Some People Excel at Sports Betting and Some Don’t – Which One Are You?

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Winners and Losers - People at a Sportsbook

Sports betting seems like a natural transition to gambling for sports fans. Being a fan gives you a good insight into players and teams, which can play a role in making successful bets.

But even the most-passionate fans can fail at sports betting. And the reason why is because gambling on sports and watching them are different.

Successful bettors don’t just lay around drinking beer and watching games. They instead have specific insights into wagering that help them win long-term profits.

Everybody likes to think that they’re a winning sports bettor. Even those who know that they’re losing often claim that they’re “breaking even.”

But how many people actually win at sports betting? Are you among them?

Find out in this discussion, which covers why bettors fail, how you can determine if you’re a winner, and what you must do to stay competitive in a difficult betting world.

Why Do Sports Bettors Fail?

A sportsbook’s role is to set lines that draw equal action on each outcome. If a sportsbook accomplishes this goal, then they’re guaranteed a profit when the juice (a.k.a. vigorish) is factored in.

Many point spread bets see the house take 10% juice from the losers. The sportsbook taking a cut ensures that the average bettor will lose money.

It’s not easy to avoid the losing category when considering that well over half of bettors will ultimately lose. But you can improve your chances of winning by learning the reasons why the average person fails at sports betting.

Underestimating Volatility

One of the biggest mistakes that losing sports bettors make is failing to understand the volatility behind wagering. You’ll find many sports bettors on forums who think they have it all figured out, only to go through a prolonged losing streak.

Sports betting isn’t nearly as volatile as casino games like slot machines and video poker. But you also must understand that the average bettor is practically flipping a coin with every wager.
Every time that somebody goes on a 6-bet winning streak, they can just as easily reverse this and lose the next 6-7 wagers.

This isn’t so bad when your bet size is consistent. But some bettors try to capitalize on winning streaks by increasing their wagers.

This is when losing streaks become more pronounced and cause bettors to take heavy losses.

Again, sports betting is low on the volatility scale when looking at gambling as a whole. But you should never your underestimate how quickly luck can turn against you.

The best way to handle things is by always preparing for the worst. You can do this through bankroll management, which I’m going to cover next.

Poor Bankroll Management

The quickest way to ensure that you lose in sports betting is by not having a bankroll management plan. Bankroll management refers to the strategy behind how you size bets and handle your gambling funds.

Every successful long-term bettor has a firm grasp on this concept. Likewise, every losing sports bettor does a poor job of managing their bankroll.

The biggest mistake is when bettors randomly choose wager sizes based on how confident they are in a bet succeeding. Here’s an example:

  • A bettor has an $800 bankroll
  • They thoroughly handicap an NFL game
  • They feel that the New England Patriots are a lock to cover -6.5
  • They bet $400, despite this being half their bankroll

It’s good that this bettor has thoroughly researched the wager to a point where they feel it’s a lock. But anything can happen in sports betting.

I’ve had plenty of bets that I thought were a sure thing, only to see the results go differently than I thought.

Sports are full of momentum, motivation, and human emotions. These are unpredictable elements that can’t always be properly priced into a sports bet.

You can never guarantee that a wager will come through, and you must properly guard against short-term volatility with good bankroll management.

Failing to Properly Research Bets

Handicapping, where you analyze different factors of sports bets and assign a value to a favorite or underdog, is one of the most important skills that you can have. This helps you determine which lines are offering the most value so that you can consistently have a stronger chance to win.

But as important as handicapping is, some sports bettors don’t bother doing much research. They instead bet based on feeling and/or what they’ve observed when watching sports games as a casual fan.

You can still win sports wagers with little-to-no research involved. But you’ll only be able to keep this up for so long.

The best sports bettors are good at handicapping wager and/or developing systems that can be used across a broad range of wagers. They do not, however, place bets based on their favorite teams, feeling, or with light research.

Losing Confidence and Being Impatient

It’s easy to lose confidence in your betting abilities when you have one or more of the problems that I covered above.

Poor bankroll management leads to volatile swings in your bankroll that will have you get second guessing if sports betting is right for you. Confidence only becomes a bigger issue when you don’t research bets and place too many bad wagers.

Many bettors make rash decisions when they’re losing confidence and trying anything to get back on the winning track. This includes increasing bet sizes in hopes of earning back previous losses.

Betting more money when you’re unsuccessful leads to even greater losses. In turn, you may lose control of your emotions and continue making poor betting decisions.

The best way to counteract this is by coming up with a well-thought-out plan and sticking to it. This is the opposite of letting emotions guide your bets and becoming impatient when winnings aren’t rolling in.

Measuring Your Sports Betting Success

Hopefully, none of the traits covered above accurately describe you. But you don’t need to have any of these extreme problems to be a losing sports bettor.

Therefore, it’s important to properly measure your success to determine if your betting game needs more work.

The sports betting world has many types of bets. But I’m going to focus on how you can determine if you’re successful with spread spreads and moneylines, because these are the two most popular types of wagers.

Know what a Winning Record Is for Spread Betting

The average point spread sees the house take 10% juice (-110) from the losing side. You need to win 52.4% of your bets to break even in this scenario.

Here’s how this figure is determined:

  • The vigorish is 10% (-110)
  • This means that you need to win 10% of your wagers to break even
  • Winning 11 bets against 10 losses (21 total wagers) accomplishes this
  • 11/21 = 52.4%

It doesn’t seem difficult to win 52.4% of your wagers, because this means that you only need to win slightly more than half the time. But it’s also important to consider that sportsbooks are good at setting lines to draw 50/50 action on both sides.

This is where personal handicapping comes into play, because you need to find bets that offer more value.

Bookmakers don’t set their lines based on which team they think will win or cover a spread. They instead create lines based on how they think the public will bet.

If you can find value in places that the average bettor can’t, then you stand a stronger chance of beating the 52.4% mark. Also know that you can improve your chances by betting at online sportsbooks with reduced juice.

If you find a sportsbook that’s only taking 7% vigorish (-107) on the losing side, then you only need to win 51.7% of your wagers to break even.

Know what a Winning Record Is for Moneylines

The fact that you must win 52.4% of your point spread wagers to break even with 10% juice is well known by many bettors. But the break-even point for moneylines is a different subject.

The problem is that the point where you break even with moneylines changes based on the odds. Here’s a chart that shows how often you need to win with each moneyline:
*WRtBE: Win Rate to Break Even


Moneyline *WRtBE
-105 51.2%
-110 52.4%
-115 53.5%
-120 54.5%
-125 55.6%
-130 56.5%
-135 57.4%
-140 58.3%
Moneyline *WRtBE
-145 59.2%
-150 60.0%
-155 60.8%
-160 61.5%
-165 62.3%
-170 63.0%
-175 63.6%
-180 64.3%
Moneyline *WRtBE
-185 64.9%
-190 65.5%
-195 66.1%
-200 66.7%
-205 67.2%
-210 67.7%
-215 68.3%
-220 68.8%


Moneyline *WRtBE
+105 49.0%
+110 48.0%
+115 47.0%
+120 45.0%
+125 44.0%
+130 43.0%
+135 43.0%
+140 42.0%
Moneyline *WRtBE
+145 41.0%
+150 40.0%
+155 39.9%
+160 38.0%
+165 38.0%
+170 37.0%
+175 36.0%
+180 36.0%
Moneyline *WRtBE
+185 35.0%
+190 34.0%
+195 34.0%
+200 33.0%
+205 33.0%
+210 32.0%
+215 32.0%
+220 31.0%

You can see that you must win a far greater percentage of the time when betting on big moneyline favorites. In contrast, the amount of wagers needed to break even goes down considerably with big underdogs.

Keep Records on Your Betting

The only way that you’ll know if you’re beating point spreads, moneylines, or any other kind of bet is to keep records.

Recording every made bet doesn’t sound like fun, but you also don’t want to be blind to your win rate. Plus, it’s not difficult to keep records if you don’t have a large betting volume.

You can do so through a Word document, spreadsheet, or even with pen and paper. It doesn’t matter how you keep records so long as you’re doing it.

Aspects that you want to record with each bet include the date, wager size, result, bet type, odds, juice (if applicable), and the sportsbook. You can even take this a step further by recording how much research and put into every wager and your thought process at the time.

Here’s an example on how I keep records:

  • 04/14/18
  • $100 point spread bet
  • 10% juice
  • Cleveland Cavaliers -4.5
  • Result = win
  • A half hour of research
  • Cavs were coming off a road loss and playing at home
  • The opponent was at the end of a 5-game road trip

Recording 10 or 20 bets won’t give you an accurate picture on if you’re a winning better. But you can form a clearer picture on this by recording hundreds of wagers.

Also, note that it’s easier to document your win rate when making the same type of wagers every time. Furthermore, you’ll be better able to determine if you’re beating a specific bet type, such as moneylines or totals.

How Can You Succeed Where Other Bettors Don’t?

What happens if you go through all the steps discussed here and find out that you’re a losing bettor?

If this is the case, you don’t have to fall into despair and give up sports betting. Instead, you can use the following tips to improve your win rate and become profitable.

Create a Bankroll Management Plan

Earlier I discussed how bankroll management is one of the biggest reasons why sports bettors aren’t successful. Therefore, you want to do everything possible to properly manage your bankroll and protect yourself against short-term losing streaks.

One of the most-popular ways to manage a sports betting bankroll is by dividing your funds into 100 units. Here’s an example on how to do this:

  • You have $3,000
  • 3,000 / 100 = 30
  • Your betting units should each be $30

Next, you only want to wager 1-2 units on every contest. The purpose of doing so is to ensure that you never risk too much at one time.

You never know when bad luck could be around the corner. And even the best sports bettors must prepare for this by managing their risks for small bets.

More-aggressive sports bettors may risk between 3 and 5 units on games that they feel truly confident about.

I don’t advise going up to 5 units very often, because this represents a sizable chunk of your bankroll. But you might try this when you find a particularly soft line.

Of course, some bettors don’t have thousands of dollars to risk on sports betting. If you only have $100 or $200, then you need to risk around 5% of it with each bet.

The reason why is because online and land-based sportsbooks have minimum bets. Therefore, you can’t wager a single dollar and stick to the 1-unit guideline.

But this doesn’t mean you can’t still use the smallest units possible to spread out your risk.

Work on Your Handicapping Skills

You can do all the bankroll management in the world and still not win if you’re not good at finding soft lines. You must be able to analyze different factors of sports bets and place an informed wager.

This begins by looking at lines shortly after they’re released and trying to identify ones that seem to offer value. A quick way to do this is by using a free app like ValueBet, which looks across various online sportsbooks to help you spot line movement.

The next course of action is to analyze the different factors of a bet. Here are some general aspects you should look at when handicapping:

  • Against the spread (ATS) records
  • Home and away ATS records
  • Injuries
  • Recent statistical trends for teams
  • Rivalry factor/motivation
  • Player matchups
  • Team stats
  • Weather (if outdoors)

These are just the basics, and you want to dive as far as possible to find stats that the public isn’t considering. If you’re handicapping a college basketball game, for example, you should look beyond ATS records, team scoring averages, and team defensive averages.

Here are a few other in-depth stats that you can consider:

  • Defensive field goal percentage
  • Defensive rebounding margin
  • Offensive rebounding margin

Forcing bad shots, limiting opponents’ opportunities, and getting extra shots are all key factors to winning. Yet stats like these can fly under the radar in college basketball handicapping.

You may not be great at knowing what stats to look for in the beginning. But this is an area where you’ll improve over time if you stick with sports betting.

Create a Betting System and Back Test It

Handicapping bets is a great place to begin when trying to become a stronger sports bettor. The only downside is that you need to analyze each bet this way, which lowers the total volume of informed wagers you can make.

Therefore, many pro sports bettors create their own systems using several stats. They use these systems to take advantage of trends and bet across a broader range of games without having to analyze each one.

Here’s an example of a sports betting system:

  • Betting NHL favorites
  • The favorite is coming off a road loss of 2 goals or more
  • The underdog has won their last game by 2 goals or more

This seems like an interesting strategy that would produce useful trends. The only problem is that I have no way to know if it works without results.

This is where you should consider backtesting, which involves testing a betting system over previous results with the same parameters.

If I wanted to backtest the system described above, then I need to look at games within recent years that involve the exact same variables. The more complicated your system, the harder this is to do.

A good way to make this easier, though, is by using sports betting software that crunches numbers.

You can find both software that’s available for purchase and websites that offer free number-crunching programs. is an example of the latter, because they have a free program that lets you analyze various stats.

Of course, more-serious bettors should consider the best sports betting software. These programs let you analyze a wider range of stats to properly backtest systems.

The goal is to cover as much data as possible, because a larger sample size allows you to be more confident that your system either works or doesn’t.

Look for the Best Lines

One more thing that will greatly help your sports betting results is to look for the best available lines. The goal is to consistently find the most value for your bets so that you can win more long-term profits.

Here’s an example of what shopping for value can do:

  • You find the Seattle Seahawks at -7.5 at one sportsbook
  • You browse several other internet sportsbooks
  • You find the Seahawks at -6.5 at another site

This 1-point spread difference doesn’t seem like much for a single bet. But if you find this value of across 100 wagers, then you may win several more bets than you lose.

Again, apps are good for helping you quickly find the best lines, because you can analyze a broader range of sportsbooks at once.

Also, be sure to look for reduced juice on point spreads whenever possible. Facing 5% or 7% vigorish is a lot more appealing than the standard 10% juice.

If you’re betting against 5% juice, then you only need to win 51.2% of your bets to break even. Compare this to the 52.4% of wagers that you must win under 10% vigorish.

This is another area where you may be sketchy at first. But you’ll gradually learn which online sportsbooks offer quality lines and reduced juice specials.


Sports bettors who succeed in the long term are in the minority. Most bettors fall into one or more of the bad habits that I covered earlier.

But this doesn’t mean that you also must suffer the same fate. You can excel at sports betting by taking the necessary steps to become a winner.

Being a winning long-term better doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, you need to spend time reading articles, using betting software, and handicapping wagers to develop a winning strategy.

It also helps greatly to shop around for the best lines and take advantage of reduced juice when you find it.

The difference between a sports bettor who excels, and one fails is small. Therefore, any little edge that you can find will help you in the long run.

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