When it comes to betting on sports in the US, nothing comes close to the action the NFL receives on a weekly basis during the season. Each Sunday (and Thursday and Monday), thousands of dollars are bet on every aspect of an NFL game, from the final score to the total number of passing yards a quarterback will finish with.
Of the $1 billion bet legally in Las Vegas on the NFL in 2017, the sportsbooks raked in nearly $75 million. Unquestionably, tens of millions more were lost in the underground betting scene as well.
All of the numbers, both accounted for and assumed, beg the question, “Why is winning money betting on the NFL such a difficult venture?”
The answers are numerous and varied, but it all comes down to one common denominator—the stakes are just that high for the books.
In this article, I’ll dive into some of the specifics why so many people bet, and lose, NFL plays at a rate that isn’t really seen in any other American sport.
1 – Sheer Volume
When billions of dollars are on the line, the oddsmakers step up their game. It might seem that all odds are created equal when you consider the algorithms and the data that helps to calculate a spread or betting on the moneyline, but there’s a human element to it as well.
It’s well-known that the goal of oddsmakers is to have half of the money on either side, with the juice accounting for the profit. However, there are cases where the money lies heavily on one side or the other. Ironically, the lines that seem like an easy pick for gamblers are the ones that turn out to be the most profitable for the books.
NFL Sportsbooks simply don’t make lines that result in easy wins for the general betting public.
What You Can Do
I hate to oversimplify the situation, but in high-volume betting situations, fading the public is about as close to a reliable strategy as you’re going to get.
2 – Computers Beat Humans
As previously mentioned, oddsmakers rely on incredibly complex systems to set lines, and the analysis they’re able to compute isn’t available to most bettors.
You might have stumbled across plenty of articles claiming to have found a system that works, but in reality, it’s likely more due to luck than it is a fail-proof set of criteria for making picks.
To state the obvious, information is your best friend as a sports gambler and an oddsmaker. Those who have access to more of it, and those who are able to make sense of it faster, are at a serious advantage.
What You Can Do
Unfortunately, you’re never going to have the same systems at your disposal as the oddsmakers. The best way to alleviate this issue is to not just evaluate the game itself, but to try to interpret what the line is telling you. If something seems off and a line seems too “easy,” look into why it’s like that.
3 – We Overanalyze
Along with being the sport that receives the most betting action on an annual basis, the NFL also receives viewership at a rate that makes it the most watched program on several different networks. Our exposure to the game is such that it’s easy to look too much into everything.
It might seem counterintuitive to think that the more we watch, the less we know, but this is often the case. Because we consume so much of the action, we get a false sense of confidence about what’s known, and we overlook what’s unknown. This is why it’s easy to talk yourself into a pick that involves a team you spent three hours watching the week prior.
Sports betting beginners tend to rely on the most recent information they have, which leads to decisions made on impulse rather than hard data. This is a downfall that few gamblers can help, but it continues to make sportsbooks money year after year.
What You Can Do
Much like the gambler’s fallacy, the concept above known as “recency bias” is a major threat to the psyche of sports bettors. Before making a bet, ask yourself, “If I throw out the most recent game this team played, would I still bet the same way?” Maybe you would, but it’s important to recognize that the previous game shouldn’t be the main criteria upon which you make your decision.
4 – Bankroll Mismanagement
Simply put, if you aren’t keeping one eye on the game and one eye on your bankroll, you’re going to end up losing in the long run.
If you’re not familiar with the term, your bankroll is the pool of money you set aside for the sole purpose of betting. From this amount, you bet only a small percentage. This is where things get tricky for bettors, especially when it comes to the NFL.
Most fans and bettors who watch sports develop an emotional connection to the significance of each game. For example, it stands to reason that because it’s the only game on at the time, Thursday night, Sunday night, and Monday night games receive much more action than a typical 1PM Sunday game.
Although you might be giving the game increased attention, it doesn’t deserve an increased investment. Many NFL bettors fall victim to the primetime games and stray from their bankroll management strategies (if they have one at all). For this reason, these games are the big money-makers for sportsbooks.
What You Can Do
This one’s pretty straightforward in terms of what you can do to remedy the potential issue. Keep a strict bankroll and include every play you make. Also, utilize some self-discipline and avoid making those bets that risk a high percentage of your bankroll. Stick to the 2% to 5% range and you’ll stick around long enough to work with a long-term strategy.
5 – Moneylines
Personally, I’m a big fan of moneylines. In the NFL, when a spread is around 3 to 5 points, the likelihood of the underdog winning makes the risk worth it for the bigger payout. With that being said, things still aren’t necessarily in your favor.
You might see a game where the Patriots are -160 but the Vikings are only +130. This means that even when the action is perfectly split on each side, the sportsbooks are still going to win the difference every time.
Just like anything else in life, risk tolerance can be key in achieving success. The only downside is that in this situation, you’re taking on significantly more risk than the sportsbooks who set the odds unabashedly in their favor.
What You Can Do
This one is tricky, because looking for value is always a priority. My recommendation would be to stick to betting on the spread in most cases. Consider an alternate spread if you’d like to even up the odds and eliminate the juice, but proceed with caution.
6 – The Juice
Similar to the moneyline, the juice makes being profitable long-term difficult. Although on a bet-to-bet basis it may seem insignificant, the impact of that extra 10% (on average) adds up quickly.
You’re already aware of how hard it is to win even half the games you bet on, but the juice makes it so that even winning at a 52% clip won’t result in you turning a profit. Most estimates suggest that in order to win money betting on spreads with a standard 10% juice, you need to win 53% of your bets. Even then, you’re winning an extremely small amount of money.
What You Can Do
Without the juice, there’s no sports gambling industry. Consider it a necessary expense that is the cost of playing.
If there’s one major takeaway from this article, it’s that having fun betting on sports and making money betting on sports can coexist. As long as you stick to your bankroll and keep risky plays to a minimum, you can still have a very enjoyable NFL season.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...
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