The Reality of Winning at Sports Betting
Walk into a Las Vegas casino and you’re surrounded by bad bets at every turn. The house has an edge at every game they offer, and it’s usually signifi cant – a 5% edge on roulette, from 1.4% to 16% on craps (depending on the bet), and typically between 1% and 3% for blackjack. The house edge in blackjack can be signifi cantly lowered through card counting and skilled bet sizing, but it’s considerably harder to count cards and get away with it than you’d think from television and movies.
The house edge describes the expected value (EV) on a wager. With perfect basic strategy, the house edge can be reduced to about 1%. This means they pay out an average of $99 on a wager of $100. Statistically, the house wins on every hand regardless of the outcome, which adds up to millions of dollars when applied to the thousands of bets placed every day.
There are two types of bets in a casino where the house edge can be overcome. The fi rst is the poker room. The house takes a rake – a capped percentage from every pot which is essentially “paying rent” to the casino for putting the game together. In poker, the players are in competition with each other and not the house, and it is mathematically proven that a skilled player can win enough to overcome the money he loses to the rake each hand.
The second place a gambler can overcome the house edge – you guessed it – is the sportsbook. If you remember from the previous articles in this series, (if you missed them, see the MMA Wagering Guide on MMAjunkie. com, or the back issues of FIGHT!) the house edge is built into sports betting lines via the spread between the outcomes. In MMA, an “even” fi ght would be listed with -110 odds on each fi ghter, meaning you must risk $11 to win $10. If the fi ghters are truly an even match, the house edge works out to 4.54%.
This house edge in sports betting functions much like the rake in poker. The sports bettor isn’t playing against the house; he’s playing against other players (other sports bettors). The bookmaker’s ultimate role is to function as a broker between players betting on either side, and the bookmaker takes a fee for this service. Sports betting lines are set so that the sportsbook gets suffi cient action on both sides of the bet to present a reasonably balanced position for the book. However, while most books would love to get equal action on both sides of a line, it’s just not practical. Books take unbalanced action on almost every bet, but they don’t take so much unbalanced action that they’re exposed beyond the profi t they expect to make from their house edge.
Consequently, you’re not trying to beat expert linemakers or the casino when you’re placing a sports bet, you’re trying to beat the other players in the market. If you can beat the bookmaker’s other customers 53% of the time or more, you can overcome the house edge and make money betting on sports.
Look at the historical house edge in NFL home underdog point spreads – home teams who were predicted to lose outright. Based on statistical analysis of all 6,167 NFL games played from 1983 through 2007, home underdogs have a house edge of -0.18%. As a result, there is a positive expectation for the player just blindly betting every home underdog point spread! By simply selecting and blind betting home underdogs in the NFL, a better can not only overcome the house edge, but actually turn a profi t.
Generally, the easiest way to become profitable betting on sports is to fi nd a sport where you have an edge over the general betting public. This edge is most easily found in smaller and more exotic markets. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve made good money in the past wagering on women’s basketball, a sport I have no interest in watching. For leagues like the NFL, where millions of dollars are wagered on any given Sunday, the betting market has become highly effi cient and serious edges are hard to fi nd. However, in a relatively young, lower-volume sport like mixed martial arts, it’s much easier to fi nd an edge. That’s right – betting on our favorite sport is actually one of the easiest ways to win at sports betting.
Linemakers are still adjusting to mixed martial arts betting. Combat sports are nothing new to the sportsbooks – boxing and sports betting are old friends. But linemakers still make serious mistakes in setting MMA lines. Recently, linemakers set Joey Villasenor as a serious underdog to Phil Baroni for the fi rst EliteXC on CBS event, when it was clear to the educated fan that Villasenor should have been a solid favorite. Those who identifi ed the mistake were able to easily profi t, as I pointed out in my Performify’s Picks column on MMAjunkie. com. In comparison, try fi nding New England as a heavy underdog to Oakland in the NFL last year – linemakers just don’t make those kinds of mistakes in the major sports.
Additionally, the public still makes tremendous mistakes betting on MMA fi ghts. Ultimately, in sports betting, if someone else is making a mistake, it’s something you can capitalize on.