If you’re an avid sports gambler, this idea is probably not news to you: Winning money consistently betting on sports is really, really hard.
When you spend a significant amount of time doing research on the teams or players in question, consulting with the internet’s experts, and shopping around for the best odds on a number of different online sportsbook platforms, the losses hurt that much worse.
It probably won’t help you win any money, but it might push you to consider changing your approach.
In this article, I’ll explain five reasons why it’s so hard to win money betting on sports. You might just learn a thing or two that’ll help you become a better sports gambler.
1. There’s Not a “Right” or “Wrong” Play
When you think about gambling in a casino, your approach starts to become a numbers game.
Things that come into play are:
The obvious downside of the above is that you’re always going to be at a disadvantage. Even the games with the lowest house edge still have a very real benefit for the house.
If you look at it through the odds of an optimist, however, there are some aspects of the cold, hard probability situation that can be comforting to gamblers. And I mean that in the sense that, even when you lose, you can rest assured that you made the right decision—statistically speaking, of course.
When it comes to sports betting, there’s no such thing as a right or wrong play. Because there’s no statistical probably models to use to guide your decision-making process, it’s really all left up to your intuition. This reality can make the wins feel great, but the losses sting a little more when you realize that maybe you just don’t know sports as well as you thought you did.
If you’re reading this and wanting to counter with a point suggesting that there are, in fact, statistical models to help guide your sports betting decisions, then that’s fine. I recognize that some models have been put together by data experts and professional sports bettors.
2. The House Has a Huge Edge
When you look at all the options on the casino floor, it’s important to consider which games are the least-tilted in the house’s favor (because they all are). When it comes to betting on sports, the same can be said, but it’s not quite as black and white.
I don’t want to marginalize those sports bettors who get creative with their plays, but let’s just say it like it is… When you talk about sports gambling, the majority of bets are going to be wagers that use the spread, meaning typically there’s a -110 moneyline.
When you look at it as a single bet, it doesn’t seem like the 10% juice or vig matters all that much. Unfortunately, when you extrapolate that over the course of hundreds of plays, it starts to add up.
Whereas at the roulette table, if you’re betting red or black, you’re profitable if you win more than 50% of the time. The money you put down is the money you get back, no vig tax involved. When you bet on sports, however, you need to win at a rate of around 53% in order to make your money back and then some.
When you’re looking at it in terms of a single weekend, it’s true. You can make money if you win more than half your bets. However, if you bet on games regularly, the smaller margins begin to become much more significant. As good as you think you might be at picking winners, maintaining the level of success required to be profitable is still very challenging. It’s possible, but unlikely for most.
3. The Human Element
If you bet on sports on a regular basis, it’s safe to assume that you’re probably a fan. That means you’ve come to appreciate all of the things that make sports the most exciting drama you’ll find anywhere. Unfortunately, drama and unpredictability—two things people love about sports—are two factors that gamblers should be very afraid of.
In roulette, if you bet on black and it comes up red, you’re able to recognize that you’re not dumb, you just guessed wrong. When you incorrectly pick a sports bet, you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, and start questioning whether or not you know anything about sports.
When literal inches can be the difference between winning and losing, you’re going to have to accept that things are entirely out of your control. All you can do is hope that the breaks go your way more often than not.
4. Parlays, Teasers, and Favorite Moneylines
Sportsbooks know that everyone is looking for an easier win and a bigger payday. With that in mind, they’ve developed ways to make bettors think that they’re getting one of the two aforementioned benefits.
Any time you can wager $10 or $20 and have the opportunity to win 5x to 10x your money, it’s going to get your attention. Actually, that’s exactly what it’s designed to do. And no, it’s not there for your benefit.
The bottom line is that the sportsbook is not going to offer gamblers anything if they don’t think that it’s going to end up benefitting the house in the end. Even those attractive parlays still favor the house. It’s true; until you get up to a five- or six-leg parlay, the house is actually still getting better odds than they should, if you did the math objectively.
The same can be said with teaser plays. While it might seem like they’re giving you some help in terms of the spread on the game, you’d still be better off with just playing things straight up on the spread when you add everything up.
I don’t want this article to come off as discouraging for sports bettors. At the end of the day, nearly all bettors do it for the sake of making sports more entertaining rather than generating a sustainable income.
Once you recognize that the house is almost never going to lose, it can ease some of the pain you feel after a crushing defeat. Just keep in mind that there are some people who do make money betting on sports; they’re just few and far between.
With that said, if you combine effort with luck, you could find yourself in this coveted group of profitable sports gamblers. Good luck with your wagers!