The Poker Player’s Guide to Sports Betting

By Michael Stevens in Casino & Gaming on June 19, 2019

12

Minute Read

Have you ever been in a poker room with televisions on the walls and seen many players focusing more on the sporting events than the poker game? I always like having these players at my table because they make more mistakes playing poker because they divide their attention.

Many poker players also bet on sports, but I don’t imagine that most of them are very good at it.

Poker and sports betting have a few things in common. I’ll get into some of these things shortly, but if you’re a good poker player, you should consider adding sports betting to your gambling activities. I don’t recommend being like the ones I described above, but you can add sports betting without taking away from your ability to play good poker.

Why Poker Players Should Consider Sports Betting

The fact is that most forms of gambling are designed for the casino, poker room, or sportsbook to make money and the players to lose money. Still, millions of people flock to casinos, poker rooms, and sportsbooks, both online and off, every year.

Only a few gambling activities are designed in a way that allows smart gamblers a real opportunity to make money in the long run. I already place you in the small group of smart gamblers because you play poker.

Poker Players At Pokerstars Championship Macau

Poker offers one of the best opportunities to be a long-term winning gambler. The poker room doesn’t have an edge; they make money by taking a rake from each pot. While this is a cost to you, the good news is you can win more than enough to cover your part of the rake by developing your skills to the point where you can play better than the majority of your opponents.

Sports betting is another gambling activity that offers a real opportunity for smart gamblers to profit. Just like poker, it’s not easy. You know that the path to being a long-term winning poker player takes a great deal of work and practice. But once you develop the right set of skills, you can use them to profit for the rest of your life.

While the skills you need to be a winning poker player and sports bettor aren’t all the same, the truth is that if you can learn how to profit in one area, you can learn how to profit in the other.

Winning poker players find and exploit small edges over their opponents. If you want to be a winning sports bettor, you do the same thing. You look for games and betting opportunities where you can have an edge. The edge doesn’t need to be huge; you just need to consistently find small edges and exploit them.

The way the sportsbook makes money is by charging an extra fee when you place bets, called the vig. When you place a bet in a sportsbook, you pay a little more than you can win.

Here’s an example.

  • You place a bet on your favorite football team and pay $110 for the chance to win $100. This is the most common vig, paying a 10% premium. When you win the wager, you receive your original bet of $110 back and also receive a profit of $100. When you lose, you lose your entire $110 wager.
  • On average, sports bettors win 50% of the time and lose 50% of the time. This means that on average, a sports bettor loses their vig on half their wagers, resulting in a long-term loss. Basically, if you pay 10% vig, you lose 5% on every wager if you’re an average sports bettor.

Here’s what that might look like.

  • You bet on 10 football games, placing $110 to win $100 on each. This is a total amount wagered of $1,100. When you win five games and lose five games, here are the numbers.
  • On the five games you win, you get back your $110 wager and receive $100 in profit. This means that your total return for the five wins is $1,050. You don’t get anything back on your five losses. When you subtract $1,050 in returns from the $1,100 total cost of your bets, you have a loss of $50.

In order to show a profit, you have to be able to win more than the average sports bettor. You might think that you have to win 5% more, and in a way, this is true. But you don’t have to win 55% of your bets to be profitable.

The actual number of games you need to win as a percentage to break even betting on sports with a 10% vig is 52.38%. Of course, you want to make money, so you need to develop your skills to the point where you can win 53% or more of your bets.

When you consider one bet or even 10 wagers, it’s difficult to bring these percentages to a simple understanding. I suggest considering this 100 or 1,000 games at a time.

  • If you make 100 bets, to win 53% of the time, you must win 53 wagers and lose 47. This means that you only have to win three more bets per 100 than the average bettor to show a profit.
  • If you make 1,000 wagers, you have to win 524 of them to get over the breakeven point. Winning 524 out of 1,000 is a winning percentage of 52.4%.

The problem with winning 52.4% or 53% of your sports bets is that while you’re making a profit, the profit is small. Even a small profit is good, but you want a larger profit to pay for the work you need to put in to make winning sports bets.

Your goal as a sports bettor should be to develop your skills to the point where you can win 55% of your bets with a standard 10% vig.

Are you smart enough to win five more games out of 100 than an average sports bettor? If you’re a winning poker player, then I believe that you are. Most sports bettors simply bet on their favorite team without any attempt to evaluate games. With the proper amount of research and study, you can beat the average sports bettor.

The other good news is that there are a number of simple ways to find bets with reduced vig or no vig at all. You can also start finding an edge on some games with a few other simple tactics. I cover these things in the simple tips to start winning section below.

How to Bet on Sports

When you start placing bets on sporting events, you only need to know a few things to get started. The first time you try to read the available lines and bets, it can be confusing, but once you learn how, it becomes simple.

You can bet on just about any sport, but the majority of bets are made on football. Let’s look at the most common football bets and how they work.

The two main options for betting on football are betting against the spread and moneyline wagers. When you read lines, you see plusses and minuses. A plus sign, +, means that a team is an underdog, and a minus sign, -, means that a team is the favorite. I’ll tell you more about this as we cover different bets below.

A moneyline wager is simple because you simply make a bet on who you think is going to win the game. The vig isn’t shown on a moneyline bet the same way it’s shown on other bets, but it’s still in there. Moneyline wagers are shown based on a $100 wager.

Here’s an example of a moneyline:

  • New York Jets -144
  • Cincinnati Bengals +120

In this example, the Jets are the favorite, and the Bengals are the underdog. If you want to bet on the Jets to win, you have to bet $144 to win $100. If you want to bet on the Bengals, you bet $100 for the chance to win $120.

When you bet against the spread, each team either receives or gives points, and the normal vig is charged.

Here’s an example:

  • Los Angeles Rams -7
  • New York Giants +7

Most lines only have one number that covers both teams. The line above can be shown two additional ways, and they both mean the same thing. It can be shown as:

  • Los Angeles Rams -7
  • New York Giants

Or

  • Los Angeles Rams
  • New York Giants +7

When you bet on the favorite, the other team gets the points added to their final score of the game, and when you bet on the underdog, your team gets the points added to their final score.

In this game, if the final score is the Rams 20 and the Giants 14, the finals score including the line is the Rams 20 and the Giants 21. This means that bets on the Giants win and bets on the Rams lose.

The other type of lines you might run into are run lines in baseball and puck lines in hockey. Basketball lines work just like football lines.

A run line or puck line gives one team a number of runs or goals and has what looks like a moneyline wager number attached.

Here’s an example:

  • Houston Astros +1.5 runs -220
  • Texas Rangers -1.5 runs +175

This is kind of like a combination of a moneyline and an against the spread wager. If you make a wager on the Astros in this example, you have to bet $220 for a chance to win $100, but your team gets an extra 1.5 runs added to their final score. A bet of $100 on the Rangers can win $175, but 1.5 runs are deducted from their final score.

You can place straight moneyline bets on baseball and hockey, and I suggest starting with them because they’re simpler to understand.

Where to Bet on Sports

You can bet on sports with a local sportsbook if you live where one is easily accessible. You can also place bets with sportsbooks online. Other options include using a bookie or placing bets with people you know.

Each option has plusses and minuses, and only you can decide which offers the best option for you. Here’s a quick rundown of each option.

Local Sportsbooks – Sports betting is making advances in the number of places that it can be legally offered. For years, Las Vegas had the sports betting market cornered in the US, but more states are legalizing it and offering betting opportunities. The biggest downside to betting at your local sportsbook is the vig. Regarding safety and the chances of getting paid on your winning bets, your local sportsbook is the best choice.

Online Sportsbooks – Online sportsbooks offer wagers just like local sportsbooks, but you do everything online. This makes it easy to find and place bets, but you need to make sure you’re dealing with a safe company. Many online sportsbooks have a long track record of quality customer service and care, so do a little research before you get started.

The biggest challenge for betting on sports online once you find a safe sportsbook is moving your money into and out of the book. Once you learn how it’s fairly easy, but banking laws sometimes make this a challenge.

Bookies – Most communities have at least one bookie. Sometimes it’s challenging to find one, but if you ask other sports bettors, you can find one. The downside to using a bookie is that they’re usually working illegally. Many of them also adjust lines, especially on the most popular local teams. But bookies offer a good option if you don’t live where local sportsbooks are legal and don’t want to place online wagers.

People You Know – I like to place bets with people I know for reasons I cover in the next section. In some areas, this is technically against the law, so if this bothers you, it might be best to look at one of the other options. You have to make sure that you’re dealing with people who will pay you, and it can be difficult to find people willing to take bets on the opposite side of all the games you want to bet.

Simple Tips to Start Winning

You need to learn how to gather and analyze information better than the sportsbooks if you want to beat them. This can take a great deal of effort, but it can be worth it. But this takes time, just like it takes time to be a winning poker player.

The good news is that there are some tips and tricks you can use to get started right away. Here are a few that you can start using today.

Lower and No Vig Opportunities

Earlier, you learned about how the vig costs you money. With a standard 10% vig, you have to win 52.4% of your bets or more to show profit. If you can place bets with a lower vig or find betting opportunities with no vig, it reduces the number of games you need to win to show a profit.

Some sportsbooks offer special deals or promotions from time to time with reduced vig. Common promotions offer the opportunity to bet $105 to win $100, which is basically a 5% vig instead of 10%. The breakeven point for this vig is 51.2%.

What if you can place bets with no vig?

If you can place wagers with no vig, it moves your breakeven point down to the same as the average sports bettor winning percentage. With no vig, your breakeven point is 50%. This means that you only need to learn how to make wagers that win slightly more than 50% of the time to make a profit.

Sportsbooks aren’t in business to break even, so they don’t tend to offer bets with no vig. This means that if you want to make wagers with no vig, you have to find somewhere else to place them.

MGM Sportsbook Filled With Bettors And Sportsbook Screens And Televisions
The best way to find betting opportunities with no vig is to develop a network of individuals who’re willing to place bets. Constantly be on the lookout for other people who bet on sports and try to place bets with them.

I’ve developed a list of other bettors, including the sports and teams they like to bet on and use them to match up bets that I want to make. I rarely can find someone to take every bet I want to make, but every time I make a bet with no vig, it reduces the number of games I need to win to make a profit.

As a poker player, you’re surrounded by people who like to gamble, so you have a good opportunity to develop your own network of sports bettors.

Arbitrage

Arbitrage betting is a way to lock in a profit on a sporting contest when two or more bookmakers offer different betting opportunities. On the surface, it sounds like the perfect opportunity, but it’s complicated and filled with possible problems.

You can look for arbitrage opportunities yourself or buy software that helps you find them, but in order to be successful at it, you have to have numerous online betting accounts and be able to place bets quickly. To cover the subject correctly takes a great deal of time, and I don’t recommend most players trying it.

Here you can learn more about arbitrage betting. Make sure you read all of the potential problems before you try it. I recommend using the other tips on this list before trying arbitrage.

Middling

You’re going to learn more about shopping for lines in the next section, but one of my favorite betting strategies is called middling. Middling is when you find two different lines on the same game where you can bet on both sides. When the final score lands on the middle, you win both sides of the wager.

When the final score doesn’t land in the middle, you win one side and lose the other. This isn’t a true breakeven point, though, because you have to pay the vig on the losing side. But you only need to win one middle out of every 19 games to turn a profit.

Here’s an example:

One sportsbook has the Colts favored over the Browns by 6.5, and another has the Colts favored by 7.5. You place a bet on the Colts and give 6.5 at one book and bet on the Browns and get 7.5 at the other book. When the final score is the Colts winning by seven, you win both sides of the bet.

Middling works even better when you can find individual bettors willing to bet on a game. This can be challenging, but it’s easier to get the lines that create a middle this way, and you don’t lose anything on the vig because you don’t pay it.

This strategy alone can help any poker player start betting on sports and show a profit quickly without being forced to analyze games. You don’t actually need to know anything about the games if you can make individual bets with a middle without paying vig.

Line Shopping

Every sportsbook posts lines for the games they offer. Most of the lines end up the same, or very close to the same, from sportsbook to sportsbook. But you can help your chances to win by shopping around for the best lines when you find a game you want to bet on.

This is easy to do when you bet at online sportsbooks, and there are even tracking services that show many different sportsbooks’ lines in one place. You can also shop for lines in a place with many land-based sportsbooks by visiting each one and getting the lines.

Here’s an example of how line shopping helps your overall profit:

  • You study and analyze an upcoming football game between the Bears and the Saints. The lines have the Saints favored, with most of them around seven points. You determine that the Saints should win by eight or more, so you want to place a bet on them and give the points.
  • You can place a bet at your favorite sportsbook that’s offering the line at the Saints -7, and if you’re correct with your analysis, then you win. But you can improve your chances to win if you shop for a better line.

If you can place a wager giving up only 6.5 points, you win instead of push when the Saints win by seven. It only takes a small amount of time to shop for lines, and it can help you win a few extra games every year.

Conclusion

Every winning poker player should start looking at sports betting opportunities as a way to increase profit. If you’re good enough to be a winning poker player, you have the ability to create winning betting situations. Use some of the tips and tricks on this page to get started right away, and continue to improve your abilities over time.

Michael Stevens

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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