Handicapping Basics


Sharp Sports Betting is a tool for those interested in winning money at sports betting. The book explains the most common sports bets, what all the numbers mean, and the mathematics behind the numbers.

Let’s discuss some principles of sports betting. All sports bettors should learn the information below. All other kinds of casino advantage players, including blackjack players of all skill sets, which includes card counters, should also have a good working knowledge of Expected Value.

Betting lines on sports events are similar to the prices of common stocks. Both are set by the actions of buyers and sellers in a market.

Finding profitable sports bets is similar to outperforming the stock market. (Outperforming means obtaining returns in excess of what the market generally offers for the level of risk involved.)

To earn profits in the stock market, you must either have information that is not available to the general public, or you must have a superior ability to process the information that is public.

If you are trading stocks based on the same information that is available to other investors, and you do not have superior ability to figure out how that information will cause stock prices to change, you are spinning your wheels. You will have some winners and you will have some losers, but over time if you analyze your past performance you will find that you have not outperformed the market.

The stock market has an upward drift over time. A stock price is more likely to go up than down (though sometimes that is hard to believe).

If you stay invested in the stock market long enough, and if you avoid churning your portfolio so much that transaction fees eat up all your profits, you will make money in the stock market. That is true even if your method of selecting stocks is attaching a copy of the Wall Street Journal to your wall and throwing darts at it. There is no upward drift in bets on sports events. If you attach a list of all possible sports bets to your wall and throw darts at it to select the games you will bet, you will lose over time.

In order to make money betting on sports, you must either have information that is not being used by the betting public, or you must have a superior ability to process the information that is public.

Best Simple Strategy

Suppose a person who knows nothing about sports is given a free bet on a game, and gets to select the team. Which is generally the better choice, the favorite or the dog? Home team or visiting team?

An easy answer is to bet on a dog. The historical data show that betting dogs is superior to betting favorites. Most bettors look for reasons to bet on a team, rather than for reasons to bet against a team. Most bettors seem to back favorites. Bookmaker James Jeffries in his The Book on Bookies describes the betting preferences of his customers. Jeffries says that his customers are all so solidly in favor of favorites that the line he offers is often the Las Vegas line shaded a half point against the favorites.

A better answer might be to bet on a home dog. In the NFL since 1985, all the excess wins enjoyed by dogs have gone to home dogs. Traveling dogs have not accomplished excess wins. Over a sixteen year period, home dogs have covered 52.7 percent of the time. Caution: That sample size is too small for the result to have any statistical significance. But if a person must make a sports bet, my advice is to take a dog playing at home.

A better answer yet would be to bet on the biggest home dog you can find. (This probably is not a profitable strategy; it simply is a way for someone who is going to bet no matter what to lose the least expected value.)

This is part of an occasional series of articles.

Excerpted with permission from Sharp Sports Betting by Stanford Wong, edited for this format.

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