Sports handicapping advice and picks from a future professional sports handicapper.

Location: Lighthouse Point, Florida, United States

I am a corporate attorney with an MBA in finance. I've practiced since 1993. Currently I work for a high-tech company that focuses primarily on intellectual property development, technology licensing and venture capital transactions. In my spare time I am studying several so-called "advantage play" techniques as they relate to sports handicapping. I hope to someday pursue sports handicapping full time. Sportsbook managers, consider yourselves duly warned.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Advice: "I'm pretty good, I usually get about 2/3 of my picks right ...."

Um, no ... you don't.

We've all heard handicappers selling picks on TV ("touts") claim that they're hitting 66% winners, 75% winners, etc. Our friends and neighbors often make similar claims. While hitting those kind of numbers is possible over a small sample, it is essentially mathematically impossible to do so over any significantly large sample size.

In football, picks against the spread usually pay off at -110; that is, lay $ 110 to win $ 210. In order to just break even at that rate, you need to pick winners at a rate of approximately 52.4%. If you can pick better than 52.4%** over the long run, and you avoid bad bets (like multiple game parlays and such), you can be a profitable handicapper. Most people cannot even pick 52.4% against the spread over any large number of games, let alone hit ridiculous numbers like 66% or 75%. Last year, the winner of the prestigious Las Vegas Hilton NFL SuperBook Handicapping Contest, a contest widely recognized as having the best handicappers in the world, hit winners at a rate of about 61% .... and that was only picking 5 games per week, FAR less than the full NFL schedule.

Let's assume that a 52.4% handicapper (better-than-average), made a pick in each game of the 256 game NFL regular season. How likely is it that this reasonably good handicapper could pick 2/3 of the games (about 171 games) correctly? Well, let's put it this way: binomial distributions tell us that there's literally about a 99.99989% chance that he can't. So, the next time your neighbor, your friend, or the guy on TV says that he's picking at 66% .... giggle to yourself. He might have done it over a weekend, but he could never do it over a season. If you want to amuse yourself, next time you are in Vegas walk into a sportsbook and ask if you can make a $ 10,000 bet and get 2:1 odds if you can hit 66% over the next NFL season and watch how fast they will agree to take your money. Larry Grossman, a popular Las Vegas radio personality, has a standing offer to anyone that he will pay 2:1 odds on any amount up to $1 million to anyone who can hit 70% winners against the spread over a football season. He has been on the radio for about 18 years; nobody has ever taken him up on it. "Sharp" handicappers know that anyone who could consistently pick at 60% or better would be Bill Gates rich ... they certainly would not need to be selling picks to you at $50 a pop.

So, do yourself a favor. First of all, don't ever believe anyone who tells you such nonsense. Secondly, set realistic targets for yourself: shoot for 55%, 56%, 57%, etc. Third, always make sure you're getting the best price for your bets because the better price you get, the easier it is to make money. Some sportsbooks offer "reduced vig" and let you bet against the spread at -105, or -107 ... if you can get those kind of wagers, you will need to hit LESS than 52.4% winners to break even. Also, some sportsbooks offer matching money bonuses, deposit bonuses, and other similar promotional offers. Those too help reduce the amount of winners you need to win money. Fourth, keep records. Be honest with yourself. Learn where you are making your mistakes and try to focus on them and correct them. Finally, remember that your biggest advantage against any sportsbook is that you can PASS on a game. Unlike the sportsbook, you don't have to have action on all 256 NFL games, you can just bet on the ones you feel you have an advantage on.

** The math is as follows:
1. Let x = loss rate.
2. Break even (0) = -110x + (1-x)(100)
3. x = .476 (approximately); 1-x = .524 (approximately)


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