Sportsbooks serve a variety of customers, ranging from those who know quite a bit about betting to others who are just sports fans.
The latter category poses no threat to bookmakers. The average recreational gambler doesn’t beat sportsbooks.
However, professional sports gamblers can win big profits from bookmakers.
Known as “sharps,” these bettors are great handicappers who can earn lots of money on a consistent basis.
Of course, sportsbooks reserve the right to restrict undesirable customers. The majority of bookmakers take full advantage of this right and limit or ban sharp accounts.
But other sportsbooks willingly serve these professionals.
I’ll answer this question by discussing more on sharps, along with why various bookmakers do and don’t want their business.
Why Are Sharps so Notable?
The term “sharp” is often used to describe any professional bettor. However, sharps aren’t necessarily just any pro sports gambler.
Instead, they’re highly respected pros who can force bookmakers to move lines with their bets.
If one or more sharps lay down large wagers on a certain outcome, then sportsbooks might shift the line to make this outcome less attractive to other pros.
Of course, bookmakers don’t have a perfect method for identifying every sharp.
But they do put lots of work into knowing the top pros.
Sportsbooks that dislike sharps especially want to identify these bettors. They can then either limit elite pros’ max bets or simply ban them.
Sharpbooks vs Softbooks
A “sharpbook” is aptly named for the fact that it accepts action from top professional gamblers. In fact, most bookmakers thrive on having successful customers.
Sharpbooks are leaders in creating lines. Other bookmakers often mimic how sharpbooks move their odds.
Every industry insider knows that professional bettors have incredible insight into betting.
Sharp bookmakers use this knowledge to their advantage by moving lines when they see sharp money coming in on one outcome or another.
By the time the closing line rolls around, a sharpbook is offering odds that are nearly perfect.
A “softbook” is essentially the opposite of sharp bookmakers. They don’t want action from elite professionals.
Most softbooks are small operations that have relatively low betting liquidity. Assuming that gets hit by six or seven-figure sharp wagers, they stand to lose lots of money by being opposite of such bets.
Softbooks are more interested in serving recreational bettors. They’re fine with sports gamblers winning, just not on a serious basis.
Why Do Softbooks Hate Sharps?
The biggest reason why softbooks hate sharps so much is because they don’t like being exposed to these highly knowledgeable gamblers. As mentioned above, a softbook could take heavy losses if they’re opposite of too much sharp money.
Another challenge for softbooks is that they’re not market makers. They instead react to how sharpbooks move their lines.
Assuming a softbook is too late in changing odds, sharps can take advantage and jump on such lines. This is yet another way that soft bookmakers can lose big to pros.
Considering they have so much to risk by accepting action from top-tier professionals, they simply try to ward off these gamblers.
Softbooks’ best weapon for accomplishing this feat involves offering low max bets.
A small online bookmaker might only accept up to $2,000 wagers on NFL games.
Considering the NFL is one of sports betting’s most liquid markets, a $2,000 max is very small.
Again, softbooks also limit the accounts of suspected sharps. They’ll either lower maximum bets for these pros or restrict them from gambling on certain markets.
The most drastic measure these bookmakers can take involves banning sharps. This action gives softbooks a bad name. However, they’re willing to go this far to limit their exposure.
Sharpbooks Welcome Pros
Highly successful sports bettors may not be welcome at softbooks, such as Bovada, GTBets, and Sportsbook.com. However, they’re definitely accepted at sharp bookmakers like 5Dimes, Pinnacle, and TheGreek.
I originally posed the question of why a bookmaker would willingly take bets from professionals. The answer is that some operations are sharp enough with their lines and draw enough liquidity to where they can comfortably accept sharp money.
Big bookmakers typically have some of the industry’s best handicappers working for them.
They can set a solid opening line and adjust the odds as bets roll in.
This action is extremely important to a sharpbook’s operation. Such bookmakers watch money come in on both sides to determine where to move lines.
With an extremely liquid market like the NFL, a sharpbook is almost guaranteed to make money. They’ll have so many bets coming in on each side that they can masterfully adjust lines and profit from their juice.
Market sentiment shapes the closing line. By the time a sharpbook has released the final line, they’ll have enough information to offer perfect, or near-perfect, odds.
Long story short, sharpbooks offer such efficient lines that they’re confident in taking pros’ bets. Sometimes, they do make a mistake here or there and lose, but they’re normally on top of their game.
Should the Recreational Crowd Bet at Sharpbooks?
Elite pros benefit by gambling at sharpbooks when considering that they won’t get limited or banned. Instead, they can place high wagers without fear of being restricted just for their skills.
Do they gain anything by gambling at a sharpbook?
Unfortunately, amateurs will have a slightly tougher time winning at sharpbooks. Such bookmakers offer more efficient lines than softbooks and are tougher to beat as a result.
That said, recreational gamblers stand a better chance of earning money at softbooks. They’ll deal with easier lines on average when gambling with these bookmakers.
However, amateurs should consider more than just their chances of winning when choosing a soft or sharpbook.
First off, some recreational bettors like wagering more than the average person. They may not be satisfied with a $2k max bet on the NFL.
Secondly, they also have to worry about restrictions once they become a profitable bettor. Softbooks don’t always ban people just for winning, however, they will limit or ban any suspected pro that’s costing them serious money.
The larger softbooks, like Bovada, do have plenty of markets. But others don’t cover a wide variety of sports.
Sharps play a big role in the betting industry. They’re skilled professionals who, if unchecked, could bankrupt bookmakers.
Different operations deal with sharps in their own manner. Softbooks prefer limiting skilled pros’ accounts, or even banning them.
A soft bookmaker has a lot to lose when it comes to sharps. They don’t usually have as much liquidity as the biggest sharpbooks, meaning they could lose big to pros.
Sharp operations, on the other hand, are willing to take bets from any pros. They don’t ban or limit someone’s account just because they’re successful.
In fact, sharpbooks actually benefit in some ways by allowing pros.
They use sharp money as a way to craft highly efficient odds.
Sharp bookmakers do mess up occasionally and lose money. But overall, they’re so good at handicapping and judging market sentiment that they still make profits.
You definitely want to choose a sharpbook if you’re a skilled pro who’s capable of winning money. You’ll be able to place liberal bets and not have to worry about being banned due to your skills alone.
As a recreational gambler, you have more to consider.
Sharp sportsbooks are harder to beat because of their efficient lines.
Softbooks, in contrast, have friendlier odds. The problems, though, are that they can also have fewer markets, smaller max bets, and stricter policies.
Assuming you’re a recreational bettor who likes placing small wagers on popular markets, then softbooks are perfect. They’re fine with accepting action from normal gamblers.
But if you improve as a sports bettor, then you should consider jumping to a sharpbook. They’re the most realistic path for winning lots of money as a successful bettor.