Warning! Are You Making These 5 Sports Betting Mistakes?

by Jeff Harris
on February 18, 2018

Most people get started in sports betting because they’re sports fans. And they use their knowledge of teams and players to try and win bets.

You can experience moderate success just by being knowledgeable about sports. But this will only take you so far, because betting involves more than just looking at the game from a fan’s perspective.

Those who fail to realize this often make big mistakes when placing sports wagers. In fact, there are 5 very common gaffes that inexperienced sports bettors fall for.

That being said, I’m going to cover 5 mistakes that you definitely don’t want to make when placing bets.

1 – Putting Too Much of Your Bankroll into One Bet

The most common mistake that I see sports bettors make involves putting too much money into a single wager.

I myself made this mistake over and over in the beginning. It feels natural to put a quarter of your bankroll into a “sure bet” that you’ve researched.

But no matter how sure you are about a wager on paper, nothing is ever 100% guaranteed. Sports games are highly unpredictable, especially towards the end, when a team is trying to make a late comeback.

Experienced sports bettors follow a common rule of thumb: never put more than 1-2% of your bankroll into a single bet.

The philosophy behind this is that you dramatically lower your risk of ruin, or the chances of losing everything. This is especially crucial for bettors who have an edge, because it greatly reduces volatility so they win out in the long run.

Allow me to explain by using a risk of ruin calculator (from www.bjstrat.net/ror.html) for a couple of scenarios:

Example #1:

  • Bankroll = 100 betting units (1 per bet)
  • Desired profit = 100 units
  • Win rate = 53%
  • Expected value = 1.2% (break-even point is 52.4% due to 10% house “juice”)
  • Risk of ruin = 8.32%

Example #2:

  • Bankroll = 10 betting units (1 per bet)
  • Desired profit = 100 units
  • Win rate = 53%
  • Expected value = 1.2%
  • Risk of ruin = 77.0%

Everything is the same in these examples, except the number of betting units.

With the first example, breaking your bankroll into 100 units lowers your risk of ruin to 8.32%. You can further lower this by either gaining a higher win rate or starting with more units.

In the second example, having just 10 betting units increases your risk of ruin to 77.0%. Even with a 1.2% edge, there’s a high chance that you’ll lose everything based on your small bankroll.

This is why it pays to break your bankroll into units and spread out your risk. Here’s a quick example on how you can do this:

  • You have $1,500 for sports betting
  • Divide $1,500 by 100 units = $15 unit size
  • You can risk $15 to $30 per wager

I like staying on the conservative side and only betting one unit per match. But you might put two units into a wager that you feel really good about.

The one exception to all this is when you’re dealing with a really small bankroll.

For example, having just $100 would make your unit size $1. And most sportsbooks don’t let you wager $1 on contests.

You should bend the rules in these cases by making unit sizes worth between 5% and 10% of your bankroll. Your risk of ruin will go higher, but at least you’re still being conservative.

2 – Betting Based on Good News & Passing on Bad News

The stock market has an old saying: buy the rumor and sell the news.

This loosely relates to how you should handle sports wagering. In other words: bet the bad news and avoid betting (or wait) on good news.

Human nature makes most sports bettors do the opposite. Specifically, many place their wagers during positive media buzz surrounding a certain team or player.

Here’s an example:

  • The New York Jets’ star running back is healthy after missing 3 games
  • The New York media has run several high profile stories on the running back’s return
  • Their point spread shifts from +9.5 to +3.5 following the news

Obviously, the underdog Jets will receive a boost with their star running back returning, but it’s important to understand that the New York media is creating extra hype in this situation.

Oddsmakers’ jobs are to figure out how the public will bet based on a combination of factors. And something like this high profile story involving the running back can lead oddsmakers to overvalue the Jets’ point spread.

It’s your task to separate whether you think the Jets’ line should really shift 6 points, or if this is just a case of “buying good news?”

Many bettors will wager on New York based on the good news. Therefore, you can either wager on the other side, or wait to see if the Jets’ point spread will drop.

Here’s another example of buying good news:

  • The Golden State Warriors have won their past two games by a combined 52 points
  • The Warriors are riding a 9-game winning streak
  • Media outlets are running positive stories about Golden State’s winning streak
  • Golden State’s point spread for an upcoming game is – 12.5

This scenario involves the Warriors getting extra push because they’re on a long winning streak, and they’re coming off two blowout victories.

It makes sense why a sportsbook would set their spread at – 12.5 for the next contest. But then again, this is a lot of points for a team to cover, no matter how good they are.

You have to ask yourself if this is a case where you’re sacrificing value based on the positive vibes surrounding Golden State.

A better scenario is to buy the bad news. In other words, if a team loses a star player to injury or is on a losing streak, chances are they’re going to be undervalued at sportsbooks.

Check out the example below:

  • The L.A. Dodgers’ best starting pitcher will be out with an injury for two months.
  • A. is currently on a three game losing streak
  • Their moneyline for the next game is +350

In this scenario, you have two cases of bad news with the injury and losing streak. Bettors may think that the sky is falling with regard to the Dodgers.

But this is where you gain some value by taking advantage of a good line that’s surrounded by bad news.

I’m not saying that betting the bad news is always a good idea. But you’ll gain an advantage by doing so more times than not.

3 – Increasing Bet Frequency and/or Bet Size to Win Back Losses

Sports bettors, like all gamblers, are prone to chasing losses during a losing streak. And chasing losses comes in one of two forms:

1. Increasing the size of your bets

2. Increasing the frequency of your bets

Both are bad ideas, because you’re taking an even greater risk after you’ve lost money. Nevertheless, chasing losses is common in any form of gambling.

Sports bettors think that if they can just hit a big win or get more action, they’ll turn things around.

But as I covered before, sports wagering is a volatile activity. I don’t know how many times one of my bets seemed in the bag, only for the other team to score a flurry of points in the end and ruin my wager.

This is just one example of why you don’t want to throw more money than you can afford at losses. Sports wagering is unpredictable no matter how well you know a team and its players.

The best thing to do is develop a bankroll management plan and stick with it. I outlined a betting strategy earlier, where you break your bankroll down into 100 units and only wager 1 2 units per contest.

Perhaps you’ll develop another bankroll management strategy. But the 100 unit plan is good if you’re looking for a reference point.

Of course, there are sports betting strategies that are predicated on chasing losses. An extreme example is the Martingale, where you double bets following every loss.

Here’s an example of how the Martingale works:

  • You make a $10 sports bet and lose (bankroll at – $10)
  • You make a $20 sports bet and lose (bankroll at – $30)
  • You make a $40 sports bet and lose (bankroll at – $70)
  • You make an $80 sports bet and lose (bankroll at – $150)
  • You make a $160 sports bet and win (bankroll at +$10)

The Martingale is one of the few sports betting strategies that works in theory, but I have to emphasize the word “theory.”

The biggest problem with the Martingale is that you’ll eventually hit such a long losing streak that you can’t afford to double the next bet. Furthermore, you need an infinite bankroll to make the Martingale work.

Another drawback is that you may have trouble finding a sportsbook that will take your large bets after losing streaks. This is yet another factor that will keep you from doubling bets.

Rather than using such risky strategies, I suggest that you stick to a solid bankroll management plan and work on improving your handicapping skills.

4 – Not Doing Research to Find Value in the Odds

Making good sports bets is about more than just choosing the side that you think will win. After all, even the best sports bettors are only successful around 55% of the time.

You also need to find value in every wager you make. The more you are able to consistently find value in odds, the more likely you are to be a winning long-term sports bettor.

Here’s an example:

  • The underdog’s odds are set at – 6.5 points
  • Your research indicates that the underdog’s true value is – 5 points
  • This means that you’re getting 1.5 points’ worth of value here

The key thing to understand is that oddsmakers have to create lines on a wide range of games, especially during the regular season. This means that you can find decent value by doing enough research.

But how do you spot these edges?

One of the oldest ways of value betting involves going against traditionally famous teams. Examples include the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Cowboys, Manchester United, and New York Yankees.

These are historic franchises with large fan bases who bet in volume. Therefore, oddsmakers often adjust lines to reflect the extra money being wagered on these teams.

Advanced bettors take more factors into account before deciding if the odds are offering value. Some of these factors include coaching, historical trends, individual matchups, injuries, jet lag/travel, motivation, recent head to head meetings, team statistics, and weather.

You can even use software that lets you input numerous factors and crunch the numbers. The most valuable programs cost money, but they can also take your sports betting to the next level.

Another way to look for value is by using the following steps:

1. Visit an online sportsbook

2. Choose the sport that you know best

3. Visit the odds section for this sport

4. Without looking at the odds (cover them up), pick 1 to 3 games involving teams you know well

5. Handicap the game and come up with your own odds

6. Look at the sportsbook’s line and see if you’re getting value

Value betting is an imperfect science that relies on your handicapping skills, but this is definitely something that you can get better at overtime.

Tracking your bets and results is a nice way to tell if you’re doing a good job. You can especially be confident when you have hundreds or even thousands of bets under your belt.

5 – Failing to Shop for the Best Odds

Many casual sports bettors only sign up and deposit at one sportsbook. This is nice from a convenience perspective, but it also robs you of the chance to shop for the best odds.

One sportsbook may offer an extra half point on a point spread or a little more value on a moneyline than its competitors. And these small differences can make a big impact over the long term, because many wagers are decided by thin value.

If you can keep picking up these extra half points or +/ 10 on a moneyline, then you have a better long term chance of winning.

Opening accounts and depositing at several internet sportsbooks allows you to quickly jump on better odds when you find them.

Also keep in mind that certain betting sites offer specific advantages. Here are a few examples:

  • Bovada is good for underdog odds
  • CRIS is good for favorite lines
  • Pinnacle only has – 105 juice, meaning you can break even with a 51.22% win rate

These are just some examples of how you can gain an edge by frequenting different sportsbooks.

Another point worth making here is that you can also find a larger variety of promotions by visiting more than one site.

Many online sportsbooks offer a free bet when you sign up and deposit. But you’ll really find separation between betting sites based on the volume and frequency of their promotions.

Promos won’t make you a winner alone, but earning VIP points and more free bets will at least add to your winnings.


Sports betting certainly isn’t as easy as many fans think. In fact, it can be downright brutal when you’re stuck in a losing streak.

This is when bettors are tempted to make the biggest mistake of all, which is chasing losses. You definitely don’t want to do this, nor any of the other points that I discussed in this post.

Bankroll management should form the foundation of your betting. Once you have bankroll management down, the rest is just about becoming a good handicapper and finding value in lines.

Nobody’s expecting you to become a top handicapper within the first few weeks or even months. But if you stick with sports betting and gradually improve your skills, then you’ll eventually become a long term winner.

The main things that you can do to boost your win rate include buying the bad news, looking for value in odds, and shopping for the best lines.

All of this takes time, which is why I recommend that you limit your focus to one league per season.

Additionally, you should familiarize yourself with 1 to 3 teams. This makes it so that you always know a lot about one side in a bet.

With enough practice and work, you can turn the five mistakes that I’ve covered into advantages for yourself.

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