by Jack Rieger
New sports bettors realize something very quickly: betting on sports is hard and losing is inevitable. Las Vegas, Reno and Atlantic City were built thanks to the inherent advantage the house has over the bettor. Every sports book has dozens of college-educated, statistical experts running data analysis, studying public perception and using computer algorithms in order to set a betting line that gives the casino the optimal advantage. My point: you are going to lose, so make the goal to lose as little as possible. Hence, here is the guide to betting sports from a college student who loses regularly.
Pretend there’s a gun to your head
This is the mindset you need when placing a bet: someone has a gun to your head and asks you who is going to win, 1970s Robert De Niro style. If you’re wrong, you will die, and if you’re right you get to play another game of Russian roulette. Hopefully, this removes bias and allows you to bet unemotionally, the same way the book sets the line. It also may convince you to do some research in hopes of making an educated wager. Betting is like shopping for clothes; if you don’t absolutely love the shirt in the store, you’ll never wear it. Similarly, if you’re not completely convinced with the potential success of your wager, don’t place it.
Don’t listen to the guy with the William Hill Reward’s Club Card
Last summer I interned for a gaming company in the finance department. The most interesting thing I learned was when my boss told me that their most valuable customer drove a 1980 Ford Pinto. The customer consistently losing the most money was the person who could least afford to lose it. You need to stay away from this person. He’s the same mouth-breather who signed up to sell energy drinks for a pyramid-scheme company and couldn’t believe that it didn’t work.
Financial experts have a word for this guy: boob. In the stock market, experts will buy shares of an emerging company early before the general public realizes its potential. Boobs see the company’s value trending upward and buy in after the growth has been experienced and the price has increased. The same thing happens with betting lines. If the Warriors open as three-point favorites against the Thunder, experts might like Golden State and buy in. Then the boobs hear about how great of a bet the Warriors are, but by then the high volume of money on the Warriors has pushed the line to six. Casinos love boobs more than “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin. If you know that over 80 percent of the money is on one side, then go the other way.
Don’t wager money you can’t afford to lose
Unless you want to torture yourself, do not gamble your rent money. It turns sports betting, which is supposed to be a fun, into a life-or-death scenario. Here’s the question you have to ask yourself before gambling: if I lose, will I be able to make all essential payments for this month and can I afford to go out this weekend? If the answer is yes, congratulations on having disposable income. If the answer is no, consider getting a part-time job to support your habit, or adopt a different hobby like Frisbee golf or stargazing.
Don’t parlay, but embrace the futures bet
Novice gamblers love to bet parlays because the payout is large and it’s exciting. If you can correctly pick three games you can turn $20 into $140. But parlays are often called “sucker bets” because newcomers empty their pockets for a five-team parlay that has no chance to pay out. It’s hard enough to outsmart the casino once, but to depend on two or three bets hitting dependent of one another is really difficult. The sports book attendant at the Bonanza Casino is laughing at you every time you purchase a parlay ticket, trust me.
A futures bet, or a wager on an event that is happening several months into the future, has the opportunity to be a more educated gamble. The key with futures bets is to bet on an organization with an extensive history of success. For example, bet on the New England Patriots to win the AFC East, or the St. Louis Cardinals to win the NL Central, or even the San Antonio Spurs to win the Western Conference. Instead of betting on a singular event, when anything can happen, you’re gambling on the organizational structure of a proven franchise over the course of a season. Futures bets also give casual fans a rooting interest in a team they otherwise wouldn’t care about.
Don’t tell your friends when you bet
The first thing most people do when they put some money on a game is tell everyone in a five mile radius about their bet. Sports betting is supposed to be a fun experience you share with your friends, right? The problem is, when you tell everyone you’re watching the game with about your bet, the focus in the room turns from the game to your wager, which typically adds unnecessary anxiety and pressure to your viewing experience.
This is when shoes get thrown at TVs and friendships are permanently tarnished. Nobody likes a miserable gambler; betting is in fact supposed to be fun, so if you find yourself wishing death upon the opposing team, it’s probably time to take a break and go back to enjoying sports without a financial interest.
Jack Rieger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JackRieger.