Top 10 mistakes when betting football
6 Sep 2016
By Gary Trask
By Gary Trask
"Don't do this; don't do that."
If, like yours truly, you are a parent, you've probably spent half your adult life repeating these words to your children.
But with football kicking off and a more captive and (hopefully) more mature audience in front of me, I'm taking this opportunity to spout some words of caution to those of you who plan to have an "interest" on the gridiron this fall.
While you have every right to go ahead and ignore my friendly advice — much like my kids tend to do — be forewarned that the insights below come from more than two decades of being an avid recreational sports bettor. They won't make you rich. Heck, they may not even help you become a clear-cut winner by seasons end. But I'm certain they will save you from burning through your entire bankroll before Election Day.
Above all, enjoy the games, have fun with your action, and remember: father knows best!
10. Don't forget to look at scheduling — it matters
One of the great things about betting football is that before the season even begins, you can circle certain spots where it will be advantageous to go with or against a certain team based solely on the schedule.
For instance, I am already looking to fade the Indianapolis Colts on 9 October in their home game against the Bears. The week before, Andrew Luck and Co. travel to Wembley Stadium in London for a divisional game against much-improved Jacksonville. So when they take the field against the Bears seven days later, they not only will they be gassed from flying across the pond, which will completely take them out of their element, but the Colts also have a pair of key road divisional games at Houston and Tennessee on deck. It's a classic "sandwich" spot that will be exacerbated by the long trip to London.
This is just one example of the kind of scheduling dynamics we already know will affect a team's performance in some way. Our advice? Before placing a bet on a team, always take a peek at what the schedule looks like both before and after the current week's game, and take into account the toll that travel and letdown situations can play.
9. Don't make a habit of backing bad teams
Yes, the point spread is the great equalizer and gives every team on the board a chance to cash tickets — but in the long run, bad teams aren't going to make you money.
For proof, look no further than the point spread standings the last three years. If you take the NFL teams that finished with the 10 best records against the spread in each season, 24 of the 30 had winning straight-up records and 25 of the 30 made the playoffs that season.
In the colleges it was even more pronounced, with 27 of the 30 teams finishing with above .500 straight-up records, and 28 of them playing in a bowl game.
Bad teams are bad teams for a reason. Don't make the mistake of expecting them to win you money on a regular basis.
8. Don't watch pregame/halftime shows for betting info
The mute button is a beautiful thing. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, do yourself a favor and turn the sound down on the relentless pregame shows that are loaded with talking heads and former players. Trust me, these blowhards may know more about football than you and once in a while you might get a valuable weather or injury tidbit from them, but most of them don't know sports gambling, or how the point spread works.
Case in point: On Saturday afternoon I heard multiple mainstream outlets report that unranked Texas A&M had just "upset" No. 16 UCLA, 31-24. What those sportscasters and producers failed to realize or research was the fact that A&M was actually a three-point favorite in the game. Ugh.
Not only is this a major pet peeve of mine, but it also goes to show that the people behind the scenes for these shows and the talent in front of the camera rarely have a clue when it comes to the point spread and how to pick winners. So take their words lightly, even if it's coming from a former All Pro wide receiver or Hall of Fame head coach.
7. Don't bet too many games
There's a reason casinos feed you free drinks while you're playing blackjack. They want you to settle in and get comfortable. As far as they're concerned, the longer you play, the more likely it is that you are going to end up losing money.
Same goes for sports betting (although it's getting more and more difficult to score free drinks inside sportsbooks). The more games you bet, the better chance there is that you are going to be making a "donation" at the end of the day, rather than coming back to the counter with a winning ticket in your hands.
I realize sometimes it's hard to do, especially when you're in Vegas at one of those aforementioned sportsbooks with their massive TV video walls, comfy chairs and inviting waitresses, but limit the amount of games you bet. Don't chase your losses and be smart when you win your first few bets of the day. Instead of throwing that money at the late TV game you typically wouldn't even think of getting involved with just because you're bored, end the day a winner and move on.
Easier said than done? Absolutely. But in the long run, this kind of mindset will save you and your bankroll.
6. Don't follow trends blindly
I get it. Trends are fun and entertaining. But the majority of them aren't going to help you pick a winner.
For instance, I saw some incredibly impressive Week 1 trends over this past weekend in college football. One that jumped off the page was that Southern Cal was 18-0 in season openers. But if you dug deeper you would have found that a sampling of the teams the Trojans faced in Week 1 over the last few years included lightweights like Arkansas State, Idaho and Hawaii. This year's season opener was against defending national champion Alabama, which went on to destroy USC, 52-6, as an 11-point favorite.
So, as it turns out, that "perfect" 18-0 trend was absolutely meaningless, as are most trends. Beware.
5. Don't play "exotics" or parlays for serious money
Parlays are also a lot of fun and provide the classic scenario that every sports bettor loves to be in: Bet a little to make a lot.
But in the end, parlays, round robins and action reverses will doom you and put a smile on your bookmaker's face. These kinds of bets are OK if you're having fun and playing small numbers, but don't make them a regular part of your arsenal.
One exception: The parlay cards available at various Las Vegas sportsbooks are printed early in the week and oftentimes you can find advantageous lines before kickoff, which makes them worth a minor bet. Just don't expect to get rich off of them.
4. Don't shy away NFL six-point teasers
The teaser bet — when you are allowed to combine a certain number of games and adjust the point spread — can be just that for a bettor: A tease.
Here's how they work: A three-team teaser in football allows you to move the line in your favor nine points on three different games, meaning this Sunday you could get the Chiefs over the Chargers at +2 instead of -7; the Seahawks over the Dolphins at -1.5 instead of -10.5; and the Patriots at +15 over the Cardinals instead of +6. All three would have to win in order for your ticket to cash. The minimum number of teams you can use in a teaser is two, and it goes up to as many as 10. The more teams you use, the more points you get, and they are available in both football and basketball.
Sounds easy, right? Not so fast. Teasers are more difficult to win than it appears. You should avoid them at all costs in basketball and very rarely consider using them in college football. But most professionals will tell you the six-point, two-team NFL teaser is a great option, especially when you can bring the point spread through the key numbers of 3 or 7. Ask any bookmaker: The NFL six-point teaser is typically their enemy, which makes it a major ally to you, the bettor.
3. Don't be afraid to be a contrarian
This one is pretty simple, but vital to your success as a sports bettor. When everyone from your barber to your brother-in-law is giving you a game they "absolutely love" this weekend, don't take the bait.
More often than not, a game that looks too easy is indeed too good to be true. The bookmaker knows what he is doing. There is good reason and a lot of thought that went into that line he set. He didn't make a mistake.
Sportsbooks up and down the Strip have been making some major upgrades over the last few years, and it's not because the majority of players are winning. The vast majority of sports bettors are losers. So why take their unheeded advice? You're better off not playing that game — or even better, going the other way.
2. Don't overreact to one game
Always remember that no team is really as bad as it looks when it loses 42-14, and no team is ever as good as it looks when it wins 42-14. But week after week, the betting markets will put too much emphasis — good or bad — on a team's previous result, especially if said game was a standalone national TV game, and that can help create some profitable situations if you're not afraid to go against the grain.
The renowned SuperBook at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino provides a valuable tool in helping you do this in the NFL. Each week, the SuperBook releases the point spreads for the following week's games, meaning the Week 3 lines will be available the Tuesday before the Week 2 games are played. Write these point spreads down and reference them the following week. You will clearly be able to see which games were influenced by the previous week's results, providing a clue as to what teams the betting public has overvalued or undervalued.
One more note about overreacting to a single game: Last week at this time, LSU was listed at around 8-to-1 to win the 2016 College Football National Championship and 5-to-2 to win the SEC. The Tigers were ranked No. 5 in the AP Poll, and many pundits gave them a very good chance at being one of the four teams to make the playoffs.
On Saturday in the season opener, the team went out and lost to Wisconsin at Lambeau Field as an 11-point favorite. You could hear the loud splashes of all the LSU backers jumping ship as the final seconds ticked away in the game. As a result, today LSU is 15-to-1 to win the National Championship, nearly double what you could have got last week. Does one loss really warrant that much of a jump?
The team still has the same players, coaching staff and schedule ahead of it as it did last week when it was 8-to-1. The Tigers are 0-0 in the SEC and despite the road loss to the Badgers, if they go on to win the conference, which they were given a 5-to-2 shot to do last week, they will be in the playoffs. If that happens and you have already locked in a 15-to-1 ticket, you have some room to maneuver and guarantee a profit.
There was a similar situation last year when Alabama, the favorite to win it all, got upset by Mississippi in Week 3, prompting some sportsbooks to move their odds to win the championship to as much as 15-to-1. We all know how that turned out. Those who didn't overreact to the Ole Miss loss and pounced on those exaggerated odds were smiling wide four months later when Bama beat Clemson in the title game.
1. Don't bet a "bad" number
This is the No. 1 rule in sports betting, no matter what the sport. Don't rely on just one outlet.
If you are serious about making money, make sure you give yourself the opportunity to bet into more than one number on a game. It's indisputable that having the chance to select the best number on a game from multiple outlets will save you money and help you win more bets.
Sure, probably eight times out of 10 it's not going to matter if you bet your team at -14, rather than -13.5, but the few times it does, it will sting and it will hurt your bankroll.
When in Las Vegas, the easiest way to do this is to take the time and open a sportsbook account at multiple properties, then download the apps on your phone and shop lines from your seat at the bar, just like I did during March Madness and will do again this fall during football season.
It's quick, easy and convenient, and it will save you money. Need I say more?