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What is a Unit in Sports Betting?

by August 22, 2018

The most basic definition of a unit is that it’s the baseline amount of money you place on any given wager. However, despite this simple definition, there is some complexity to figuring out what a unit should be for each individual, how you use it to track your wins and losses, and how you use it to determine how much to bet.

How Much Should a Unit Be?

The amount someone places on any particular wager will vary greatly from person to person. However, there are a few basic guides to how much a unit should be. Generally speaking, a single unit should be 1 or 2% of your total bankroll. Your bankroll is how much money you’re willing to set aside for the purposes of sports betting and should NEVER be more than you can financially lose. For beginners, 1% would be the recommendation for a unit, but over time as you figure out your process and where your strengths are 2% is fine if you’re feeling confident. With that, if you’re setting aside $1,000 for sports betting, then your unit size would be $10 ($1,000 * .01). But if you’ve got quite a bit of disposable income and are setting aside $25,000 then you’re looking at a unit size of $250 ($25,000 * .01).

Obviously, you could choose any number you’d like, however, by keeping your unit as a low percentage of your bankroll you are protecting yourself from the dreaded and inevitable losing streak. It’ll happen to even the best of sports bettors and if you go through a streak where you lose 20 out of 30 bets, then betting more than that small percentage will quickly eat away your bankroll and allow panic to set in. Regardless of where your unit size starts, though, over time you’ll be able to increase it as your bankroll grows. There are some more in-depth strategies for this, but that’ll be saved for another article.

Tracking Units

One of my favorite uses for Units is how you can use them in tracking successes (and failures). One thing that is highly recommended is having some sort of tracking system for all your bets. Personally, I recommend using a spreadsheet of some sort that allows you the ability to sort and filter your results (though if you’re a little more familiar with various formulas/functions you can do a lot more fun stuff with pivot tables). Many people might track their win/loss record exclusively. While this is a good piece of information, it’s just that, a piece. A win/loss record doesn’t tell the entire story of how successful someone is in terms of sports betting, especially when you start getting into betting the money line or any other wager where the odds fluctuate.

This is where units come in. By tracking how many units are won or lost with each wager, you get an accurate idea of how profitable your wagers are. It’s impressive if someone is winning at a 60% rate, but if they are consistently placing wagers on -200 lines, then they’re actually losing money (the break-even rate for -200 wagers is 66.67%). Yet, another sports bettor may have only a 50% win/loss rate, yet they are consistently placing +105 wagers. While the second bettor is losing considerably more wagers, they are making considerably more on each of those wagers, making them the more profitable and successful sports bettor.

If you go with this tracking route, you can choose to track as much or as little information as you’d like. Obviously, the more you track, the more ways you can splice your betting history. It’s great for grabbing insights like how accurate you are when betting favorites vs. underdogs, are you winning more when betting on or against specific teams, is there a specific range of spreads or point totals that you’re hitting compared to others. All this data can come in handy to identify some of your own pitfalls and where your strengths as a sports bettor really are.

How Many Units Should You Risk Per Wager?

Now that you have an idea of how much your Unit should be and how to track them, there’s the question of how many units you should wager on any specific wager. This topic as a whole can be broken down into considerably more detail in an article on bankroll management, but we can at least break the surface on them here.

Fixed Unit Model
For beginners, it is recommended to stick with a fixed unit approach. Basically, this approach is that you bet one unit and one unit only on each and every wager regardless of any other factors such as the odds or your confidence level. The advantage to this approach is it’s easier to track things for accounting purposes since each wager is the same, and you keep your wager at the same amount regardless of winning and losing streaks.

Percentage Model
The percentage model is another popular option. This version still has some consistency, but your wagers will fluctuate from day to day based on how much you’ve previously won or lost. The essentials are that you wager say 1% of your bankroll on every wager. For example, let’s say you start with $1,000 in your bankroll. Day 1 you’re risking $10 per wager and you win. On Day 2 you’re now up to $1,010 meaning on this day you’re risking $10.10 per wager, but this day you are losing. On Day 3 you’re now down to $990 in bankroll and therefore you’re risking $9.90 per wager. The advantage to this method is that if you start on a nice winning streak, you’ll be able to capitalize on it by wagering more and more. However, that upside also carries a downside. If you start a losing streak it’ll take you longer to dig out of that hole compared to the fixed model.

Variable Models
There are also some variable models that take into account your level of confidence in a wager or the potential return of a wager. By using confidence levels, one may choose to risk 1 unit on lower confidence bets, 2 units on medium confidence bets or 3 units on higher confidence bets. With the potential return method, rather than 1 unit being the amount you’re risking, instead it becomes the amount you win on each wager. This method causes you to risk more when betting on favorites and risk less when betting on underdogs (a -150 line would have you risking 1.5 units to win 1 unit, while a +150 line would have you risking .67 units to win 1 unit).

Kelly Criterion Model
There’s also the Kelly Criterion which takes into account what percentage of the time you believe a wager will win and lose, the odds you’re getting, and the amount of bankroll you have. By taking the decimal of your potential win and multiplying it by the win percentage you’d come up, then subtracting this number by the loss percentage, then dividing that number by the decimal of your potential win, you will get a number that is the percentage of your total bankroll in which you should wager. That’s quite the mouthful and there will be other articles covering it in more detail. The toughest part of this model is that it relies heavily on how accurate you are in determining these win percentages in order to be successful and there are various other versions of it.

In Conclusion

A Unit is something every sports bettor should become familiar with. Its various uses will help even the most advanced sports bettors stay organized, track their betting data, and help ensure they’re sticking with their bankroll management strategy. It’s far too easy to bet this amount here and that amount there. Without a system in place, the inconsistency in wagers often leads to one burning through their bankroll.

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Kyle Kontos is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Kyle, check out his archive.