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How Much Should You Bet on Sports?

by May 13, 2020

Whether you’re new to sports betting or a betting pro, our Sports Betting Strategy and Advice page is for you. You can get started with our 101 section — including How to Choose a Sportsbook — or head to more advanced strategy — like Which Sports Are Most Profitable to Bet? — to learn more.

“Only bet what you can afford to lose” is one of the oldest sayings in gambling. The same logic can and should be applied to sports betting. Bettors can get themselves into a world of trouble when they wager more than they can afford on what they consider a “sure thing.”

Sure, sports betting is seen by many as a way to make good money. However, your first foray into sports betting should come with tempered expectations.

In this article, we’ll provide tips on a financial approach to sports betting that maximizes your chances of success.

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How Much Should I Be Betting?

The amount that one should bet on sports depends entirely on your bankroll. Again, when choosing your deposit amount, you should not deposit more than you can afford to lose. Pick a starting amount that if you lost, you could shrug it off and not have it affect your day-to-day life.

Once you have your starting amount decided, you should not wager more than 5% of your bankroll on any individual bet. For example, let’s say that your starting amount is $100. It may seem very small, but you should limit yourself to a maximum of a $5 wager with each individual bet.

A term to get familiar with is “units.” You may read experts’ predictions about what they are wagering, and they will say some bets are a one-unit or five-unit play. A “unit” is generally defined as 1% of your bankroll. So if your starting bankroll was $100, a five-unit play would be $5.

Temper Your Expectations

Sports betting is a very tough business to master. You may watch every NFL game every Sunday and still not accurately predict half of the games each week against the spread. In fact, the most successful sports bettors in the long run only get roughly 55% of their bets correct. Anyone who goes on a short-term run of getting 60% or more of their bets correct is considered to be exceptionally successful.

Keep these percentages in mind when making your sports bets and don’t get frustrated over a cold spell. However, these percentages are important to use as a baseline. Even if you were to get 50% of your standard sports bets correct, you would still be losing money. This is because of the “vig” or “juice” that oddsmakers put on a wager. Generally speaking, oddsmakers collect a 10% vig on any sports wager. Thus, if you get your $50 wager correct, you should expect to only profit roughly $45.

Only Bet on What You Know

Sports bettors often get into a bad habit of “chasing” lost bets with random bets on lesser-known sports. For example, a bettor may have a rough NFL Sunday and feel they need to get all their money back in one fell swoop. They may look at the bets available late at night and see a European soccer match is the only available game to bet on.

Never let yourself be tempted into a bet just to recoup lost money. Wagering on a game or event that you have absolutely no knowledge about is a losing long-term proposition. Instead, stick to the sports that you know well. The more you know about a sport or the teams involved, the more likely you are to find an edge over the oddsmakers.

This information is especially relevant during the pandemic we are experiencing. As tempting as it is to still have “action,” it’s simply not worth wagering on darts or table tennis lines unless you have knowledge about the sport and its competitors.

Keep a Log of Your Bets

It’s important to be aware of the success of your bets, not just for financial purposes, but also to improve your chances of success going forward. Let’s say you have made several NBA and NCAA basketball bets. Someone who has not tracked their bets may not realize they have a much better winning percentage with their NBA bets compared to their NCAA bets. If they were more knowledgeable about it, that person would likely stick more to the NBA.

The mobile apps at various sportsbooks have a history section where one can see their past results. Usually, one can customize their history for a given stretch of time, like the past week or month.

I would also suggest keeping an old-fashioned spreadsheet as a log for your bets. If you place your bets under different categories by sport, it will be easy to see where you have had the most success.

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Mike Spector is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeSpector01.