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03. What sports are best to bet on?

 
Buckeye:
There are several levels this can be approached from. The first is that if all other things are equal, the sports with the lowest vigorish/hold, most games and sports line and odds to choose from, would appear to be the most vulnerable for bettors. So online baseball betting, with its uniquely low standard 10 cent betting line, and large number of games, would be an obvious choice for U.S.-based sport bettors.

Since nothing is ever really equal, the second level to consider, which may be the most important factor, is the expertise of the lines makers for the sport and the availability of pertinent sports handicapping information to lines makers and the general public. Handicapping can be looked at as an "information war". The greater the disparity between your information and the lines makers', or your information and Joe Public's, the softer the betting lines will be for you, and thus the more advantage you have.

For these reasons, the less generally popular the sport, the more real expertise and knowledge gives you a betting edge in handicapping it. Sports wagering odds on non-major sports, like tennis, golf, and NASCAR, are often thrown out-by both sides of the counter--as the most beatable sports betting sports, because lines makers and Joe Public don't have the plethora of information sources that other sports provide. No injury reports on the AP wire tracking every hangnail, few statistical studies or databases to be mined, no national TV shows analyzing games, and in general less overall knowledge about these sports. These sports also tend to have more disparity in lines, as they are less "Don Best" influenced than the major sports now are. They are less popular with pros and scalpers, because their betting limits are lower, and they aren't as widespread and uniform in offerings.

The third level is your own "fan interest" in the sport. This often overrides all other considerations. Though some players have no fan interest in the sports gambling pick they bet on, most internet sports betting players tend to bet the sports they enjoy the most, the ones they watch on TV or go to in person, the ones they actively follow by choice, for those are the sports they are confident they know best. If a handicapper is to spend even 10 hours a week analyzing stats and angles and conditions of a sport, it sure helps if he has a passion and genuine interest in the game to start with.

For example, internet football betting is so popular among bettors in the U.S. that it dominates the market and pervades our society. It is thought of as un-American to not be glued to a TV for the Super Bowl, and to not have a "square" or a sheet in the nfl sports betting office pool is considered blasphemous. It is arguably justified for a typical American sports betting player to focus on football betting.

So my opinion is that the less popular sports are more easily handicapped and beatable than the major sports, but not everyone has the interest or dedication or knowledge to exploit those sports and their relatively softer betting lines. It may take half as much work for you to beat NASCAR as it would to beat the NFL, but if you are a football fan who finds auto racing deadly dull and would have to force himself to put even a quarter as much work into sports handicapping NASCAR as football, you're actually better off sticking with the sport that's tougher to beat.

The Philosopher:
My thoughts overlap a great deal with Buckeye's. I would look at the following factors:

1. Sports betting sports with the lowest vig and/or the most sports betting line shopping variation. Buckeye's example of the dime line in baseball betting is right on point here.

2. Betting on the most obscure sports, where you have a chance to be one of the few people who actually is knowledgeable about it. If you know a lot about women's tennis, or some small college and a few of the teams it plays each year in basketball, you may well be ahead of the lines makers already, since they offer such things as an afterthought at lower limits.

3. Cutting almost exactly in the opposite direction, online gambling with the sports that are likely to draw the most uninformed square money. Remember, in a sense, the betting public really determines the line; the bookie is just trying to put it where he'll get roughly equal action on both sides. Since everybody and their brother are into pro football betting, Kentucky Derby, etc., you'd think there is an awful lot of "dumb" money affecting those betting lines.

4. Online sports gambling where you have the most personal interest and experience. Sport gambling on something where researching it will be a tedious chore.

When I decided to become more serious about sports betting, I opted to concentrate on the NFL betting. Since I was still something of a neophyte, I wasn't really aware of #1, or at least wasn't thinking about it. I mostly was thinking about #2 and #3. I wasn't sure if it was better to be where the squares are or where almost nobody is. I kind of let #4 break the tie for me. I felt I had a head start on the NFL football betting since that was the sport I was most interested in, so I decided to devote myself to that.

I now lean more toward the view that #2 is a stronger factor than #3. In retrospect, I tend to believe that if I had devoted the same number of hours these last few years to something like NASCAR betting rather than pro football betting, instead of just doing pretty well, I'd probably be stinking rich.

Turkoman1963:
I concentrate on the small areas where I believe I have a good feel for the sport in question. Obviously, I have no idea who will win a cricket match between India and England, whereas I might have a very good feeling as to whether Tennessee will cover a seven point spread against LSU.

Also, you have to factor in a key question: Is internet gambling a hobby or income for you? If it is the former, then all the more reason for betting on the Tennessee-LSU game rather than the cricket match, especially since the cricket match is not even on American television.

Since I live on the West Coast, I think I have a good grasp of Pac 10 football and basketball and, according to my records, have done quite well when concentrating on those two areas. When I venture outside my sports betting area of expertise to, say, MAC Basketball, I am lost in the wilderness.

Now, this is not to deny that many sports gambling bettors has done quite well concentrating on a small niche, like MAC basketball, since most people don't follow it. But unlike the stock market, online sports gambling is also supposed to be fun, so while I might have a better chance of winning on Weber State tomorrow night if I really study the game, I much prefer concentrating my efforts on whether Quincy Carter can string two good games in a row and thus, should I take the 4 points and the Cowboys this Sunday against the Giants.

There's also an element of bravado in all this: it is much more fun to tell your co-workers or friends that the Cowboys are a "mortal lock" this Sunday than to breeze in one morning extolling the virtues of William & Mary's point guard and how you should take the points against the Citadel.

Patton:
Many years ago, after he made the Magellan Fund the most successful mutual fund in history, Peter Lynch wrote a book on stock investing. I can't remember the name of the book but the advice was generally as follows.

You can beat the stock pros by developing information from your own life. Take a number of positions in different stocks that you believe will do well because the companies provide goods or services that appear to you to be valuable and unique.

A sports "investor" can pick up two things from this. First, it is possible to beat other bettors if you can gain an insight into a particular sport that only a few people have. This means, to me, that you should have a real love for the game to start with. Then develop that into a knowledge that enables you to understand better how that sport "works," and the factors that affect outcomes in it.

Lots of people try to game handicapping solely with numbers, and add a little about injuries, weather, etc. into the mix. But the intangibles are also extremely important to consider. If you have a better knowledge of what those intangibles are, and how they affect your chosen sport, you have a big edge over the competition.

My experience has been that hard, quantifiable data (stats) is easier to come by than intangible information, making the latter more valuable. Everywhere you go you can find free statistical data on the internet. Getting into the intangibles, however, requires more digging. At best you will actually view the games and see how the teams and players interact with each other in the heat of battle. If you can't do that, there are also lots of stories, and commentary, about games. But in either case, to get the intangibles, you need to spend time and exert a lot of effort. Since everyone's time is limited, you are correspondingly limited in the degree to which you can dig up and consider intangibles.

To take Turkoman's example about betting a Weber State game versus Nfl betting a Dallas Cowboys game, you are more likely to make money on more obscure information about Weber State than the better known information about Quincy Carter and the Cowboys. Most people have insufficient interest in Weber State and its conference to develop intangible information about it that will give them a betting edge over other bettors. But everyone and their uncle is tracking Quincy Carter's performance and has a good idea how he will perform this weekend against the Giants, making this information less valuable.

The second thing people can take away from Peter Lynch is his advice to have a number (in the case of the Magellan Fund, a vast number) of picks against which to apply your sports betting strategy. That means a sport in which there are a number of betting opportunities. Of course, you should only bet gambling sports when you feel you have an edge, but you are more likely to find them in sports with many games. Baseball betting and basketball betting have been mentioned already, to which I would add hockey, if that's your thing.

Thus, I would stress personal interest first. If you have no interest, you won't work hard enough to succeed. Second, I would put the number of games or gambling betting opportunities. Third, I would put the level of knowledge and skills of the other sport gambling bettors, who are, in effect, your competition. But none of these factors should be ignored.

Buckeye:
Following up on a point Philo made, I would say "inside" knowledge, or at least concentrated knowledge about a sport or league is a very good way to exploit even a major sport. What Turkoman called "niche betting" is a very salient point. Studying and knowing a small school "hoops" conference could be more valuable, time wise, than trying to cap the entire 300+ NCAA field. Concentrating on your favorite conference, or local area conference, can be a good way to keep from "stretching" to weak plays. Some successful sport betting handicappers only handicap a small portion of the sport. Some will even team up and break the league into sections for each to specialize in.

The important goal is to try to gain a betting edge over Joe Public who is throwing darts or flipping a coin. Any sports betting edge that can be gained, whether through unpopular sports or conferences or teams, can be exploited. I think this is a more likely productive effort than trying to bet "steam" or know where the smart versus square money is. I guess that is because I believe more in handicapping games than in handicapping money moves (as in where is the money coming from and whom is it going on).

One point I'd like to make that runs counter to some of what we've said is that it can be a mistake to confuse the fan interest of watching and enjoying games with real knowledge. The natural biases of a fan can actually detract from one's handicapping. Sometimes an objective view, like "number crunchers" use, can keep you from falling into the "I just know this team is due to ..." trap. For some, it is better to bet on sports they don't care about, as it brings objectivity.

Scalpers and middlers, for instance, often remove the emotion of whom it is they are sport gambling on from the equation. They concentrate on the line instead of the team. There is a lesson in that perspective, in my opinion. Their only interest in the teams is how the lines makers or the public views them, not how they themselves view them.

This is where your purpose in web gambling comes in. If you are doing it for amusement, and have no delusions of grandeur, then by all means bet on your favorite bet gambling sports. But if your interest is in making money from internet gambling, then a sport that you have developed biases (very possibly faulty) in over years of "fan interest" may be the last place you should look to for betting a profit.

The Philosopher:
In summary, we really can't name a specific sport or list of sports that is best for everyone. All we can do is mention some of the factors that we think are most important in making that decision. And many of those factors are relative to the individual online sports gambling bettor.

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