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Sports Betting For Poker Players

by Ed Miller |  Published: Jun 20, 2018

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With the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Federal sports betting law, the floodgates are open for sports betting to race across the country. Obviously the political winds could shift, but for now it looks like poker players in perhaps two dozen states could be able to bet legally on sports in the next few years.

One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Las Vegas was that casinos nearly always put the sports book and the poker room right next to each other. It’s obviously not an accident—there’s plenty of crossover between the two.

If you live in New Jersey or another state considering sports betting, I would expect sports books to be installed next to your poker rooms in times to come. Given that plenty of people reading this will likely place at least one legal sports bet sometime relatively soon, I wanted to give a few quick pointers to poker players who want to do some small time betting and might want to possibly have a small amount of EV with it as well.

Don’t Straight Bet Into Market Lines

Market lines are the ones that are updated regularly on the board. (An alternative is parlay cards where the lines are printed on a card and don’t change sometimes even for a few days.)

Straight bets are just single bets on one team or side. You aren’t going to win straight betting into market lines. It can be fun, of course, so if you think that’s the most fun then do it. But most people convince themselves that they can “handicap” the games and get an edge. They have an angle on the teams or players and they can pick the right side or total (or side or total in the first half or whatever).

You’re not going to win this way. You just aren’t. The sports betting markets are sharp enough these days that you really don’t have any hope to beat straight bets off the board without a detailed mathematical model and a lot of work put in on top of that. The hold is substantial (and likely will be even bigger than what’s industry standard today in states that decide to really lay the taxes on thick). There’s very little room for error in your selections. One bad pick can wipe out four good picks. (By “good” and “bad” pick I don’t mean picks that actually win or actually lose. I mean picks that are +EV or -EV before the game is played.)

Also, don’t trust anyone else who says they can win straight betting into market lines. It’s a very difficult thing to do in general these days.

Bet Parlays And Have An Angle

It’s funny. If you read the sports betting media, the equivalent of Card Player but with a sports betting focus, the “sharp” writers, the equivalent of me, all tend to give the same advice. Parlays are for suckers. Bet straight bets only.

It’s very funny to me that this is the stock advice, since it really couldn’t be more wrong. As I just said, beating straight bets off the board is very hard.

A parlay, if you don’t know, is a bet on multiple events at a time. For example, you could bet on three teams at once instead of just one. If any of your teams/sides loses, your whole bet loses. But if all of them win, you get paid at substantial odds. The standard odds if you win a three bet parlay, for example, are 6:1.

Now I know what these authors are referring to. The parlay is the preferred vehicle for super square sports bettors—those guys that lose so badly you think to yourself, “If I could only just bet against everything they pick…” So it’s natural to look at what they’re doing and say, “Hey. Don’t do that.”

It would be the equivalent of writing an article about poker and saying, “Hey. Don’t chase draws. That’s what suckers do. Good players make pairs and play from the lead.” (Actually, I think I may have read that article somewhere.)

And yes, bad players chase draws and do so badly. But you can’t win at no-limit without chasing draws sometimes. Telling people not to do it just because bad players do it too much is… well, it’s just not good advice.

The same thing goes for the “no parlays” advice. It’s garbage. The reason these super square bettors lose is not because they’re betting parlays, but because they have no angle.

Here is a quick rundown of a couple angles you can look for that can yield +EV bets. These are all small-time plays but can be fun and (mildly) profitable. If whoever runs the sports betting in your state is new to booking American sports (e.g, a European-based company or a state-run or independent company), you might find some particularly good plays for a few years before the operators learn the ropes.

Stale Line Parlay Cards

Parlay cards let you make parlay bets into worse odds than you can get off the board. “If they’re worse odds, Ed” you might ask, “why would we want to bet them?”

The reason as I mentioned in passing earlier in the article is that the lines get printed once and don’t change. Football parlay cards, for example, are often printed on Tuesdays and the lines stay put through the end of the week. If news comes out between Tuesday and game day, or if the market just moves a lot on a game, you can often find a few +EV bets on the card despite the worse payout odds.

Prop Bet Parlay Cards

Prop bets are bets you can make on game and individual statistics. Bets like, “Will team X score more points in the first or second half?” or “Will player Y score over or under 19.5 points?”

For the most part, parlay bets are dealt as straight bets (i.e., parlays are not allowed). But sometimes you can find parlay cards with prop bets on them. The thing about props is they tend to be correlated with one another. That is, if one bet wins, another is also likely to win. For instance if you were to bet over 300 yards on a quarterback in a football game then betting over 100 yards on his top receiver would be correlated. If you win one bet, it makes it much more likely you will also win the second.

Any sportsbook that puts prop bets on a parlay card knows some of them will be correlated and will try to lower the odds enough so you can’t exploit the correlation to beat them. But this is a slightly dangerous game and sports books often mess up and leave +EV opportunities on these cards.

Final Thoughts

Sports betting and poker often go together, both physically in the casino and in who plays them. If sports betting comes to sometimes soon in a cardroom near you, it pays to learn a few tricks so instead of playing into a big hold you are playing with a small edge. ♠

Ed MillerEd’s newest book, The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy For Smart Players is available now at his website edmillerpoker.com. You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the training site redchippoker.com.