Tuesday, June 30, 2009 | 2 a.m.
- Sneak peek at NFL (6-23-2009)
- Losers lovable on prop bet (6-5-2009)
- To find value in prop bets, toss out favorites (6-1-2009)
- Detroit Lions bet fun, not profitable (5-13-2009)
- Betting lines posted for NFL team season wins (4-27-2009)
- Early NFL betting lines at Hilton set up action (4-17-2009)
- Prop payoff is in the details (2-12-2009)
- Prop bets make small outcomes big in Super Bowl (1-29-2009)
- A bettor's guide to sports books (8-23-2008)
- Jeff Haney analyzes the numerous offbeat Super Bowl 'prop' bets (1-23-2008)
- Jeff Haney points out the NFL's hypocrisy in staging a game in betting-crazed England while taking a hard line on Las Vegas (10-26-2007)
Each year during the lead-up to football season I receive requests from bettors, wary of being scammed, for recommendations regarding which sports handicappers they should “follow” or which sports betting services are worth a subscription fee.
Though it’s not my place to advise bettors how to spend their money, I can offer a cold, sober account of the math behind paying for sports predictions.
Let’s say, for instance, you subscribe to a handicapper who can hit with 55 percent of his picks. Remember, this is a wildly optimistic projection for nearly anyone involved in sports betting across a large number of picks in a major sport against lines that are “bettable” in the real world. (See this April 21 Las Vegas Sun story).
Before paying any fees to the handicapper, a bettor with a $500 average wager would expect to make about $27.50 per play at that rate, after taking into account the standard vigorish. A $200 bettor, by way of comparison, would be making a profit of $11 per wager.
Let’s say the bettor is paying $29 for each pick. (Some handicappers charge less, others much more.) Now, the $200 bettor is losing $18 per play and the $500 bettor is losing $1.50 a pop.
Next, take a look at a handicapper who can hit at a 54 percent rate — still quite optimistic for most mortals across a large number of picks in a major sport.
A $200 bettor would make about $6.80 per wager at that rate, a $500 bettor would make $17 per play, and a bettor with an average bet of $1,000 would make $34 per play. After the same $29 fee for a handicapper’s picks, however, the $200 bettor is now losing about $22 per bet, the $500 bettor is losing $8 per bet, and the $1,000 bettor is making only $5 per bet.
How about a sports handicapper who is good enough to win at a rate of 52.4 percent, the break-even point after taking into account the vig? It’s not easy to do, but it’s within the realm of possibility.
Plenty of sports bettors would be satisfied if they hit at that rate. After all, they could enjoy the privilege of experiencing all of that “fun” and “excitement” and all of those “thrills” that come with betting sports — for free! Not to mention a stack of drink coupons and a few logo T-shirts — all free!
Those elements of sports betting are, as French President Francois Mitterrand said upon the opening of Euro Disney, “pas ma tasse de the” (essentially, just not my cup of tea). The only interest I have in any of this stuff is to beat it — an attitude that serves to make me persona non grata in any number of joints (among other examples, see this March 23, 2008 story).
But OK, I understand the thrills and chills are probably part of the appeal for a lot of bettors. Just don’t forget, if you’re paying a “break even” handicapper, your cost goes from nothing to precisely whatever you’re paying for his predictions.
Some would maintain a winning percentage of 50 percent against the point spread is a more likely result. At that rate, before fees, a $200 bettor can expect to lose $10 per bet and a $500 bettor is losing $25 a pop. After fees, of course, they would find themselves rapidly on the road to ruin.
It’s not all bad news. For example, if a bettor is confident a handicapper can hit 54 percent, and he has the bankroll to average four-figure wagers, and he’s not paying too much for picks, and he can incorporate his own hard work and knowledge into the process, and if he can make bets against joints that offer a reduced vigorish, he would likely be in good shape. Just use caution and know what you’re getting into.
Notice that we have not addressed unscrupulous handicappers’ claims of outlandish winning percentages, “locks,” “guaranteed winners,” or other sundry forms of hocus-pocus. If that’s the kind of thing you find attractive, you’re better off praying to the Easter Bunny to please oh please guide you to the most bestest Caveman Keno machine in the whole casino, and making your investment there.