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That said, I will state, that, to me, middling is betting both ends of a game, whereas scalping is finding a way to get prices for a game that guarantees a profit.
For an example of middling, say your are football betting online, the New York Giants are favored by 3 over Dallas this Sunday. A lot of players will find books with low vig or free vig and buy half a point on both sides. They'll bet NYG -2.5 and Dallas +3.5 at different books for increased vig.
In this example, they lose if the game does not land on 3 (win one bet, but lose the other bet plus vig). If it does land on 3, they win both bets. In this scenario, the middler needs the Giants to win by exactly 3.
A scalper works with money lines. I associate scalpers more with baseball betting, because the standard dime line in baseball makes scalps more frequent than in most other sports. For instance, Arizona might open up -105 versus San Francisco, and a scalper might take Arizona, hoping that the baseball betting line goes up. If the line does go up to, say, -130, he can then take San Francisco at +120 on the other end and lock in a profit.
Baseball betting might look like this:
$210 on Arizona at -105 to win $200.
$190 on San Francisco +120 to win $228.
The scalper has wagered $400 and is guaranteed a profit of $10 if Arizona wins and $18 if San Francisco wins.
Now that doesn't sound like a lot, but if you multiply the stakes by ten and multiply that by ten games, you can eek out a living as a scalper. The key is the big bankroll and the hours poring over the sports betting odds trying to see lines that move.
For a middle, you're aiming at one number or a small range of numbers. If it hits, you win both your bets, or win one and push one. If it doesn't (and it usually won't), you lose vig on one bet. So you're risking a tiny amount to win a lot.
By the way, if you win one bet and push one, that's called a "side" rather than a middle. For example, if you are betting -5 at one sportsbook, and +6.5 at another, and the favorite wins by exactly 5, you got a side.
Is middling profitable? It can be. It basically boils down to doing the research to know the approximate likelihood of a game falling on each number. Then you play for a middle only when you have a positive expectation.
Scalping is not limited to baseball, but is applicable to any sport with money sport betting lines. Although Turk's example is of a case where you place one half of the scalp first and then hope the other materializes later, scalping isn't limited to such cases. That's an instance of hoping for a scalp, or trying to get a scalp, but the scalp itself is simply the combination of betting on both teams that ensures a profit.
A scalp is, by definition, profitable. If it's a scalp, then you have to realize a profit whichever team wins.
Expect wild swings in your bank roll if you try for middles. You can go a long, long time piling up small losses in between those big wins. With scalping, on the other hand, you're grinding out guaranteed small win after guaranteed small win.
If you intend to come upon a profitable middle opportunity or a scalp opportunity more than very rarely, you'll need to have sizable balances at many, many sports books simultaneously, so be prepared to invest a large bank roll. Further, be prepared to sit and monitor lines for hours on end so that you can pounce when those rare anomalies pop up temporarily where there is enough discrepancy between the betting lines for the middle or scalp.
Even that likely won't be enough to realize much of a profit. To make serious money, you'll probably find you have to take the risk of betting one side now, because your research and experience tells you the other side will probably be available later. (If instead you wait for the second side to materialize before betting either, the first side will likely be long gone.) Key word there is "probably."
There are people who make a comfortable living middling and/or scalping. But the fast track to easy money it ain't.
Most think of pure scalping or middling as sports gambling at different outs under the conditions Philo and Turk described (where a guaranteed positive money line margin exists, or a big enough spread that a positive expected value is present). The middler has risk in that the bet is a positive expected value overall, but each individual middle attempt is highly likely to result in a vig loss. If the betting odds are -110 for each side of the middle, you only have to hit 1/21 of them to break even. So 5% middle hits is a profitable expected value, but that means 19 out of 20 tries you lose money (-4.545%) to get the one that hits (+90.91%).
The key is to identify which middle opportunities have greater than 5% expectation, the higher the better obviously, and should result in a positive expected value over time. Then bang the best expected value plays with as much as your bankroll can stand, given some money management considerations. Your actual win percentage will be low--as I said even 5% is profitable--so it is a bit like a parlay bettor who has much longer losing streaks and must reconcile himself to the long term. Going 0-fer several weeks or months, depending on how many plays one makes, may not be that unusual. Pros find many middles to play, so they don't go long periods of time, just long streaks of no hits.
Middling is a very different animal than betting on handicapped games. It is a different mindset. If you were to handicap for middles, you'd actually be looking for games whose lines are accurate. Conventional handicappers look for games that appear off--they look for soft lines that have value on one of the sides. Middlers want the pointspread number to be accurate, as it means a better chance that the number will hit and they will win both of their bets.
So instead of spending their time handicapping, middlers spend their time on the "sports betting" aspect of the equation. Line shopping and screen watching are their life. They also must know the math as to what to bet on each side and what percentage each opportunity has.
To be more than very modestly successful, a middler or scalper must "take leads," which is what Philo was describing in betting a side now with the expectation that the betting line will be moving against it and the other side will become profitable by creating the middle or scalp. Doing this, taking leads, is where a true "gambling" element comes in for middlers and scalpers after all. So they take these educated and calculated gambles to increase their profits.
Some have speculated that the time and skill it takes to learn how to take leads could be better spent handicapping, but I don't necessarily agree. It is a different animal, as I said, but profitable for those who care to spend the time to acquire and hone the skills needed, and don't mind staring at a computer screen all day and night. Learning how a line is likely to move, by anticipating the public's reaction and which sports betting lines are off of the public's likely perception to start, is a different skill than figuring out which sports betting lines are soft for a side. Lead takers are more akin to the lines makers themselves, as they try to figure out which lines will move and which way instead of which team will win and by how much.
Steam helps create scalp and middle opportunities. Detecting it and taking timely advantage of it are two reasons scalpers and middlers must be glued to the screen.
I agree with Turk's point that bankroll size is a limiting factor for a middler/scalper. The number of books you use, and post-up money at each, is also a very key element for a middler/scalper. For most of us smaller players, sports betting and wagering a regular size bet on both sides may not produce enough profit to even pay the transfer costs of "rebalancing" the two outs. This is an often overlooked aspect. If transfer fees are present, then making $20 on a scalp may net you zero if you then pay $20 to transfer the unbalanced account where the bet won to somewhere else. So scalping and middling are more relevant for players with big bankrolls and less inclination to handicap to make their money.
When it comes to golf betting, I am considered an "action" bettor, I run across juicy scalps quite often while line shopping, some that would make even pros giddy. The problem with golf betting, is that golf bets have low limits and you must have lots of outs to spot these opportunities. I will partake, even if I like one side of the match-up. I call this a "partial scalp" in that I sometimes leave an extra bet on it but have greatly improved the money line odds I effectively get.
For example, I might be betting $100 on one golfer at +130, and $220 on his opponent, whom I prefer, at -110. I will lose $90 if the first golfer wins, and win $100 if the second does. In effect, I am getting underdog golf betting odds (risking $90 to win $100) on the favorite. It's not a conventional scalp where I'm guaranteeing myself a profit, but it is a sort of quasi-scalp.
Some of the biggest scalps I have heard of were on the Oscars or boxing.
My biggest personally was a golf prop that was -120 on one side and
+375 on the other.
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