In the first part of this article I outlined some of the negatives surrounding sports handicapping services, known as "touts" in the sports betting world. While many services are dishonest, manipulative, or just downright bad, there are some benefits that one can receive from using a well-chosen sports handicapping service. In a market-based platform like sports betting information is always at a premium, and sports services can sometimes provide information that is valuable enough to justify the price, assuming you know how to use it.
Setting up middles
The best use of paid selections is jumping on them early, if the tout in question has enough clout to move the lines significantly. Reading the online sports forums should keep you tuned into the pulse of who are the "hot" handicappers du jour, and once their reputation has reached a critical mass, their followers will start moving the line significantly. Quickly grabbing a stale line and then playing the other side after the "steam" can leave you with profitable middles or scalps with little work on your part and no need to form your own opinion on a game. Of course, this requires jumping on the line as soon as the selection is released, then timing your buyback to lock in the best line on the other side, a task that is often more art than science.
You can get a leg up on the competition if you have access to a service's "early" newsletter. For instance, looking through Phil Steele's weekly college football newsletter can generally narrow down what his top plays are likely to be on Saturday morning. Depending on your opinion of the game, it may either be worthwhile to grab the number before a play is potentially released, or wait until right before game time to get the most out of the tout-induced steam.
"Fading" losing handicappers
It's quite the rage to "fade" famous handicappers like Mark Lawrence or Brandon Lang. Most of the well-known sports services consistently lose money for their clients, so it may seem that playing the opposite of their selections should be a money-making strategy. Sadly, that isn't really the case. Most touts lose their clients money not because they are extremely bad, but because they hit in the 48% to 52% range over the long term, the same as flipping a coin. They give too few winners to overcome the "juice", but not enough losers to make the reverse plays profitable either. Unfortunately, finding a handicapper that consistently hits 45% or less is just as hard as finding someone who hits 55% or better.
Often the best way to take advantage of the steam induced by big-name touts is by just fading the play. Instead of grabbing a line early and playing it back the other way after a significant line move, you can just "fade" the tout at the inflated line after the move. If most touts hit in the 50% range before the move, the added line value on steam plays is often enough to grind out some profit, particularly if the selection moves through key numbers, like the "7" in football.
Legitimate winning handicappers
Finding a handicapper that can consistently beat the spread is like a license to print money. Unfortunately, the legitimate handicappers honestly reporting their 55-58% win rate are easily drowned out in the noise of 20-2 "lock" systems and "85% game of the year" deceptions that are rampant in the sports service industry.
Many people question why a "winning" handicapper would even bother to sell his selections - after all, he should be able to make plenty of money betting them himself. But betting is, of course, still gambling, losing streaks do happen even to the best, and it's tough to feed your family on crumpled up losing sportsbook tickets when a season doesn't go your way. Even a winning handicapper can minimize his downside by selling his information.
Finding such a winner is, of course, the tricky part. Before spending any significant money, you want to be able to see at least 2-3 seasons worth of documented results, adding up to at least a few hundred selections. Unfortunately, anything less than this is too small of a sample to evaluate a handicapper's true potential. You also want to understand the methods behind that handicapper's selections. Most will not divulge these methods, because, sadly, the vast majority of handicappers are just "guessing" with no logical rationale for their picks. If a handicapper doesn't have preset methods, you cannot be sure that his picks are based upon consistent criteria from year to year.
However, even without a documented winning record, a handicapper can be valuable. You might be willing to pay for a service if they provide information that you feel is worthwhile. For instance, a particular service may give projections based on statistics that aren't readily available or easy to come by. If they provide those numbers as part of their analysis, that alone may save you enough time in your own handicapping to be worth the price, regardless of how well the actual selections perform. This requires a more transparent type of handicapper who provides a logical rationale behind his picks, unlike most services who seemingly provide their selections by throwing darts at a board with little rhyme or reason. But more analytical handicappers do exist, and some will provide information on the statistical models and situational angles that they use. Sometimes paying for this information can be well worth your while.
While sports services are, by-and-large, sucker bets, there are some gems in the rough. If you consider the points outlined above and do your homework, you may find a service or two that actually provides a worthwhile investment.
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