When Sports Betting Isn't About Winning Money

If you get your satisfaction from being right rather than being profitable, you may be blocking yourself from achieving durable success in sports betting.

By Colin DavyFebruary 02, 2023

In the last article, I outlined a couple reasons why most bettors aren’t seeking to capitalize on blatant pricing mistakes by sportsbooks. Most of the reasons revolve around the difficulty required in identifying these pricing mistakes, but there’s another more important reason I didn’t discuss, and it might sound absurd at first: it’s because many sports bettors don’t actually care about winning money over the long term. And you might have some more motivation in common with these kinds of bettors than you realize, even if you’re looking to get more serious and disciplined around sports betting.

Every winter, my dad reliably texts me around a cold weather football game where it’s either super cold or snowy and telling me the under has to be a mortal lock. Never mind that this has been debunked a million times over, or that line of thinking doesn’t tell you what a fair price for the total should be, he is convinced in his bones that the under is free money. Sure, it’s easy to pick apart the specific narrative he settled on, but his base impulse is what animates a lot of sports betting in general: you have a thesis, and you want to be right. Sports betting is marketed this way on purpose: to convince you that you know better than the books because they’re not thinking of XYZ, and only you, with your divine insight and secret knowledge, can capitalize on your expertise by betting money. And there’s a reason for it: it is fun when your thesis plays out exactly as predicted. You feel like the world’s greatest detective, problem solver, and subject matter expert all at once. Maybe you’re even convinced you can do this professionally for how easy it went. This is the feeling that many recreational (and even many semi-serious) sports bettors are chasing: the feeling of being right, because that’s its own reward.

Notice what I didn’t mention at all in the last paragraph: money. Obviously, winning money is the whole point of sports betting, but most of the time at the recreational level, it’s a proxy for stakes, or having something of importance on the line for your beliefs. If your enjoyment of sports betting comes mostly from the rush you get when you’re right, you’re probably not going to care much about religiously finding the best price, or the best market, to bet your thesis, for a reason that can’t sound true: you don’t actually care about the money. You care about being right. This is the source of a lot of pain for people who got into sports betting this way and get more serious: once they actually start tracking how much they’re actually right with their hunches, it’s far less often than they remember. Selective memory plays a huge role here: we tend to remember the time we were right than the time we were wrong, so it can give us a skewed perspective of how good we actually are at sports betting; this is why tracking your own results is a mandatory calibration of where your ability is at as a sports bettor. 

Every successful sports bettor makes an important mindset shift from here: they start to care less about their own cleverness and more about if their bankroll is growing over time. There are plenty of introductory strategies, like bonus clearing and matched betting, that are perfect for acclimating to this line of thinking: they require exactly zero sports knowledge to execute, and they are essentially zero-risk opportunities for making money. The sports bettors that stick with it and move to this line of thinking end up far happier than the ones chasing their own cleverness too: stable, reliable strategies for making money eventually become more nourishing than the sugar high of when your angle occasionally hits but doesn’t come nearly as often as you might think it will.  

Personally, I find it liberating to put less weight on angles or betting theses in order to power my betting edges: if I need to derive any satisfaction, it’s by looking at my long-term results and seeing that they’re profitable, knowing that a positive ROI is something the majority of sports bettors don’t currently achieve. And this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t hone your angles you’re looking to attack, especially if they’re a genuine source of edge for you- but you should be more cognizant of if the enjoyment you’re getting from winning those bets comes from feeling right, or knowing that it’s truly in service of growing your long-term bankroll. If you’re truly focused on the latter, price sensitivity will have to displace some of the more recreational-oriented thinking we’ve discussed above. And that’s ultimately a more renewable source of good feelings over the long run: knowing you’re exploiting price inefficiencies means you’re winning money at something you like doing, which is way more satisfying than a one-off hunch you might want to chase.