Sports Betting Systems and Strategies

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Sports Betting Systems - Formulas on a Black Board

Sports bettors love to use betting systems and strategies to get an edge and win money consistently from their hobby. Some bettors even figure out how to do so well that they’re able to turn their hobby into their livelihood.

The trick to most sports betting systems and sports betting strategies is finding an accurate way to find point spreads and/or moneylines that represent a value on one side or the other. If you can do that consistently over time, you can earn more money as a professional sports bettor than you can from any other betting activity.

It’s beyond the scope of a single blog post to explain in detail sports betting systems that work. In fact, when someone creates such a system, he keeps it a secret. Sportsbooks are best thought of as marketplaces. As with any marketplace, a book might be more or less efficient with certain items.

Your goal is to find value. If you share your method of finding value with the world, the books will correct their pricing, eliminating that value for the bettor. It’s like killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

So this post looks at what sports betting systems and strategies are. It also gives some advice for coming up with your own systems that work. It does not offer specific strategies or advice that someone who’s never placed a bet before can take and use to become a winning sports bettor.

Historical Data and Its Accuracy

One way to come up with a sports betting system is to analyze historical data about a sport and a team. Knowing how things play out in certain situations might give you an edge over a book.

But that’s only if it’s a detail that the handicapper at the book isn’t already aware of.

Be cautious of how much stock you put into historical trends, too. Many times trends are only visible in hindsight and have no predictive value.

Suppose you’ve examined the results of the last 30 times the Cowboys played the Browns, and you’ve noticed that the Browns covered the spread in 25 of those games. You might think that a bet on the Browns makes a lot of sense. After all, had you placed that bet 30 times in the past, you’d have won 25 of them.

What kind of profit would you see with a 25 out of 30 success rate?

Assuming a standard vig, where you’re wagering $110 to win $100, you’d see the following profits if you bet $1000 on each of those 30 games:

  • 25 wins of $1000 each = $25,000
  • 5 losses of $1100 each = $5500
  • $25,000 in winnings – $5500 in losses = $19,500 in profit

But here’s the thing:

30 games aren’t predictive. It’s too small a data sample to be considered long-term results. This could just be an example of random chance creating a trend.

Here’s another thing:

The Cowboys AND the Browns have gone through multiple personnel changes over the last 30 years. There’s nothing special about this particular match-up of teams—I just chose them at random. (And of course, I didn’t look up their actual records against each other.)

Placing a bet based on what happened 30 years or 25 years ago between 2 teams is folly. None of those players or coaches are still working in the game at all. Their results from years ago have no bearing on what’s likely to happen this coming weekend.

On the other hand, some statistical measures might hold up and have predictive value. Generally, you’re looking for broader things. At one time, a bet on a home underdog had a great chance of beating the point spread. The books hadn’t yet priced a 3-point advantage onto the home team, and people made lots of money just betting on the home dogs.

The problem is that since then, the books figured this out. They’ve adjusted their point spreads accordingly.

Looking at home underdogs might be a good start to figuring out who to bet on in the NFL, but it’s far from a complete system—or even a system that might generate a profit over the course of a season.

Rules and Requirements

A sports betting system can usually be described as offering specific rules for placing a bet on a team. It might be as simple as the example I gave earlier:

Any time an NFL team is an underdog playing at home, bet on them.

We already discussed why this isn’t a good betting system, but it IS an example of how a betting system might work.

Most accurate sports betting systems are more complicated than this, though. They include more factors before informing you when to bet.

Any time an NFL is at least a 7-point underdog playing at home, and their opponents have lost more than 50% of their games on the road so far this year, bet on the underdog.

Generally speaking, if you track enough aspects of these trends, you can find historical trends. The more data you have, the likelier those trends are to be predictive, but even then, they can be unreliable. Also, keep in mind that over time, the handicappers at the books are also monitoring these trends and adjusting their point spreads and lines accordingly. What was profitable in the past might no longer be profitable in the present.

Some Sports Betting Systems Look at Line Movements, Too

Point spreads and moneylines don’t stay the same. They move in response to where the money’s coming in. This is one of the reasons I mention that a sports book should be considered a marketplace. In this instance, a line movement represents a change in prices of bets based on supply and demand.

Most lines don’t stay the same. The book sets a line, then money starts to come in. The book adjusts the line accordingly. Their preference is to keep roughly the same amount of money on either side of an event. This way they’re assured a profit by the juice.

Suppose a team starts off as a 3 point favorite. A day later, that same team is now a 6 point favorite. Why did the point spread change?

Most of the time, it’s because the book got more betting action on the favorite than they expected. Since they want to encourage people to bet on the dog—to even up the action on either side of the event—they gave more points to the underdog.

The question then becomes who moved the line?

A line might move in response to a lot of small bets from the general betting public. If that’s the case, you might do better with a betting system that suggests you bet against the general betting public. This is called “fading the public,” and it’s far from foolproof.

But it’s as good a starting point as any.

On the other hand, a line might move in response to some large bets from some sharps. A “sharp” is a sophisticated sports bettor who tends to win more often than he loses. Often he might represent a large syndicate with sophisticated software and handicappers who are at least as good—or better—at analyzing bets for value than the sports book’s handicapper.

If a line moves based on the activity of sharp bettors, it’s probably better to bet with the sharps.

But how do you know what caused the line move?

It’s impossible to know for sure, but there are some guidelines you can consider:

  • If it’s a low profile game that isn’t generating a lot of interest from the public, the line is moving more often because of the activity of sharp bettors.
  • If it’s a high profile game with a lot of public interest, the line is probably moving based on the activity of the general public. The Super Bowl is an example of a game with a lot of public interest. Most playoff games are, too.
  • Early line moves—within a few hours or a day or 2 of when the initial line was set—usually indicate a line move based on activity from the general public.
  • Line moves that come closer to the start of the game are usually based on activity from sharps.

You can also get an idea of what the general betting public is up to by searching for a “consensus betting tool” and looking at the data there. You can get a good idea of how much of the money is bet on either side of a game from such tools.

Fading the public by itself isn’t a betting system with any chance of working. But when you add it to the other factors behind your decisions, it can help inform those choices.

Managing Your Money with Sports Betting Systems

No matter what kind of system you come up with, you’ll need to manage your bankroll appropriately. If you risk too much of your bankroll on any single event, you take a great risk. If you go broke because of some bad luck or short-term variance, you can go broke even if you have a workable system in place.

Most bankroll management guidelines I see for sports betting recommend betting no more than 1% to 2% of your bankroll on any individual game. I think you can be more aggressive than this and bet between 1% and 5% of your bankroll on a game, but you should base that amount on how confident you are in your bet.

The Kelly Criterion:
Is a mathematical principle that suggests when you have an edge when gambling on something, the percentage of money you risk on that bet should be the same as the percentage edge you have.

But unlike games like blackjack, where you have a good idea of how big or small your edge is, your edge in sports betting is just an estimate. So many random factors affect your probability of winning that your edge might be half as big or twice as big as you estimate. Or you might be wrong and have no edge at all.

Regardless, you’ll rarely have an edge greater than 5%, so that should be the absolute maximum amount of your bankroll you’re willing to risk on a single bet, ever. And that’s a bet that you’re hugely confident in. Stick with the smaller percentage of your bankroll if you want to limit your risk.

You can’t win any money at sports betting if you’re broke. And the best way to avoid going broke is twofold:

  • Win a larger percentage of your bets.
  • Risk a smaller percentage of your bankroll on each bet.

Of course, if you’re a losing bettor, or even if you only win 50% of the time, you’ll go broke eventually regardless of how well you manage your bankroll.

Betting Systems for Sale and Tout Services

You’ll find plenty of people out there who are willing to take your money in exchange for their betting systems. Regardless of the price, most of these betting systems aren’t worth your money. Here’s why:

If you have a betting system that works well enough, you can makes tens of thousands of dollars a month from it.

But it only works as long as other sports bettors and the books don’t know about it.

Would you be willing to sell this information for $99? Or even $299?

Of course you wouldn’t. Who would?

Alternatively, you can find experts who will sell you picks every day or every week. These are called “touts” or “tout services.”

I’m skeptical of touts in general, and I think you should be, too. Too many people are willing to fleece unsuspecting gamblers for you to put a lot of faith on someone who’s offering to sell you picks. And honestly, if their picks were that good, they probably wouldn’t need to sell them. They’d just use their knowledge and picks to get rich themselves.

I also have a friend who worked for a large tout service years ago, and he had some horror stories about their approach to business. And in a book called Gambling Wizards, I read a fascinating story about an enterprising marketer who used to sell his sports picks. He was letting his 5-year old son make the picks for him. If I remember the story correctly, his 5-year old actually did pretty well, too.

In the short run, with a small sample size, anyone can look like they’re really good at picking games.

I can give you one warning sign that should say, hey, stay far away from this tout service. Anyone who claims to have a 70% record is lying. No one has a 70% record betting on sports in the long run. The best sports bettors in the world are thrilled with records in the 55% to 60% range.

If the numbers sound too good to be true, they probably are.

If you do decide to use a tout, be sure to calculate the cost of their service into your ROI (return on investment) calculations. If you can only afford to bet $1000 on a game, but you’re paying an average of $10 per game for picks, you need to do that much better with the tout than you would if you were picking your own bets.

No Sports Betting System Works Forever

If you want to continually succeed as a sports bettor, you need to keep watching and paying attention to what’s happening with your system. As the marketplace changes, so does your system. What works for you this year might not work next year.

This makes sense if you think about it logically. If you remember that a sports book is a marketplace, you’ll realize that as marketplaces mature, they become more efficient. When a market is efficient, the prices for things correspond to their value.

This means…
That the books and their handicappers will start to notice and use the same betting systems you do to price their bets—eliminating your advantage.

There will never be a perfectly efficient sports betting market, just like there will never be a perfectly efficient stock market. You’ll always have opportunities to find value in various betting lines. You’ll just need to be flexible and continue to look for opportunities to get an edge.


Sports betting systems are a tricky thing. They’re often based on historical data that might or might not have any predictive value. They might have worked in the past but no longer work today for various reasons.

But if you’re flexible and smart, you can find strategies that will enable you to beat the books consistently over time. People do it every day.

Just remember to manage your bankroll appropriately, aggressively look for value, and keep looking for small edges to combine with each other. Also, be cautious of any company selling you the secret to winning at sports betting.

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