing 450 of those 1,000 bets for a $49,500 loss, equaling a profit of $5,500).
- Betting on 1,000 games a year would represent less than three wagers a day for an entire year (although those numbers would fluctuate, depending on which sports are in season).
Okay, $5,000 a year looks doable. What do I need to do it?
Here’s what you need:
- A starting bankroll of at least $5,000
- The ability to pick winners against the spread at a 55 per cent success rate
- Accounts at many different online sportsbooks (playing Proline and provincial lotteries won’t work because you have to parlay your bets and the odds aren’t as good)
- Discipline and proper bankroll management
Starting bankroll of at least $5,000
Winning 55 per cent of your bets is more than good enough to beat the bookmakers in the long term.
Problem is, even when you win 55 per cent of your bets, you’re still losing 45 per cent of them.
And just because you win an average of 55 bets out of 100, it doesn’t mean that you’ll always win 11 out of every 20, or 27 out of every 50, or even 55 out of every 100 bets.
Standard deviation means that you will go through both hot streaks and cold streaks over short stretches of time, but in the long run you’ll land at 550 out of 1,000.
Just like even though the Blue Jays may finish the season with a .600 winning percentage (an average of six wins every 10 games), they’ll still have eight-game winning streaks and five-game losing streaks during the season. Or just like flipping a coin is exactly 50/50 odds of heads or tails, but the coin might land tails seven times in a row and 10 times out of 13.
So, in order to survive those inevitable cold streaks when the ball or puck doesn’t bounce your way, you need to start with approximately 50 units. That way, if you lose 10 bets in a row at some point (it could happen), you still have enough money left in order to keep playing and capitalize on the hot streak that will soon come your way. If you’re going to use $100 as a unit size, you’ll need 50 times that ($5,000) to start with.
The ability to pick winners against the spread at a 55% success rate
As explained above, winning 550 out of 1,000 bets (55 per cent) in a year would result in a profit of more than 50 units, or more than $5,000.
Winning 55% of your bets doesn’t sound that intimidating, does it? After all, just flipping a coin and blindly picking sides should result in winning 50 per cent of your bets.
But, while 55 per cent is certainly attainable, it’s not necessarily easy.
- Discipline, only betting when you believe you have an edge
- A fair bit of research
- Not always betting on your favourite team just because they’re your favourite team
- Often searching for value in teams that not many others are interested in betting on
- Consistently ‘getting the best of the number’, a concept that we’ll explain under the next heading
If you’re not so confident in your ability to pick 55 per cent winners against the spread, you do have another option: Find someone else who can pick 55 per cent winners.
There are plenty of services out there that you can buy picks from (just be sure to steer clear of those who claim they pick 70% winners). And don’t forget about sites like this one who offer free betting tips that are emailed daily or posted on Twitter.
Accounts at many different sportsbooks
As we detailed above, ‘getting the best of the number’ is crucial to your ability to win 55% of your bets or better.
Getting an extra half-point on your point spread bets might not sound like a lot at first, but it will often be the difference between a win and a push or a push and a loss. Even if the extra half-point only comes into play a couple times out of every 100 bets, it can turn a 53% success rate into that magical 55% success rate.
The only way you’ll be able to consistently get the best of the number is to have accounts at several different sportsbooks.
While it’s true that sportsbooks generally have very similar lines on games (you won’t find the Patriots as 7-point favourites at one book and 3-point favourites at another), they also often have subtle discrepancies in their lines — and that’s what you need to be able to exploit.
Pinnacle Sports is an absolute must-have sportsbook account if you’re serious about succeeding, since it offers the best odds in the industry. Pinnacle’s reduced-juice structure actually makes it possible to be profitable at 53% winners, since you are able to lay only -105 odds instead of -110 on point spread bets. Why bet 110 to win 100 if you can bet 105 to win 100?
In addition to Pinnacle, we recommend opening and funding accounts at several other sportsbooks.
William Hill is a rock-solid British-based sportsbook that might occasionally offer different odds from Pinnacle.
And it’s always good to have accounts at “square” books like Sports Interaction and Bodog. These sportsbooks cater mostly to recreational bettors who like to bet on favourites and overs as much as possible, meaning there is almost always extra value on the underdogs and the unders. Whenever you want to bet on a less popular team (like the Cleveland Browns or the Charlotte Hornets), you’ll often get an extra half-point or even better on your point spread bet at Sports Interaction or Bodog.
Our Live Odds page display up-to-the-minute odds at four of our recommended sportsbooks. This video will show you how to use the page:
And don’t forget, having accounts at several different sportsbooks has more more perks than just the ability to line shop. There are also often bonus offers that you can take advantage of whenever you join a sportsbook, allowing you to build your bankroll without any risk.
Discipline and proper bankroll management
Not that the first three items on our list aren’t important, but they don’t mean a thing if you don’t practice discipline and proper bankroll management.
You can start with all the money in the world, pick all the winners in the world and have all the sportsbook accounts in the world, but if you aren’t disciplined and bet way more than you should on a game, you can lose everything in a hurry.
Because of variance, that statistical concept that explains why 55% doesn’t mean winning 5.5 games every 10, cold streaks will inevitably arise now and then.
There’s no doubt that when these cold streaks come around, you’ll be tempted to make bigger and bigger bets as you try to make up for your recent losses with one big win.
The number one thing you need to remember as a sports bettor is to protect your bankroll. If you can pick winners at a 55% clip, you’ll succeed betting sports in the long run — but you can’t make any bets if you don’t have any money left to wager with.
It is absolutely critical to allocate your bankroll into units (the amount you want to win with each bet) and then be consistent with your unit size.
No matter how strongly you feel about a game, bet one unit per contest so that a bad beat or a bad pick doesn’t wipe out a few weeks of winning wagers.
Many professionals bet the same amount on an early-season hockey game as they do on the Super Bowl.
In other words, the magnitude of the event should not affect the size of your wager.
The rule of thumb we follow when determining the unit size is a percentage of our starting bankroll, somewhere between 1% and 2%.
Some suggest using that as your bankroll increases, your unit size should increase as well (ie. after a good day, when your bankroll goes from $5,000 to $5,600, you change your unit size from $100 to $110).
The problem with this, however, is that you are betting more per game at certain times than others, which does not guarantee success in the long run.
Simply betting the same on every game and winning 55% of your bets will guarantee good long-term results, and you can always review your bankroll and unit sizes at the conclusion of every season.