According to the Council on Compulsive Gambling, about one-half of one percent of gamblers are considered “professional” – that is, they approach betting as a job rather than a source of entertainment. Using those numbers, we can confidently say that maybe a few hundred thousand Americans gamble at a professional level.
These are skilled and confident bettors who have learned how to organize, specialize, and look for value. People looking for tips on how to be a skilled sports bettor would do well to emulate the behaviors, habits, values, and strategies of these full-time gamblers.
Below are five tips for improving your sports betting skills, all based on the successful tactics of professional gamblers.
1. Get Organized
Strong organizational skills are a prerequisite for successful sports betting. Sports gambling is a data-rich environment, and the bettor with the latest and most detailed information has a clear advantage. But what good are piles of numbers if they aren’t accessible and meaningful?
The best sports bettors border on the anal-retentive, from the basics of tracking wagers and lines to the more byzantine task of sports handicapping. Bankroll management is an impossible task without Marie Kondo-like focus on cash flow. Professional gamers keep track not just of all bets placed, but of statistics based on those wagers going back years.
More than just hastily sketched columns of wins and losses, these figures help the player change long-term and short-term strategy.
At the very least, you can improve your sports betting acumen by tracking the history of all your wagers. By tracking bets placed, won, and lost, you can start to track trends in your play. Added bonus – it’s impossible to improve the organization of your wagers without having a better handle on your bankroll.
2. Control Your Finances
Skill in sports gambling means shopping for the best lines, paying as little vig as possible, and following the other steps outlined above. But more important than any of those things is this last tip – control your money to gain control over your sports betting skill.
The basic tips for controlling a gambling bankroll apply here – create a standard bet amount and stick to it or get more complicated and create a range of bets using your bankroll as a basis. Until your win rate is in the mid-50s, like the best pro sports bettors, you should be making bets as a tiny percentage of your total bankroll.
3. Develop a Specialty
Most professional gamers in the US are concentrated in a few locations – Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and a smattering of other gaming-friendly cities, particularly those with healthy horse and greyhound racing industries. That’s because they tend to focus on a specific segment of the gambling market.
There are exceptions, but poker players don’t generally make expert horse bettors, and you won’t often find slot tournament champions tearing it up in the sportsbook.
Pick one sport, or even one league within a sport, and focus your money, time, and attention on that. Not only will you rise to expert level faster by concentrating on one sport or league, but you’ll have an easier time tracking your data and spending habits.
You can always expand your focus later, once your improved sports betting skills have made you more comfortable. The key here is to drill down – don’t focus on basketball and football, zoom in on basketball, the sport you’ve loved for decades. Then zoom in again – are you more familiar with the NBA’s Western Conference? Maybe you’ve lived your entire life in the shadow of a big NCAA program. Whatever your advantage is, play to that.
4. Look for Value
Sportsbooks use their lines to essentially purchase information collectively from sports bettors. The book offers odds at the beginning of a week, then make constant adjustments to that line depending on changes in the market. If you think about it, that means bettors are subsidizing sportsbooks, handing out better-than-free data about a particular market to their own opposition.
It’s one thing for books to profit based on inside information about a sport or a particular mathematical skill set among their employees, but they often make money using data that no one else can get their hands on. Namely, the attitude and opinions of the betting public.
In sports gambling, and in all forms of professional gaming, the concept of “value” is a big deal. The easiest way to understand value is to think of it as getting a good deal. In skilled sports betting, bettors only pounce on a wager when they get a better deal from the sportsbook than the true odds of the bet. Finding value is similar to finding a really valuable coupon.
Long-term bettors, skilled sports gamblers who are in it for the long-haul, are people who have learned methods for finding these value opportunities consistently. Consider that the world’s best sports bettors are gamblers who win 55-60% of the time. They’re losing 40-45% of their bets and are able to maintain a career by finding value wagers.
How Do These Players Find Value?
Some are able to find weak lines set by bookmakers. Every sportsbook has strengths and weaknesses, and though the industry moves as more of a monolith thanks to the age of the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, opportunities for value sometimes come out of a book’s ignorance about a niche sport or league.
Another reason for the existence of value bets – the movement of lines over the course of the days leading up to a contest. Skilled value bettors know the ins and outs of these books and their value opportunities.
5. Learn to Love the Little Guy
Small markets, small teams, small leagues, even small sports can be profitable for bettors, far beyond their impact on the sport itself. Put simply, a niche market is a skilled bettor’s friend.
Smaller conferences and less popular sports naturally produce more value than the better-covered markets. This is true on a macro and micro-scale; less popular sports, as well as less popular teams and individual athletes, always offer more value than top-tier tickets.
We live in a time when the entire world knows the health status of Lebron James’ individual tendons before he has a chance to tell his wife. However, the same isn’t true for Ken Climo, the world’s top-rated disc golf player, or for basically any FCS football player or team. A sharp sports gambler will research Climo’s recent injuries and use that knowledge to handicap a bet, potentially making himself smarter than the book in the process.
The heavier a sport is covered, the tighter the lines at the sportsbook, and the opposite is also true. Smart sports bettors use their skills to find value in little games played in less-popular sports by little-known athletes.
The majority of bettors, even those who wager on sporting events, do so for fun. Gambling is entertainment, with bettors driven by the prospect of winnings, entranced by flash, lights, and (in the case of sports) real live bone-crunching action. Even so, hundreds of thousands of bettors earn a living and file their taxes as professionals.
Why not learn from people who punch the clock placing sports wagers? The world’s best gamblers don’t have the best information, they don’t know secret sigils that give them access to forbidden knowledge, and they aren’t just lucky. Skilled sports betting is a methodical grind.
You can’t often beat the bookmakers at making book, so increasing sports betting skills means moving in a different direction. Outside of the tried-and-true “time and experience” angle, what we learn from professional bettors is often boring.
Organizing files and keeping track of black-and-white lists of numbers isn’t the sexiest thing in the world, and it’s no wonder we don’t see this side of full-time gamblers in the movies.
Beyond spending a lifetime collecting the intellectual and academic aspects of a sport, and more than gathering enough raw numbers to choke an elephant, investing in your betting skill set means starting small and moving slowly and laboriously in direction of consistent success.