Guide to Proper Sports Betting Bankroll Management

You just reach into your pocket when you get to the sportsbook and bet what’s in there, right? Wait, that isn’t it… You just take most of your bankroll and rocket it off when you see a lock, right? If either of these sounds remotely close to what you’re currently doing when you bet sports, grab a chair because we need to have a serious talk about sports betting bankroll management.

Baseball on MoneyAn alarming trend that we found when talking to new sports bettors is that a lot of people have no real plan for how they manage their real money sports betting bankroll. In fact, a lot of people don’t even have a separate bankroll. They just grab some money from their regular checking account or the cookie jar on the counter and head to the sportsbook.

Here’s the bottom line up front. This is not a sustainable practice. If you’re just a recreational sports bettor who bets a game or two every couple of weeks, this is fine, and what we’re going to say today probably doesn’t apply. But if you’re someone who is looking to take their sports betting seriously and turn it into a sustainable source of income, this is not good. You need to have a defined bankroll and be practicing proper sports betting bankroll management strategies.

Don’t know what those are? No worries. As you probably guessed, we’re going to be covering that and a lot more today. We’re going to show you how to determine the necessary size of your bankroll, how to determine your bet sizes, and some of the most common and expensive bankroll management mistakes that we see over and over again.

Characteristics of a Proper Sports Betting Bankroll

One of the main reasons that a lot of sports bettors struggle with betting bankroll management is that they don’t know where to start. They know they’re supposed to have a bankroll, but they don’t know what that entails and how big or small it’s supposed to be. Let’s start by talking about the characteristics of a proper sports betting bankroll, and then we can discuss how you go about determining the correct starting size.

It Needs to Be Separate

Your sports betting bankroll cannot be intermingled with your normal, everyday bank account or money. The money that you’re using to bet with needs to be completely segregated from all other funds. This is important for several reasons.

  • First, it’s going to allow you to follow your sports betting strategy completely without letting emotion come into play. If you know that certain funds are part of your bankroll and not the normal cash you can spend, you won’t be tempted to skip bets just because you want to use that money to buy something else.
  • Second, it’s going to help with the emotional rollercoaster that is sports betting. When you lose bets with money that is clearly part of your bankroll, it doesn’t hurt as badly. You’ve already come to terms with potentially losing that money, so you don’t take each little win or loss too much to heart. This might not seem that important especially if you feel like you’re pretty emotionally rock-solid, but trust us on this one. Keeping these funds completely separate will help you keep your sanity.

Just to clarify, we don’t just mean keeping them separate in your mind. We are advising that you put them in completely separate accounts or segregate them somehow. Even if you are completely clear of the distinction in your mind, there is something about seeing them together that starts to eat away at that.

One of the best ways to do this is to keep your bankroll in your online sportsbook account and only move money back into your bank account when you are taking out profit.

This way, when you log into your online banking, you aren’t going to see the comingling of funds tempting you to sway from your strategy.

It Needs to Be Untouchable

No, we don’t mean like Al Capone in the movie The Untouchables. What we mean is that your bankroll needs to be something that you are comfortable not taking money out of for an extended period of time. In sports betting, your knowledge is the money maker, but your money is the medium that you use to turn that knowledge into profit.

Ever hear the phrase that it takes money to make money? Well, that couldn’t be truer when it comes to sports betting and bankroll management in sports betting. You need to be ready to “part ways” with your money for a while so that you can properly use it to make more money. You shouldn’t be betting with money you aren’t comfortable losing anyways, so this really shouldn’t be that big of an issue.

It Needs to Be Tracked

The only way to know how well you’re doing (or how poorly) is by keeping detailed records of your bets. This information will be vital for you to figure out what steps you need to take to maximize your profits. This is one of the main reasons that we are pushing for you to have your bankroll segregated and untouchable. If your funds are all mixed together, and you are constantly taking money in and out, you’re going to have a nightmare on your hands trying to keep things tracked.

Tracking Bets

We’re going to go into a lot of detail in a later section of this guide about how you should be tracking your bankroll. What you should be taking away from this now is that you need to be keeping accurate, up to date, and complete records of your individual bets and your overall bankroll.

Figure Out Your Starting and Ideal Bankroll Size

So, we all understand now what our sports betting bankroll needs to look like. But how big does it need to be? How much money is enough, and how much is too much? This can be a tough decision to make, as there are a lot of factors that go into it. We’re here to help, though. In the next section, we’re going to walk you through the questions you need to ask yourself and the decisions that need to be made to determine the size of your bankroll. As long as you follow these guidelines, you’ll be setting yourself up for sports betting success.

Starting vs. Ideal

Start on RoadThere’s an important bankroll distinction that you need to be aware of that might make you relax a bit more during this process. Your starting bankroll size is most likely not going to be the same as your ideal ending bankroll size. Basically, most people are going to start with a smaller bankroll and allow it to grow into the size they want it to be.

This limits your risk and allows you to test your profitability without risking too much money. You’ll know that if you can’t win with a smaller bankroll, you probably don’t want to bump up to a larger bankroll. If you start with a large bankroll and lose from beginner mistakes, it’s going to be such a long road for you to get back to profitability. You’ll see in a few of the next points we make whether we advise the smaller or larger bankroll for your particular situation.

Just know that your starting bankroll (the amount you decide to invest in your sports betting today) will most likely be different (smaller) than your ideal bankroll. There’s no reason to rush the process and risk tanking your sports betting career from the start.

Professional vs. Hobbyist

One of the big deciders in the size of your bankroll will have to do with the level at which you are planning on betting. If you are looking to become a professional sports bettor, your bankroll might start out slightly larger than someone who just wants to bet as a hobby. Why? Well, hobbyists don’t have to follow these bankroll rules as closely. They’re typically going to be betting smaller amounts and so irregularly that the survival of their bankroll is really not as important. Sure, they are going to want to win, but if they bust their bankroll, it’s not the end of the world.

If an aspiring professional sports bettor busts their bankroll, it leaves them dead in the water. They now have no way to make money or continue the learning process until they earn money some other way. The takeaway here is that if you’re a hobbyist, you don’t have to stick to these guidelines we’re laying out unless you want to. If you’re a professional sports bettor or at least someone that wants sports betting to be a source of income, you need to follow our guidelines to a T.

Beginner vs. Proven Winner

Michael JordanOne of the main reasons that we advise starting with a smaller betting bankroll is to protect yourself from yourself. Ask any sports bettor no matter how experienced, and they will tell you about all of the silly and costly mistakes they made early on in their real money sports betting career.

You’re most likely going to end up making a lot of these same mistakes or some creative ones of your own. If you make these mistakes for big money with a big bankroll, it’s going to sting and could end your career before it even gets started.

If you’re a beginner, start smaller. If you have been betting for a while and are a proven winner, you can start with a larger bankroll closer to or at your ideal size. Look, we aren’t trying to say that any of you beginners are not good at sports betting or don’t have the potential to be one of the best in the world. We just want to make sure that you’re able to realize your full potential, and that’s pretty impossible to do if you’re busto.

Your Financial Status

The last thing that you need to look at when determining your bankroll size is your financial status. Even though sports betting does take skill and can be beaten (unlike gambling), you still only want to be wagering with money that you are okay losing. It’s hard to know from the start if you’re going to be a winner or not, so you need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Find the amount of money that you can comfortably separate from your other funds. Remember the characteristics that we covered. Find an amount that you can comfortably separate and leave untouched for an extended period of time. Also remember, this is just your starting bankroll. You’ll have opportunities to add to it or roll over your profits to get you up to your ideal bankroll.

The best advice:

Is to determine a starting bankroll size and an ideal. When we start talking about wager sizes in the next section, you’ll have a much better picture of what an ideal final bankroll size will look like. For now, though, just focus on determining your starting bankroll size. If it’s $100, that’s totally fine. If it’s $1,000, also totally fine.

It depends on your financial status and what amount of money you can comfortably segregate off for your bankroll. We’re going to talk extensively about different ways you can add to your bankroll rather quickly, so don’t worry if you think your bankroll is too small. Just start with what you’re comfortable with, and the rest will come.

If you’re having trouble deciding on a number, the next section might help you manage funds for sports betting. It talks about the actual dollar amount of your individual bets. If you know what you’d like that number to be, you can work backward and get a total bankroll size. We will walk you through all of it step by step and get you on the right track to properly managing your sports betting bankroll.

Using Risk Windows for Sports Betting Bankroll Management

The most commonly accepted way of determining your bet sizing is to do it as a percentage of your total bankroll. The reason for this is that while sports betting takes a lot of strategy and skill, there is still variance in it. The best in the world still lose close to 40% of the bets they make over the long run. That means in the short run, they could lose a ton of bets in a row. If you are betting too large of a percentage of your bankroll, you’re going to run out of money until variance can correct itself and get you back to winning.

Let that sink in. The best in the world can go broke without proper betting bankroll money management. Hopefully, by now, you see how important this stuff really is to the longevity of your career.

So, let’s talk about what the actual percentages are for your bets. The way we go about doing this is splitting bettors up into three different risk windows. Depending on how much risk you like to accept, your bet sizes will be different. The more risk you are willing to accept, the higher percentages of your bankroll you can correctly wager.

Before we give you the actual percentages, it’s important to point out that these are ranges. This means that you don’t have to bet a fixed amount on each wager you make. You can bet anywhere from $0 to the maximum bet for that range. If you’d like to make all your bets the same size, that’s completely fine, but just know you can vary them anywhere within the range that you’d like to.

Low Risk

Percentage of bankroll: 0%-2%

Low RiskThe lower risk window for sports betting is the safest of the three options. With this option, your chances of going broke are much lower or will at least be much slower if you’re struggling to find a winning strategy. If you’re brand new to sports betting, this might be the best category for you to start with. That way, the mistakes, and the learning process don’t get expensive.

This risk window has you betting anywhere from 0% to 2% of your bankroll. The reason we say 0% is just to point out that you never have to make any bet that you don’t want to. You also never have to bet anywhere close to the maximum for the range if you don’t want to.

Let’s say you have a starting bankroll of $300. This means your maximum bet would be $6. So, on any individual bet, you can bet anywhere from $0 to $6. It’s important to point out that this is not the total amount you might have bet. Maybe you have 10 different bets going at $6 a pop, which means you’ll have $60 live, but each bet is only $6 max.

Neutral Risk

Percentage of bankroll: 0%-4%

Neutral RiskIf you’re not a complete sports betting beginner, but you’re new to taking things more seriously, this might be the risk window category you’ll want to work with. Additionally, if you have absolutely no idea which option you want to choose or how much risk you are willing to take on, start here, and you can always adjust up or down depending on your sports betting results.

This risk window has you betting between 0% and 4% of your bankroll. If you had the same $300 starting bankroll, this would make your maximum bet $12. You could bet anywhere between $0 and $12 on an individual game. Again, this is not the total amount of money you might have in play on a day or a weekend. If you have 20 games bet, you might have $240 of your money in play. But because of your smaller individual bet sizes, you’re going to help keep yourself protected from variance.

High-Risk

Percentage of bankroll: 0%-5%

High RiskFor those of you that are betting seriously but still are action junkies, this is the category for you. Keep in mind that this is called the high-risk category because you’re going to be at the highest risk for going bust, even if you’re the best in the world. But if you need a little extra risk and excitement, we’re not going to fault you for jumping into this category. Just make sure that you don’t go over this limit no matter what.

This risk window has you betting between 0% and 5% of your bankroll. If you had that same $300 starting bankroll we’ve been talking about, this would make your maximum bet $15. Everything else we mentioned with the other risk windows does apply as well. If you were to make 20 bets like we talked about in the last risk window, all of your money would be in play, but you would still be somewhat protected from variance but not completely.

Impact of Favorites vs. Underdogs

There is one additional factor you may want to consider when deciding which of these windows you want to be in. You need to have a general idea of the type of bets that you’re most likely going to be making. If you have absolutely no idea, that’s okay. Just disregard this section. But if you do have an idea of the types of bets you like to make, it might help you to get a better idea of where you should be.

If you normally make a lot of bets on big underdogs or multi-team parlays, you’re going to experience variance a lot more. In other words, you might lose a lot more bets in a row before you hit one of your big underdogs and make it all back. This means that if you’re betting in the high-risk window, you’re going to run a lot higher risk of going broke before your skill can shine through.

For those of you planning on making these high-variance bets, you may be a lot happier betting in the normal or lower-risk windows.

If you’re someone who bets a lot of (-110) bets like over/unders and spread bets, you can pretty much fit nicely into any of the categories. The high-risk window is still high risk, but not as much as it might be for other bettors.

Figuring Out Your Starting Bankroll Size with Bet Sizing

For those of you that haven’t figured out your starting bankroll size yet, you can do it backward using your desired risk and bet size. For example, let’s say that you want to bet $10 per game, and you feel like you’d fit best in the neutral risk window. You can use the following formula to calculate what your starting bankroll should be.

(Your desired bet size x 100) / (Maximum percentage for the risk window you want) = Starting bankroll

So, if we were to calculate our example for betting bankroll money management, here’s what it would look like.

  • ($10 x 100) / 4 = Starting bankroll
  • ($1000) / 4 = Starting bankroll
  • $250 = Starting bankroll

Recalculating Your Risk Windows

As you might imagine, these percentages are going to fluctuate as the size of your bankroll fluctuates. Before we talk about how and when you recalculate your bet sizes, we need to talk a little bit about how you go about increasing your bankroll. If your bankroll is smaller than your ideal bankroll, you’re obviously going to want to continue growing it until it gets to your ideal size.

You can do this by adding money to your bankroll or rolling over your profits. Let’s look at a scenario to explain this and then work into talking about recalculating your risk windows.

Let’s say you started your bankroll with $300, and you’re a neutral risk bettor. Your maximum bet size is $12. But you would ideally like to be able to bet $50 per game. You calculate your ideal bankroll with the formula from above and see that it is $1,250. 4% of $1,250 is $25.

Maybe you decide that you want to take $50 from your paycheck every two weeks and add it to your bankroll. This is pretty straightforward. Your other option is that you can roll over a portion or all of your profits. This is a very common strategy because the only way you start betting more is if you are winning.

Now, as your bankroll increases in size, the percentage that you should be allowed to bet based on the rules we’ve laid out should go up as well.

For example:

Let’s say you have a nice day and win $100 betting on the NFL, and you decide to leave all of that in your bankroll. Your bankroll is now $400. You normally bet 4% of your bankroll as a max which used to be $12 but is now $16.

You could update your percentages after every single bet if you wanted to, but it’s probably going to drive you crazy. What we recommend instead is picking a fixed time frame to recalculate things. Maybe this is once a week, once a month, or every two weeks. It’s completely up to you when you decide to schedule this. If you are betting a lot of bets, you might want to do it weekly. If you bet sporadically, then maybe you should do it every couple weeks or monthly. The choice is yours.

A slightly longer time frame does allow you time to get back to even or up if you go on a bad variance run. Otherwise, if you recalculate right away, your bet size is going to go down, and it’s going to be tougher for you to get back to even. Part of the reason you’re using the percentages is to allow yourself to roll through some of this variance and absorb it.

You could even set yourself up with a schedule based on how many bets you make. For example, you could decide to recalculate your maximum betting percentage every 50 bets that you make. This is probably more ideal than a time frame if you are variable in the amount and frequency that you’re betting.

You’ll keep doing this until your bankroll reaches its ideal end number. Once you get to that number, everything over that number when you go to recalculate, you pull out as profit. So, let’s say you go to recalculate your bet size, and you see that your bankroll is at $1400. Well, you’d take $1400 and subtract $1250, which would leave you with $150. You’d take that $150 out as profit, and your bankroll would now be $1250, and your max bet size would be $50.

You’d continue doing this as long as your bankroll is above $1250. If you happen to end up below $1250, you would drop your bet size and start rolling your profit back in until you reach $1250 again.

Tracking Your Sports Betting Bankroll

The one thing that is probably very clear at this point is that none of this works well if you aren’t tracking your bets and your bankroll well. What we’d like to talk about now are the bare-bones numbers that you need to keep account of. Here’s what you need to have:

  • Date of the bet
  • Bet type/description
  • Amount bet
  • Outcome
  • Amount won/lost

This does not include the things that you need to track in order to analyze your picks. For that, you’ll want to include things like why you made each bet, why you lost or won each bet, the odds for each bet, and any other notes that could be analyzed later to try and make changes to your strategy. But that’s not what we’re covering today. We’re just talking about the bare bones you need to keep your bankroll management for betting on track.

The best place to manage funds for sports betting is in Microsoft Excel or in an app that tracks your sports betting wins and losses. If you were to place this as an entry in Excel, it might look like this.

Date Bet Type Amount Bet Outcome Win/Loss
9/24/20 Bucs -1 $25 Loss (-$15)

You’d want your formula set up to automatically calculate your total bankroll as well. That way, when you go to recalculate your percentage, it is super easy and just takes a couple of seconds. If you’re not into technology, and you want to do things old school on paper, that’s okay, too. Just make sure that you’re not making any mistakes, and the effectiveness will be exactly the same.

Sports Betting Bankroll Management Mistakes

While managing your bankroll seems easy, it’s also easy to slide off track. There are quite a few common mistakes and pitfalls that people fall into that we’d like to discuss today. Avoiding these mistakes is going to come down to effort and your self-discipline. Without a healthy mix of both of these traits, you might struggle in the betting bankroll management department.

Getting Lazy with Tracking

Sleeping on DeskWith many of the online sportsbook options available, the process of making a bet is super simple. It can take you just a few seconds to find your bet and get it locked in. Tracking that data on your spreadsheet or in your hand-written ledger might actually take longer. Additionally, your ledger or Excel spreadsheet might only be on your home computer, which means you’re going to have to remember to log those bets if you make a wager when you’re not home.

Keeping on top of this is not hard at all. It just requires some effort on your part.

If you’re out and about, and you fire off a bet, make a little note to yourself in your phone to record that when you get home.

If you forget to log a bet or a couple of bets and don’t have the details, at least put something into your log. You can log it as an adjustment or a forgotten bet or something that keeps your numbers in order.

Not Following Your Own Rules to Bankroll Management in Sports Betting

We don’t make these sports betting bankroll management rules to be mean or make things less fun. The reason we make these rules is to protect your bankroll and keep you in the game and on the road to making money. The quicker you’re able to really trust this, the better off you’re going to be.

The reason understanding this is important is that it’s going to help you to stick to your rules that you put in place. This is not a “rules are meant to be broken” kind of situation. You need to be following your bankroll rules like your life depends on it. We’re not trying to get dramatic here, but it really is serious if you want to stay alive in the sports betting industry.

Here’s the big problem. If you break your rules once, it usually isn’t that big of a deal unless you go way off the deep end. But once you break the rules once, then it becomes open season to do it again and again. Eventually, the rules will be completely worthless to you, and you’ll just be wildly doing whatever you want. It’s a slippery slope that you don’t want to start sliding down.

The most common violation that we see is betting more on a game than your allowed maximum. People seem to come across bets that they swear are locks and can’t-lose situations. They feel that if they don’t fire way more money than they normally bet or that their rules allow, then they are doing something wrong, when in fact, it is the other way around.

Here are a few things you need to know if you see yourself potentially stumbling on that.

  1. There are no such things as locks in sports betting. There are great value opportunities, but there is no such thing as a sure thing.
  2. You’re able to bet different amounts within your range of bets. If your maximum bet allowed is $25, and you normally still bet $15 (because you don’t have to bet the max), you can always fire a bet up to $25 for that “sure thing” you’re so excited about. Anything over that, though, is wrong and should be avoided. Take your $25 win and move on to the next bet.
There will be plenty of other opportunities that get you just as excited, and with proper betting bankroll management, you will still be around to take advantage of them.

Become comfortable with the bankroll rules you make and stick to them 100% of the time with absolutely zero exceptions. If you have to write them down somewhere, go for it. Do whatever you need to do in order to stick to your guns.

Conclusion on Sports Betting Bankroll Management

We know that we’ve run the risk of sounding like drama queens in this guide because of how seriously we take our bankroll management. But it really is important if you care about the success of your sports betting career. If you’re just someone who likes to casually bet for the heck of it every once in a while, this stuff probably isn’t that important to you. But if you have hopes of turning this into a primary or secondary source of income, you need to be prepared to take things a little more seriously.