The Myth of the Hot Sports Betting Handicapper

The most prevalent means of sports service marketing is some variant on the theme that so and so is “red hot” and you should therefore pay him your money and follow his plays. The crooked services do this by coming up with all sorts of confusing and contradictory rating systems and hyperbolic descriptions for their games. How many times have you heard a handicapper brag about being “16-2 on his 500 star MWC underdog plays of the month” or saying that his “Southern Conference total of the month is 60% lifetime”?

Basically, the bottom feeders of this industry can slice and dice their statistics all sorts of ways to make themselves seem “hot”. Or they can do what a lot of them do, and simply lie about their performance. When I was first starting out as a sports handicapper there was no such thing as the Internet (at least as it exists today) and I had to rely on a scorephone for line and score updates. This scorephone was sponsored by a group of touts not noted for their veracity, and you had to sit through a few pitches for their 900 numbers before you got to the scores. A bit of a Faustian bargain, to say the least, but it was an effective way of keeping up with scores in the pre-Internet dark ages.

So one night we’re at a party thrown by some kid that we didn’t like too much. My crew and I were racking our brains to think of some mean pranks to pull on the guy. Someone got the idea to rack up some 900# charges on our mark’s phone bill. Since there’s no such thing as 900# directory assistance, I resulted to the only 900# I could remember – one of the touts from the scorephone that had drilled his digits into my memory through the sheer force of repetition.

For the sake of argument, I decided to write down the tout’s NBA plays. I had less faith in his handicapping ability than I would in a prognostication based on a divining rod or Ouija Board, but since I wasn’t paying for the call I figured I’d just see how the guy did. I wrote down his plays and checked his performance the next morning.

To his credit, the tout went 5-3 on his 8 plays. By any criteria a 5-3 night is a solid performance. Later that day I called the scorephone and waited for the tout to start crowing about his 5-3 night. Much to my surprise, the tout didn’t say a word about his 5-3 night. That’s because he was too buy bragging about his mythical 7-1 performance the preceding day.

Now, I understand that the revelation that boiler room touts like about their performance is on par with “pro wrestling is fake” or “the games at the fair aren’t on the up-and-up” as self evident truths. The point I’m trying to make, however, is that the desire to be the “hot handicapper: is so great that the tout felt he had to embellish a solid performance the night before.

So despite the fact that some handicappers like about their performance, what’s wrong with trying to ride the hot handicapper? Plenty-it’s not only an ineffective way to evaluate a handicapper’s abilities, it also has a number of statistical and theoretical shortcomings.

The simplest way to explain what I’m talking about is to borrow a disclaimer that you’ll hear on every commercial for a mutual fund: “Past performance is no guarantee of future results”. The sports gambling milieu, like those of stocks, commodities and other financial instruments, is a marketplace and subject to a number of the same tendencies of other financial institutions (what economists call “market dynamics”).

The fact that a sports wager’s success or failure is dependent to a degree on the “whims” of a marketplace (of odds and pointspreads) and to a greater degree on other external events outside of the bettor’s control exacerbates what is already a matter of simple logic: what a handicapper does over a period of time (be it a day, week, month or season) has no intrinsic correlation between a handicapper’s performance one year and the next. In other words, the sports gambling marketplace and the random patterns of events that act upon them don’t care if I hit 60% last year. If I don’t do my work, crunch the numbers, get good prices to bet into, and catch a few breaks along the way I may end up beaten regardless of how well I performed in a subsequent period of time.

How to Profit From Sports Gambling

The goal for sports punters is to earn a profit whilst enjoying our favourite sport. The sad truth is that for the majority of gamblers, this is an elusive dream. However by developing and carefully following a stratagem anyone can make this dream a reality.

There are two factors to consider to profit from sports gambling:

  • Bet Selection
  • Staking Plan

Bet Selection

The first, Bet Selection, is obvious – we need to back winners at least some of the time. Let’s consider Horse Racing, anecdotally there are many professional punters who earn a comfortable living from picking horses, but the key word here is professional. Research and analysis of each horse in the 59 racecourses across the UK takes a sizeable amount of time and experience. If you want to be successful then it’s a full time job! For the majority of us this means we have to use the advice of experts to do some of the legwork for us.

Horse Racing Tipsters

UK horse racing has no end of self-proclaimed “experts” on the Internet charging up to £100 per month. When selecting a horse racing tipster the most important factor we need to consider is long term results.

The Internet is awash with tipsters who have had one good month but then go on to post a loss for the next six – but you will only see this one month on their home page! Never follow any tips without first checking the tipster’s full result history. Choose a tipster who publishes all their horse racing tips history, ideally where the results of the tips are published the next day along with a complete history of all their tips.

Take a look at a Tipster Proofing site such as Racing-Index who grades the results for a number of tipsters. Consider which tipster gives you gave for money and fits with your own betting profile – can you actually place the 100s of tips each month some tipsters require?

Following tipsters alone is not likely to earn us riches – the best tipsters are locked out for new members or charge such high rates that any profits are lost immediately. The solution is to develop our own system using tips from expert sources combined with our own research. This is the strategy successfully used in greyhound racing by followers of the site. As with most things; the more you put into your system the more you will get out.

Staking Plan

Once we have a betting strategy in place it is time to look at a staking plan. The simplest is Fixed or Level Stakes where we simply bet the same amount, for instance 2% of our initial betting bank, each time on our selected horse, however we would want to increase our wagers as our betting bank grows. This leads to Percentage Staking where a percentage of the current betting bank is wagered each time. This means as we win our stakes are larger and conversely the stakes shrink when the betting bank decreases.

However, intuitively we know these staking plans to be overly naive as we would be putting the same amount of money on a horse with low odds compared to a horse with high odds. As we are looking to maximise our profits we should be putting a larger stake on a low odds bet as the return will be less.

To find the optimal staking plan we could take a correspondence course in statistics and dedicate several years into research. Fortunately we live in age where this research is at our fingertips. From probability theory we have the Kelly Strategy where the optimal percentage of our betting bank is calculated from the odds of the bet and our own estimate of the probability of the horse winning.

Using an online Kelly Strategy Calculator just feed in the values to get the percentage of the betting bank to put on each horse. Now the Kelly Strategy can give us some scary percentage stakes if we have an initial run of high odds horses so we could adapt it to a Half Kelly Staking Plan where we wager half the percentage advised by the Kelly Strategy. This would result in a slower accumulation of gambling profits but a less hair-raising ride.

The most important sports gambling advice to heed is only bet with funds you can afford to lose. Always gamble responsibly – if you feel you need help and advice with problem gambling visit http://www.gambleaware.co.uk.