Sports Betting’s Key Question: Can You Win?

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For most sports betting enthusiasts, the key question is whether to lay or take the points.

No wonder the vast majority of gamblers lose. The crucial question, one that sports bettors rarely think to ask, is “Can I win?”.

The fact is, most people who engage in sports betting rarely question whether they have the ability to beat the house. It's not a question of intelligence–though it never hurts to be smart – but whether you truly understand the role of probability, whether you can determine a good wager from one that is bad and whether you have the requisite discipline to maximize your chances of success.

Understanding The Sportsbook Edge

Let's start with the basics. Most bettors understand that they lay $11 to win $10 in the world's two most popular point spread games, football and basketball. So what's the sportsbook's edge and what percentage of games must you win to break even?

Since the bettor lays $11 to win $10, he must accumulate 11 wins for every 10 losses to break even. That's just 52.4 percent (11/21 = .524), an encouraging enough figure given how many unsophisticated bettors think the sportsbook edge is 10 percent. Since anyone should be able to pick 50 percent of the games correctly at random, overcoming that additional 2.4 percent shouldn't be too high an obstacle to clear, right?

It wouldn't be if, in the above example, bettors bet the same amount on each game. But many gamblers often “chase,” doubling, tripling and even quadrupling their sports bets in an effort to recoup their original lost bet. They throw good money after bad, an undisciplined approach that often can be seen on the blackjack tables. That's what gets most bettors into trouble.

Professional Bettors Are Far More Disciplined

Professional players know better than being this sloppy. They'll be wagering a consistent amount on each game, understanding that there's no such thing as a “best bet.”

To that point, I once asked a grizzled veteran what is best bet ever was. His reply was, “I hope it's my next bet.”

Football and basketball bettors also lose because they stray from straight side betting to exotics, playing multiple wagers where the sportsbook edge can be extraordinarily high.

For example, while the true odds on a two-team parlay are 3/1, many books offer 13/5. I won't bore you with the math but trust me when I tell you that the sportsbook advantage on a two-team parlay at 13/5 is 10 percent, four times greater than it is on a straight bet.

The real odds on a three-team parlay are 7/1 but many sportsbooks offer 6/1 on you stringing a trio of winners together. That seemingly slim edge boosts the house advantage to 12.5 percent.

And if you're foolhardy enough to play a four-team parlay at 10/1 (when the true odds are 15/1), the house edge climbs to an astounding 31.3 percent.

Parlay Cards, Exotics Help The House

Parlay cards, which are printed at the beginning of a week, are an equally, and sometimes worse, bet for the gambler, especially if you don't read the fine print.

On many parlay cards, the odds are listed as “for 1” instead of “to 1.” The difference is that “3 for 1” means you get back $3 for every $1 wagered and “3 to 1” means you win $3 for every $1 bet (get back $4).

Like parlays and parlay cards, teasers, money line wagers and future books also have an added advantage for the house. While it's certainly true that some professional players dabble in futures, most do so only as part of an overall wagering scheme. For example, a player who held a Super Bowl future book bet on the Patriots at odds of 6/1 might want to also place a wager on the Giants, thus assuring his profit, as history now proves.

Can you win? It's a question all sports betting enthusiasts should ask themselves before placing their first wager.