The excitement we feel when gambling is inherent in our human psyche. Unfortunately, there are other aspects of the human mind that make people more likely to end up losing money on betting in the long run.
Call them psychological defects, philosophical fallacies, or just plain biases, but everyone is susceptible to these cognitive traits that work against the ability to think rationally. Sportsbooks use these to their advantage in order to outsmart the public. The good news is that if you’re able to identify these five sports betting biases, you can avoid them.
In this article, I’ll lay out five mistakes bettors make based on their cognitive bias and logical fallacies.
1 – The Gambler’s Fallacy
This will be the most well-known of the bunch. The “gambler’s fallacy” isn’t just observed in sports gambling, it can be seen in nearly all forms of games based on chance. A basic definition of the phenomenon is, “the mistaken belief that if something happens more frequently than normal during a given period, it will happen less frequently in the future.”
If that explanation seems confusing, I’ll put it in real-world terms. The example most frequently used to illustrate the gambler’s fallacy involves flipping a coin. Each time you flip a coin, it’s either going to be heads or tails, a 50% proposition every time. The bias comes in when an individual believes past trials are going to affect future trials.
If you flip a coin five times and it comes up as heads all five times, is it more likely to be tails on the next toss? The answer, if you’re thinking rationally, is no. In fact, it has the exact same chance of being tails as it did on the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth trial before it.
This sports betting bias occurs when you consider the tendency to think that if a team has won (or lost) a few in a row, they’re due for the opposite to happen. In reality, the past doesn’t impact the future. If you’re betting on a final result to happen just because it feels like it hasn’t happened in a while, you’re falling victim to the gambler’s fallacy.
Many a bankroll has been compromised due to this cognitive bias. The solution? Simply evaluate everything independently of all previous games!
2 – Recency Bias
Sports fans are known for overreacting to the most recent events that take place during the course of a season.
It’s not unusual for a single game, or even a single play, to completely change the public opinion of a team or player.
While it’s important to take all information into account when making evaluations, it’s also important that you don’t put too much weight on the most recent event. For example, an NFL team can enter week 5 at 0-4, but if they win big in that fifth game, you can bet it will have a significant impact on their odds the following week.
“Recency bias” isn’t just a theory, it’s reflected in the way the public’s money lands and has a real impact on lines the following week. When you log on to your online sportsbook of choice, be sure to evaluate the game based on the current matchup and not the results of previous games to avoid this sports betting bias.
3 – Outcome Bias
It’s widely-accepted that sports are inherently a results business. Making the right move or calling the right play doesn’t really matter if it doesn’t achieve the desired outcome. The same isn’t necessarily true in the world of sports gambling.
Allow me to explain. If you’re serious about making money betting on sports, you should be making your plays based on some information other than “it’s just what I was feeling.” With all the information in the world available at your fingertips, it shouldn’t be too difficult to do some quick research and find some numbers that support your plays.
Whether you’re making your bet based on a “fade the public” strategy or some other data, there should always be a method behind your gambling choices. With that being said, there’s no such thing as a perfect way to bet.
The difference between weekend gamblers and professional bettors, or “sharps,” is really just a few percentage points. This means that making smart plays is crucial as the margins are thin in this business. Making the right bets might not win every time, but they’ll win over time.
It’s easy to look back on bets you’ve lost and kick yourself for not making the bet you “know you should’ve made,” but that’s the wrong attitude. Instead, if you’re able to honestly say that you bet with the data on your side, there’s nothing to regret.
“Outcome bias” can lead to serious frustration and cause you to neglect your strategies. Much like a good pitch can still be hit for a home run, a good betting play can still lose.
4 – The Availability Heuristic
The “availability heuristic” is similar to recency bias, but it has more direct impact on the decisions you make moving forward. It’s also the enemy of research and the hard data that can help you make the most educated decision.
This cognitive bias is to blame for those decisions you make due to your feelings and not actual data. It takes the latest, or most available information, and applies it to the decision-making process.
If you watched the Steelers play two great games during the NFL season and missed the three when they played badly, you’re more likely to have a distorted view of the team. It makes sense to you, because the information you have available in your mind suggests what you saw is the true representation.
The way to combat the availability heuristic is to throw out the idea that your “eye test” is worth more than the numbers. Only utilize your personal feelings when the data leaves you with a 50-50 proposition… And that rarely happens.
5 – The Affect Heuristic
The “affect heuristic” is one of the most difficult sports betting biases for people to ignore, and they don’t even know it. While you may be unfamiliar with the term, you’re likely all too familiar with the phenomenon.
The affect heuristic is the phenomenon of making decisions based on your emotions instead of reason. It impacts nearly every facet of your life and is one of the hardest biases to overcome.
It’s the reason you bet on your favorite team to win even when it’s wrong. Beyond that, even if your favorite team isn’t involved, you may still be biased towards one side or the other based on your allegiances to certain players.
If you’re a sports fan, you’re always going to fall in love with certain storylines, root for underdog stories, and bet against the dynasties that have had command over leagues for years. However, when you’re putting your hard-earned money on the outcome, you can’t let your emotions cloud your judgement.
The world of sports gambling is so analytical and number-driven that it can be easy to forget we’re talking about human beings and not our probabilities at the blackjack table. Separating your sports betting biases from your bets can be a difficult chore in itself. Unfortunately, it really isn’t an option.
The best defense against making bad decisions is always the time you should take to do your research before a play. With so much information available, there’s no excuse for betting on a team based on your hunches or feelings.
Remember, every single person is susceptible to the sports betting biases laid out above… When in doubt, fade the public