How to Not Get Discouraged from Sports Betting
Recognizing sportsbook pricing mistakes is a crucial first step to becoming a winning bettor.
By Colin Davy — January 18, 2023
Most successful sports bettors usually have an arc like this:
They get into sports betting fully confident they’re going to beat the market, whether it’s because they know everything about their sport, they think they have the best models, or some other source of perceived edge.
They start betting earnestly and start tracking their results, and usually don’t see the level of success they had envisioned in their head when they started. This first setback can be discouraging, and many people end up quitting at this very spot.
The ones that end up successful start systematically seeing where their process is wrong, what they’re missing and how to account for it, and begin their never ending step of refining and improving their process, where they remain to this day.
If I had to guess, most Betscope users and readers of this newsletter are probably somewhere in step 2, where they’ve had enough experience with sports betting to understand it’s not a get rich quick scheme, but more of a grind. This part of the process can be nerve wracking, especially if you don’t have clear-cut success to show for it. You do some back of the envelope math to figure out your hourly rate is still pretty low, you can question whether your edge is (or ever was) real, and you can stare at other people seemingly printing money, wondering what it is they seem to get that you don’t despite putting all this work into it. It’s natural for all of us to question if our edge is real- after all, these are professional sportsbooks we’re going up against, who hire teams of quants, traders, and full time professionals devoted to finding the best number, with a full 4.5% house edge behind them. Sometimes it feels like it’s just too tall an order to beat the sportsbooks at their own games, and it’s where a lot of people just get too discouraged and quit altogether.
And then, you see the BetMGM totals section of a weekend NBA game and you get a reminder of what you’re up against in the US market.
Forget any kind of fancy math, range of outcomes, or any heavy analysis of how to price markets: there is no conceivable universe in which over 228.5 points should have the same price as over 229.5 points. This is a pricing mistake, plain and simple, by the books, and it represents a clear edge for anyone willing to capitalize on it. (It’s not just MGM either; here’s another halftime spread market from PointsBet from the same slate- notice anything weird looking?)
If nothing else, seeing these screenshots should be a reminder that you’re not up against an impenetrable monolith that has a sophisticated trading operation that you’ll never outgun: you’re up against outfits that make elementary pricing mistakes like this all the time. Granted, they’re not making these pricing mistakes in the stock spread/total/moneyline markets that are the default option for most people getting into sports betting, but they are mistakes all the same. Hunting down these mistakes and capitalizing on them is one of the surest way to pad your sports betting profits. It’s also something the vast majority of sports bettors don’t do. Why is this the case? There are a couple explanations.
Reason #1: People don’t know these markets exist. When so much of sports betting media is some variant of “who will cover the spread”, you’d be forgiven for even knowing that things like alternate spreads/totals and props are also things you can bet on. Sports books would be thrilled if most of their users stayed only in the heavily policed and efficient markets, since that’s where they can remain mostly confident in their pricing. Once you see how obvious some of their pricing mistakes can be, you won’t be able to unsee it and will constantly tap these markets as reliable sources of value.
Reason #2: People know these markets exist, but it’s too much work to examine them for pricing mistakes. Most people’s tolerance for line shopping consists of only looking at the spreads/totals/moneylines on your stock odds comparison screen, because that’s all those odds screen offers. If you want to start looking for pricing mistakes in those markets, you would have to go look for them yourself. At some point, it’s just impractical keeping 7 sportsbook tabs open, each with 30 different values to monitor over the course of the day. It’s a huge reason of why we made the odds screen decisions we made for Betscope’s layout: we want it to be as easy as possible to identify which markets have pricing mistakes or generally weak pricing, so you know which markets you should be attacking to maximize your profit.
Reason #3: People know these markets exist, but they don’t know how to spot pricing mistakes. Here’s how the Scottie Barnes points prop market looked on our odds screen last night, where we spotted a pricing mistake from Fanduel:
We roughly know that if we wanted to bet the under, betting u15.5 at -104 at Fanduel is objectively better than betting u14.5 -108 at Barstool: the juice is lower, and you get a full additional point to fade the over. But the question gets more interesting if Fanduel had slightly different pricing: what if their line was reversed, and it was -118 on the under instead of -104? How much is that full extra point worth compared to the lower payout? Is it still a pricing mistake? These are tough questions to answer in a split-second environment, even to a trained eye. Fortunately, Betscope’s distribution-based math answers those questions for you automatically, and crunches those numbers under the hood to flag those pricing mistakes. (If you want to see how the process works for yourself, you can use our distribution calculator to use as a standalone tool to help you price those markets.)
You may notice a theme here- Betscope being built to help attack these prices as quickly and as easily as possible. But there’s another underrated benefit to making these pricing mistakes as visible as possible- a reminder to the aspiring sharp bettor that it’s not impossible to find edges in the betting market, and to not get discouraged once you get a sense for what achieving success will take. Sure, there are different levels of success in sports betting, and if you have dreams of raking in money hand over fist one day, finding easy pricing mistakes in relatively low-limit markets will probably not be your fast track to get there. But for those newer in the process, just seeing the obvious pricing mistakes out there and capitalizing on them is still more than most people bother to look for, and it will put you ahead of almost every sports bettor out there.