The overwhelming majority of the sports betting public is made up of recreational gamblers. Outside of a small percentage of professionals (also known as sharps), most people are wagering on games as a source of entertainment at online sportsbooks across the country.
While there’s nothing wrong with casually betting, it does leave the door open for some mistakes that the pros don’t make. Whether it’s being a homer with your favorite teams or recklessly chasing losses (more on these below), or another one of the lapses that may occur for someone just looking to get some action on a game.
Below, we’ll get into common sports betting mistakes that gamblers should avoid making if they want to establish consistent success.
10 Sports Betting Mistakes to Avoid Making
No matter how long you’ve been betting on sports, mistakes will happen. Even veteran bettors are still inevitably bound to make errors. But the greatest risk for bettors comes at the beginning, when easily avoidable mistakes can cost chunks of your bankroll. In no particular order, here is a list of 10 sports betting mistakes to avoid, whether you are new to the game or have been consistently wagering on games for years.
1. Using Just One Sportsbook
If you live in a state that recently legalized sports betting, you might be overwhelmed by the number of options available to place your bets. But this is a good thing, as it is always recommended to split the bankroll up and create more than one sportsbook account.
The major reason why this is imperative is because it allows you to shop for lines. This involves comparing the odds for the same market at multiple sportsbooks and betting on the site with the most advantageous odds. The more options you have available to bet, the more chances you have to find that extra half-point or a +200 line when your other site is stuck at +180.
Another benefit of having accounts at multiple sportsbooks is that they are in constant competition with one another. What this means for you is a steady drip of promotions to take advantage of. Whether it’s a deposit bonus, bonus parlays, or free bets, you’ll have endless promo options available to you with accounts at multiple sportsbooks. Below are a couple of the most popular options among bettors.
2. Live Betting on Games You Aren’t Watching
Most everyday bettors would probably admit to making this mistake before, and it’s one that can be more upsetting than most others.
Say you’re sitting at the computer and browsing to your preferred sportsbook and happen to notice live lines are available on a game that interested you, but you never got around to betting on it. It’s early in the game but you know that time is ticking until those odds change, so you blindly take some team’s moneyline hoping to make a quick buck despite the fact that you aren’t watching the game.
What you didn’t realize is that the opposing pitcher of the team you bet on is absolutely dealing that day. Or that the offensive line for the football team you took is getting dominated early on. The point is, the odds only reflect the results on the scoreboard but provide no context into how the odds get there.
This scenario can get you into trouble while NFL betting on a Sunday. Whether you have placed a pregame wager on a game or not, you likely have some opinion as you perused the action during the week. If you have your sportsbook open to the live feed and an opinion in your head, you’re bound to see a number you like as the lines continue to fluctuate until the final whistle.
The scenario I’m describing is both incredibly exciting and exceedingly dangerous. Because you cannot possibly keep track of every game, you are most likely locked into one and maybe have a decent grasp of a second game if you have two large screens up.
Live betting can be an excellent way to pad your bankroll on any given Sunday. But not if you’re placing bets on games you aren’t watching. You never know when a sudden change of possession occurred that you missed when changing channels. Or if the big play you just watched got reversed on replay while you weren’t paying attention.
Endless scenarios can get you in trouble if you live bet a game you aren’t watching.
Taking advantage of live betting is one of the more exciting and profitable ways to beat the book. But only if you have a firm grasp of the game, are paying close attention, and have preferably planned out your live betting scenarios in advance.
3. Betting with Your Heart
If you can avoid this mistake, I tip my cap to you. There are usually two types of fans. There are the diehard homers that always have a somewhat rose-colored view of their team. And then there are the forever cynics, burned one (or a few) too many times and always doubt their team’s ultimate ability.
No matter which camp you fall in, your fandom creates a bias that clouds your ability to judge your team objectively. Does this mean that, as a Bears fan, I’m not going to bet on Chicago this week? Of course not, I’ve already placed a wager on them +300 (come on, this is the NFL, anything can happen—right?).
The point is, you need to be aware of your bias before placing a bet and try to be as objective as possible. Some bettors realize that they cannot separate their fandom from their betting habits and will outright ban themselves from betting on their favorite team. This is both a wise act of self-control and a way to limit the number of games you bet.
4. Relying On Parlays
Parlays offer the chance to boost the odds of a bet and win far more than your original investment. These bets are fun, they’re exciting, and seeing the occasional amazing win on social media makes us want to be next to cash that huge payday.
The thing is, they’re notoriously difficult to win. Anybody with a betting strategy that exclusively employs parlays is all but guaranteed to be hemorrhaging money. Parlays should be a novelty, and the amount wagered on them should be drastically reduced compared to a normal bet.
Sportsbooks love it when you place multiple parlays, which is why they have frequent promotions encouraging them. For example, parlay insurance offers your money back if your parlay misses by one leg. What this means is if you have a three-team parlay and two of the three bets hit, you get your money back.
The problem is the sportsbook will say in the fine print that the parlay, for example, requires five legs. Hitting four out of five legs is not very likely, making it a low-risk proposition for the site. It’s hard enough to win consistently on two-team parlays, much less a three, four, or five-leg bet.
Parlays should be viewed more as entertainment rather than a +EV (expected value) way to build your bankroll. Sprinkle them in, and don’t expect anything from them when you do other than a multiple-game rooting interest.
5. Betting on Too Many Games
The one advantage we as bettors have over the bookies is that we pick and choose what games we bet. The bookmaker must offer action on every available game—which is why we pay juice on every bet.
The juice, also known as the vig, is that -110 line next to the point spread and total, though the actual number can vary. If you were to bet every Sunday NFL game, you could win half of your bets and still wind up in the red because of the juice.
If you want to bet every game on the board and have it be a nonstop score-checking frenzy, more power to you. But if you want the best chance to wind up with some profits at the end of the day, play selectively.
6. Always Taking Favorites & The Over
If there’s one thing that sportsbooks know, especially about high-profile games on national television, it’s that the public loves favorites and overs when it comes to betting totals. In the end, casual gamblers side with the “better” team and also lean toward the over because, well, everyone wants to root for points, right?
Oddsmakers will often shade their numbers in a certain direction with this in mind. For example, Totals will be set knowing the public will hop on the over and eventually inflate the number. Conversely, taking the under typically has an inherent advantage. If you look at season-long trends at any point in any given season, it’s likely that the numbers slightly favor the under.
Now, if you’re one of the many bettors who enjoy the thrill of rooting for points, be aware of your personal bias before placing a bet. There’s plenty of great spots for an over, but don’t force it because you want to see touchdowns.
The exact same thing can be said for favorites. Of course it’s more comfortable to bet on the team expected to win, but don’t automatically default to it, especially against the spread.
7. Bankroll Mismanagement
Our final and most important mistake to avoid in sports betting is bankroll mismanagement. While having accounts at multiple sportsbooks is highly advisable, it also means that your bankroll is stretched thinner and thinner across each book. And the last thing you want to do is have to reload your account.
A way to manage your bankroll to make sure your accounts never hit zero is to allocate a percentage amount to each bet. For example, a typical bet is 2.5 to 3% of your total bankroll. Whatever this number is, that is your “unit size.” If your bankroll is $4,000, then your unit size of 2.5% would be $100.
Once you have your unit size, keep track of your bets. This will allow you to see how many units up or down you are in a given period. If your bankroll is contracting, consider lowering your unit size or betting half-units rather than a full unit.
Sports betting is a roller coaster thrill ride full of winning streaks and losing streaks. Enjoy the highs, but make sure that the lows don’t tap out your account.
8. Chasing Losses
This goes hand-in-hand with the above point, but it’s worth a solo mention as well. There’s only one thing worse than losing bets, and that’s chasing losses and losing even more. Combine this scenario with poor bankroll management, and you’ll be staring at an empty account halfway through the season, scratching your head and wondering how to reload. The feeling of staring at a juicy line while having a zero-dollar balance is tortuous.
Even if you’re having a tough day, week, or month…try to stay the course. Rather than doubling down on your bets, go the other direction and step away for a few days. Then come back with a clear mind and ready to wipe the slate clean to start a new winning streak.
9. Thinking You’re a Pro
Getting overconfident is one of the worst mistakes you can make in sports betting. A pro bettor is happy winning 57% of their bets. Most pros would be thrilled if they could lock in 55% over the course of a season, which illustrates how hard it is to win consistently at sports betting.
You might be thinking, well, maybe I won’t hit at 57%, but I can at least win 50-52 percent of my bets, right? And maybe you can. But to break even, you must win 52.4% of your bets after accounting for the juice.
The point is, even when you’re on that 7-for-10 streak, remember that the percentages say it will balance out in the end. Don’t get too big for your britches and start thinking you can increase your unit size or bet on anything and still win. Maintain your process and ride the wave of your success, but don’t let it get to your head.
10. Forgetting to Take All Factors into Account
Did you check out the injury report? How did the line move from the time it opened? If the game is being played outside, what is the weather? What is the recent form of each team, and what do their respective schedules look like? How do these two teams match up schematically?
These are just some of the questions that need to be answered before any bets are placed. There are a multitude of factors to consider beyond the odds themselves and it needs to all be taken into account.