Sports Betting 101 is a column that is aimed at teaching readers how to step up their sports wagering game. If you are happy being a recreational bettor, don’t want to put any more time and effort into it, and these lessons don’t apply to you, that is completely fine. But if you want to take the hobby seriously and increase your chances at winning over the course of the week, month, and year, this is the column for you.
I am going to be blunt; if you like to wager on sports and wish to win money in the long term, then this is the most important lesson you will ever learn.
In part 1 of this segment, I detailed the importance of using timing and various outlets to get the best lines. That is a key concept to make money in the long run, as well be all topics in this series, but when it comes to sports betting, nothing means a thing if you can’t master today’s topic, bankroll management.
Bankroll management is a scary thing for many novice bettors, and plenty of experienced ones as well. In this column, I will be telling you a lot of things you don’t want to hear. For instance, your standard wager should be 2% of your total bankroll. So if your bankroll is $100, you should be betting $2 per game, and no more than $5 if you absolutely love a play. Most people hate to hear that. On one hand, most people don’t have $1k to begin a solid bankroll, but at the same time, betting $2 on a game seems pointless and not enough to get the juices flowing.
I see this all the time; a guy wants to bet so he deposits $100 and starts betting $25 per game. I would say most people I work with and talk to have this habit. And if your goal is to give yourself some entertainment on a random Sunday and try to win a few bucks, fine, knock yourself out. But it is simply impossible to have long term success doing this. Sure, you could get hot and turn your initial deposit into a few hundred, but unless you quickly pivot to responsible bankroll practices, you are almost surely going to eventually lose your money. Consistently wagering that percentage of your bankroll on each game will lead to you going broke when you hit the inevitable downswing.
A bettor needs to win 52.5% of their wagers to break even. The best in the world hit 56%. But even a 56% bettor, over the course of a week, month or year, is going to go through some very poor streaks. Variance is a bitch. You will have days when you go 5-0, but you will also have days when you go 1-7. You will have days where you start off 0-4 and finish 6-1. You will have days where you start off on fire and end the day with four straight losers. It happens to the best of us (and, of course, the worst of us) and your bankroll has to be able to handle these swings.
Think of it like this; why do sportsbooks make so much money? It is actually not because players lose at an extremely high rate. Basic math states that a trained monkey throwing his feces at team names will be right 50% of the time. A 50% bettor is not making money, but he is only using juice, not his or her full bankroll. So why do sportsbooks consistently make millions of dollars on a monthly basis? Why do players frequently go broke? The answer is because nobody has any idea how to manage their bankroll.
A recreational bettor will bet $50 on the 1pm game and win. Sweet! Time to double up on the 4pm game. Another win and $200 in your account! Awesome! Now it’s time to go all in on the Sunday Night game for a monster day! And then the loss occurs. The $200 is gone and the player is now -$50 on the day.
Over the course of the day, this bettor was 2-1 and ends up in the red. Stuff like this happens all the time, and this, more than anything, is why books print money.
So what can you do about it? Glad you asked. Here are a few steps to take to make sure you are managing your bankroll correctly.
- Define your bankroll (how much you are willing to put aside for wagering). Be sure to only wager 2%-5% of this amount per game. 2-3% should be your standard wager. If you really think you have an edge on a game and want to go up to 5%, that is fine. But remember; lines are set by algorithms that take everything into consideration. Rarely is a line actually as off as you or I might think it is. You may think that the 11-3 team only giving 2 points on the road to a 7-7 team is a “lock” but lines are what they are for a reason. If you really like a play, still cap your wager at 5% of your roll.
- Don’t bet on games for the sake of betting. Sportsbooks thrive off otherwise smart players who decide to make a wager on a game just because it is the only game on. Don’t bet on the Thursday, Sunday or Monday Night game if you would not make the same wager if the game was Sunday at 1pm.
- Don’t chase losses. This is so much easier to say than it is to do, but bad days will happen and keeping a cool demeanor will prevent them from becoming disastrous days. If you make your plays and end up 0-5 on the day, it is ok! Tomorrow is a new day. Don’t go on tilt and make a max bet on the one remaining game to try to recoup your losses.
- Similarly, don’t consider a winning day as an invitation to wager on games you would not otherwise or wager more money than you normally would. How often does this happen; you have an awesome Saturday betting hoops, you are 6-2 on the day and it is almost 10pm. You see a few West Coast games about to start and you figure “I’m already up on the day, I’m playing with house money! Might as well try to stay hot and take Cal Riverside, Cal Fullerton and Hawaii!” Next thing you know your 6-2 day is a 6-5 day. All because you let circumstances lead you to bet on games you would have never otherwise touched.
As you can see, these steps share one characteristic; they require discipline. Discipline and gambling often do not come hand in hand. It’s just like when you say you are going to drink responsibly because you have work tomorrow and next thing you know you are seven white claws deep and about to order shots. Or when you say you are going to Delilah’s with your buddies and are just going to hang back, give a few dancers a few singles but mostly take it easy. Then next thing you know, you are heading to the ATM to get some cash for a third dance from Krystal (this is a common thing, right?). The rush you get when betting, like everything else in life that gives you a rush, can lead you to making bad decisions in the heat of the moment that you would not do when you have a clear head.
That is why, in the end of the day, it is up to you to hold yourself accountable and engage in responsible betting. As I’m always sure to recognize, these columns are not for you if you don’t care about the long run and you just want some action on the games you’ll be watching. But if you want to become a long -term winner, or at least limit your losses so that you don’t have to redeposit every week, there are certain behaviors you need to adhere to. And of those behaviors, there is none as important as managing your bankroll properly.