Professional Sports Betting: Can You Make a Living?

The world sports betting market was estimated at $60 billion in 2016. This number has only gone up in the meantime. Sports betting is an activity practiced worldwide. If you take a look at the United States alone, around 50% of all Americans admit to placing a sports bet of some kind at least once in their life. And we’re talking about the USA, a country in which until 2018 you could have only bet on sports in Nevada (legally).

The point of betting is the same as with gambling — we play it to make some money. But — again, the same as with gambling — we do it as a hobby as well; very few of us can turn it into a full-time job.

Take a look at professional gamblers. How many people who go to casinos to play poker games turn into Phil Ivey? The same goes here. Approximately, around 95% of people who are into betting are recreational punters who lose money in the long term. However, the rest (as small as it is) actually succeeds in making a living from sports betting. So, what sets them apart? How do they manage to stay on top and beat the betting business? Let’s find out, starting with what betting strategies they apply.

Betting Strategies

Virtually everyone, when they first start betting, believes that it’s all about striking lucky. Let’s stop for a second and think what betting actually is. You’re trying to predict — well, guess, really — the outcome of a future event. If you don’t base the guess on any prior knowledge of the teams, then you are no different than a fortune teller. But, to continuously come up with winning bets, professional sports bettors must have a system to it. Just like with poker — the luck is involved up to a point (you need good cards to play with), but skill is the name of the game. Or, better yet, mathematical prowess. Don’t worry, however, you don’t need to be Raymond Babbitt to succeed — there are a lot of betting tools online to help you with the calculations.

Betting Strategies

When it comes to betting strategies, a lot of people use one of the three most frequent ones. They vary in how you make bets and what you bet on. Depending on whether you’re a high-risk-high-reward kind of guy, or you just want to win money in small quantities but more often, you should pick your strat accordingly.

Arbitrage Betting

Arbitrage bets, or simply arbs, is betting’s equivalent of wheeling and dealing. Before you can understand arbs, we need to explain lay bets.

Many online sportsbooks offer lay bets. In simple terms, when placing a lay bet, you act as the bookmaker. Let’s give an example. The Warriors are playing against the Nuggets, and you want to bet $10 that the Nuggets will win with a decimal odd of 3.0 (+200 American, 2/1 fractional). Now, when the bookmaker accepts that offer, they lay the Nuggets at 3.0. So, there are three possibilities: the Nuggets win and the bookmaker has to pay out $30 (making a loss of $20). Alternatively, the Warriors can win, or it can be a draw (the game gets forced into overtime), in which cases, the bookmaker keeps the $10 you’ve bet.

With such conditioning, the bookmaker can make the amount layed ($10 and more), but can lose a lot more (double, in this instance).

Now, if you reverse the roles, you can place a lay bet that anything but a Nuggets win will happen. To do this, you have to have $20 in your account. If the Nuggets don’t win, you’ll earn $10. You should make lay bets only at the lowest possible odds (when you’re doing the opposite of the regular bet, your logic should follow suit). Additionally, you ought to lay bet also when you feel that the odds are lower than they actually are. For example, if you feel something has a 30% chance of happening, and the odds are 2.5 (40%), it’s your time to act.

How to Arb

Arbitrage betting is mixing lay bets and regular bets together at different bookies’. Going back to the same game, you place a bet that the Nuggets will win on one website, and you lay bet against them on the other. Basically, you need to cancel them out, so that with a lay bet, you go against your initial back bet. The difference in the odds will guarantee you a profit. However, the profit only occurs when the lay odds are lower than the odds offered by the bookmaker. The difference is called an arb.

Arbs are pretty common, but are difficult to find manually, so you need to work with betting software which does this for you. To make a huge profit, you’d need to work with a lot of money to be able to cover all the risks. Additionally, the more you arb, the more detectable you become, and sportsbooks really don’t take to this system.

Matched Betting

Matched betting is similar to arbitrage in that you place both back and lay bets on the same event, canceling them out and making them risk-free. The difference is, instead of searching for discrepancies in odds (i.e., arbs), you make a profit by utilizing promotions and free bets. But, this can become a bit tedious, as you need to become eligible for various bonuses. Usually, a signup ‘free money’ bonus means that you have to go from one sportsbook to another after just a few bets. You can earn a profit this way, but it’s a grind.

Here, again, you need to make sure you pick the right event (be it a basketball game or a horse race), as you can make a loss if the odds are not a good match. Usually, there’s a difference in odds on different websites (on the one that allows lay bets vs. the one you’ve claimed a promotion on). You need that difference to be as low as possible.

Value Betting

The most successful pro sports bettors use this strategy, but this one is the riskiest one. It takes a lot of time and effort, and, most of all, patience. You can spend months with no return on investment, but the aim of this system is to put the ‘house edge’ in your favor. So, in the long run, you’re bound to win, you just need to make sure you have the required funds to make it through the rainy days. It’s paramount you don’t lose your head and start betting out of impulse — the reasoning and logic must always remain intact, regardless of whether you’re winning or losing.

When coming up with odds, bookmakers use a multitude of factors. Teams’ forms, weather, head-to-head duels, roster problems, etc. There are tens and hundreds of these factors that come into it. However, you can find betting software that uses a mathematical algorithm similar to theirs, which provides you with more precisely-calculated odds. Then, it happens that bookies’ odds aren’t as likely as the event itself actually is. With the right software, it also so happens that you know when they make a miss. Creating such an edge for yourself means that you’re bound to profit in the long term.

You need to act quickly when you spot an edge. Bookmakers usually quickly identify it, especially if it’s in a congested market (for example, you’re betting on one of the major sports). That’s one of the reasons why you often see experienced bettors bet on obscure sporting events. When you see someone betting on the Finnish second league while the World Cup is on, they know what they’re on about.

Being a Pro

Many professional bettors have come up with their own strategy and sheets in which they follow and study the odds. You don’t have to revert to online software, but it’s a good starting point until you realize you can do it better. It’s important to think long term — one win or one loss shouldn’t affect your strategy. Also, always remain calm and never act on an impulse. Chasing your losses will only further send you away from making a living.

You should also avoid going to a tipster. First off, 99% of them are not genuine experts who use any kind of maths in their calculations. Secondly, even if you find someone with good tips, it can go your way at the start, but it’s not a viable, lifelong strategy.

It’s up to You

In conclusion, you need to learn how to adopt one of these strategies and make them profitable in the long run. You mustn’t start with exaggerated expectations, as you’ll soon overstretch and be worse off than you were when you started. Be realistic and pace yourself, the success won’t come overnight. Thinking about who you believe will win is an amateur’s play. Focus on actual values that odds represent. Professional bettors earn money by playing on good value bets, not by picking the winner.

In the end, it’s possible to turn sports betting into a profession. But, we have to be honest with ourselves, only a small number of people manage to make this hobby (which is ultimately a money loss) into something that will put food on the table. Try your best, but don’t let it be the be-all and end-all of your life.

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