You’ve probably heard the expression that the house always wins. This saying is true to an extent, because the house holds an edge over players in most types of gambling (e.g. casino, lottery).
Sports betting differs from the average form of gambling. Bookmakers don’t maintain a house edge, but they do have some notable advantages over their customers. Sportsbooks use these angles to beat the majority of bettors and earn profits. They end most years in the black as a result.
But why are bookmakers so successful, while the average gambler loses money? I’ll answer this question by covering multiple reasons why sportsbooks often win and if you can overcome their advantages.
1 – Sportsbooks Take Vig from the Losing Side
The first reason why bookmakers are successful is because they take vig (a.k.a. juice) from the losing side of each bet. Juice doesn’t guarantee that they win, but it does give them an extra advantage over gamblers.
Sportsbooks may collect anywhere from 2% to 40% vig from wagers. The reason for the wide fluctuation in juice ranges from the bookmaker in question to the type of bet.
- Some bookies are notorious for charging more juice on the average wager. They may offer promotions, though, to help offset the larger fees.
- Meanwhile, other bookmakers feature reduced juice bets to differentiate themselves from competitors. The drawback is that the same sportsbooks don’t usually offer many, if any, bonuses.
In any case, all books take juice to a degree. They need this extra vig to give themselves a better chance of winning money and staying in business.
2 – Bookmakers Create Sharp Lines, Especially in Major Markets
Oddsmakers are some of the world’s most-knowledgeable people when it comes to sports. They excel at analyzing given information for any matchup and crafting sharp lines.
A sharp line refers to one that offers little value on one side or the other. If a skilled oddsmaker puts the New England Patriots at -3.5, then there’s a very good chance that this point spread accurately reflects the Patriots’ value.
Of course, bookies aren’t trying to predict who will win each game. Instead, they want to release lines that reflect the general public’s opinion.
Oddsmakers will spend more time on sports wagers that produce a lot of betting liquidity. For example, they’ll take more time analyzing NFL lines versus water polo bets.
A highly liquid market usually represents some of the sharpest lines available. If millions of people are betting on a World Series game, then Vegas will put lots of effort into determining the lines.
Bookmakers aren’t always as sharp with smaller markets and less-heralded games. For example, they might offer up a juicy line on a mid-season MLS match between two bad teams.
But they’re usually on top of their game in many cases. You have to beat highly-skilled handicappers to find value in most situations.
3 – Oddsmakers Change Lines as New Information Comes In
Opening lines rarely remain static throughout the day or week. Instead, they can change based on betting action and new information.
If a sportsbook notices one side is receiving most of the wagering action, they may shift odds to make the other side more attractive. Likewise, if they get a new piece of information, such as a major injury or lineup change, they’ll change the line.
Of course, perfectly balancing a line is nearly impossible outside of highly liquid markets. Bookmakers routinely face unbalanced action.
What they really want to avoid is a situation where they’re opposite a lot of “sharp” money. A sharp is a skilled and well-funded professional gambler.
Sportsbooks don’t mind facing off against lots of “square” (amateur) money. Bookies can actually reap bigger profits in these situations when things go well.
However, they stand to lose more on average if sharps are on the side with the most betting action. In short, sportsbooks will shift a line if they think too many pros are wagering on one outcome.
4 – Sportsbooks Limit Bet Sizes
Bookmakers are commonly accused of taking action against winning gamblers. For example, they stereotypically ban successful bettors or at least limit their max bets.
This common belief isn’t necessarily true. Instead, sportsbooks try to only target those who are deemed bad customers.
What constitutes a bad customer? Sharps with big bankrolls, arbitrage bettors, and steam chasers.
As explained before, well-funded sharps can create imbalance with huge bets. This scenario leaves a bookie vulnerable against skilled gamblers.
- “Arbitrage betting” refers to a situation where one can place bets on the same match at two sportsbooks and guarantee themselves a profit. They just need to find different lines for the same match that vary enough to provide this profit.
- A “steam move” is when a syndicate of sharps suddenly bets on a certain outcome at multiple sportsbooks. They wager enough money at once to force bookmakers to quickly adjust the line.
- A “steam chaser” is a non-sharp that looks for these opportunities and jumps on them before one or more sportsbooks can make adjustments.
Bookmakers already can’t stand successful sharps. They also hate steam chasers just as badly for using sharps’ knowledge to make informed bets.
These are the main types of gamblers who are banned or limited at sportsbooks. Bookmakers provide themselves another advantage by eliminating or restricting these bettors.
5 – Sportsbooks Offer Bad Wagers Like Parlays
Bookies don’t just rely on standard moneylines, point spreads, and totals to earn money. They also roll out parlays, which are bets that require putting multiple outcomes on the same ticket.
Parlays are attractive to gamblers, because they offer the opportunity to win a large amount of money for a small wager. However, they also pay more juice to bookmakers on losses.
Parlays are especially terrible in this regard. Some of the worst ones can deliver up to 40% vig to the house.
These wagers only get worse as you add more teams to the equation. Generally, you want to avoid parlays that include four or more teams.
Can You Still Win in Sports Betting?
You can see that the road toward sports betting winnings is quite rocky. But can you still beat bookmakers?
Yes, sports wagering is one of the few types of gambling that you can beat in the long run. You certainly won’t have an easy time accomplishing this feat, but you can improve your chances with the following advice.
Work on Your Handicapping Abilities
“Handicapping” refers to the process of analyzing a bet and assessing value to each outcome. You should handicap a number of factors that are specific to the sports you’re betting on.
If you’re wagering on football, for example, then you’ll want to consider field conditions, team histories, one-on-one matchups, the coaches, and against-the-spread (ATS) records.
You won’t guarantee yourself a win just by looking over these aspects. However, you can at least provide a nice base for your handicapping efforts.
You should also consider using software programs to boost your odds. These programs not only provide you with advanced stats, but can also point out arbitrage opportunities and steam moves.
Jump on Lines Early
If there’s ever a time when bookmakers are vulnerable, it’s when they first release lines. Sometimes, sportsbooks use their early opening lines to gauge how sharps will bet.
Other times, they just aren’t as good with their early efforts and need to make adjustments after analyzing the betting action.
In any case, you can potentially gain value by looking at opening lines and acting quickly. You stand to make more money by becoming a master at this discipline.
React to News Early
Aside from taking advantage of opening lines, you should also be looking for any groundbreaking news that could affect a game. Player injuries or suspensions, lineup changes, game plan changes, and bad weather can all impact the line.
Bookmakers are really good at obtaining this information and acting before the majority of gamblers. But one may be slow to react in some cases, which is when you can benefit from the matter.
Choose the Right Sports to Bet On
The natural inclination for many is to wager on their favorite sports. Assuming these are the most-popular sports too, then such gamblers will be butting heads with oddsmakers’ sharpest lines.
You, however, should look for the path of least resistance. You can find more value in less-heralded sports and matchups.
Even in a popular sport like college football, value can be found in obscure matchups. For example, you stand a better chance of winning a football bet involving Indiana State vs. South Dakota as opposed to Alabama vs. Auburn.
Technically, sportsbooks don’t always win. However, they do beat the vast majority of gamblers over time. Several reasons are at the heart of their success.
First of all, they charge the losing side vig. These commissions, which work out to around 5% of all betting action, don’t guarantee bookies profits. But they do give sportsbooks a stronger chance of winning.
Next, oddsmakers are really good at their jobs. They’re experts at analyzing the available information behind each matchup and creating sharp lines.
Bookies can also shift lines depending on how the betting action is going. They may change the odds based on sharp money and/or a huge imbalance on one side.
Assuming sportsbooks are losing to a particular bettor, they reserve the right to limit or even ban that gambler. Bookmakers commonly take such action against sharps, arbitrage bettors, and steam chasers.
Sportsbooks also offer really bad wagers, most notably parlays. Some parlays feature up to 40% vig. A lot is working against you in sports betting. However, you can still win with the right work ethic and mindset.
You just shouldn’t expect winnings to come anytime in the near future. Instead, you might have to dedicate years to the craft before you’re consistently profitable.