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A Crash Course In Sports Betting

by Ed Miller |  Published: Jan 30, 2019

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I’ve been playing and writing about poker for a long time now, but about four years ago I shifted my main focus away from poker to sports. Daily fantasy sports emerged around that time as a genuine opportunity to make real money, and I jumped into that for a while. Soon thereafter I shifted from fantasy sports to analytical modeling. This modeling work is culminating (at least I hope) in a new company I am launching with a few partners to provide real-time pricing for in-play sports betting markets.

In the last year, the federal ban on sports betting was lifted, and one-by-one states are legalizing sports betting. (The more forward-looking states are also taking the opportunity to legalize online poker as well.)

The next few years will be a period of opportunity in America for sports betting. The betting operators see the opportunity and are madly jockeying for access to prime markets as they open.

But it will also be a period of opportunity for bettors. The operator companies are expanding quickly, and they are experiencing all the pains that go along with it. They are having trouble hiring enough qualified, knowledgeable employees. They are having to make business tradeoffs. They want to gobble up market share, and in many cases that means investing in marketing and the front end user experience at the expense of the back end.

Why is that an opportunity for bettors? Because it means you can expect marketing dollars to flood the system—think deposit bonuses, loss rebates, liberal promotions, and the like. Also, it ain’t easy to run a sportsbook properly—at least not a modern sportsbook with tens of thousands of available markets and the systems to serve hundreds of thousands of customers. This means you can expect lots of mistakes until the mad growth period is over—things like (very) poorly priced markets, overly generous promotions, and other more systematic flaws in the way operators run their businesses.

Simply put, if you know where to look, these operators will be giving away money at least for a while.

If you’ve ever thought about dipping your toe into sports betting, now is a good time.
In support of that, I have planned a lengthy series of articles about sports betting. I will teach you the basics of how to look at things intelligently. I’ll bust a few widespread myths. If you want to be a recreational bettor, I’ll teach you how to avoid the worst bets and help your betting dollar go farther.

And if you want to make a run at cashing in a little bit on the upcoming bonanza as an advantage sports bettor, I’ll point you in the right direction for that as well.

I’ve been fully immersed in sports for a few years now, but until now it hasn’t made too much sense to share knowledge in articles like I do for poker. This is for a few reasons that will become clear as I explain concepts. But the main reason is about access. Until now, Americans (even in Nevada) haven’t really had access to the type of betting options I expect will come and that I will write about. It doesn’t make much sense to spend time writing about something that the average reader really can’t put into practice.

But now I think it makes sense. If you are interested in sports betting, I think what I have to say will be worth your reading time. Even if sports isn’t coming to your state in the next year or two, chances are you will have ready access to some states where it will be present.

A few caveats before I launch the series proper. I won’t be giving out “picks” in any form. I won’t suggest any specific bets on specific games. It’s nearly impossible to make public picks that provide value to the reader, and I’m never going to pretend otherwise. I will, however, explain in a later article exactly why giving out picks can’t offer value to a reader, because a fundamental sports betting concept lies at the heart of that.

So basically, I’ll be covering concepts, not giving out bets. I’ll teach you some processes you can use to look for opportunities, but I won’t point you to any specific plays. I will talk in some detail about how sportsbooks run their businesses, but I won’t mention any specific books by name. I’m absolutely not marketing for any sportsbook, and the last thing I want is for you to read these articles, decide to deposit money with a sportsbook, and start losing money.

I think these articles will appeal to a wide audience, which is why I think they go well in Card Player. There will be a lot of interesting gambling nuggets in them that you can apply to poker or other gambling games, even if you have no interest in sports.

But if you truly have no interest in sports, I’d recommend not getting involved in sports betting. While I suppose it’s not impossible to succeed in sports betting if you don’t like sports, I think it’s a real uphill battle. Yes, there will likely be an opportunity, but there are many opportunities in life, and if you don’t like sports, I’d say don’t try to force yourself into this one.

Ideally, two sorts of people will read these articles and benefit. First, people who already bet sports recreationally and who want to get a little smarter about it. Second, people who are interested in sports, like to gamble, and are ready to dive into a new challenge. I fell squarely in the second category a few years ago, and if you’re diving in now, I think what I have to say will speed your learning curve.

With all that out of the way, here’s a preview of what to come. I’ll cover how to calculate and think about odds and probabilities. I’ll talk a little bit about how sportsbooks create all the betting options you see. I’ll tackle a few persistent myths that will really lead you astray if you buy into them. I’ll teach you how to look at a modern sportsbook’s betting menu and find good opportunities. I’ll talk about some of the pitfalls you will run into if you start to get more serious about this. Some of the pitfalls are avoidable, and some aren’t, but either way a good heads-up is worthwhile. I’ll throw in a couple bonus topics also.

Finally, if you have any questions, comments, or criticisms about these articles, please feel free to send them to me. The best way to talk to me is @EdMillerPoker on Twitter. I’ve learned a lot over the years talking about sports (and poker) on the internet, and particularly on this topic I welcome all feedback. I hope you enjoy reading this series as much as I will writing it. ♠

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.