A Beginner’s Guide to Sports Handicapping: Everything Worth Knowing

person with sports betting app on mobile phone

Did you know that 42% of U.S. sports fans are betting on their games? The negative stigma surrounding sports betting is fading. Before you jump into sports betting, you should understand the basics of handicapping. 

There’s more to sports betting than having high “sports IQ” or following the culture and politics. Sports handicapping is what determines the odds, which in turn determines your winnings. The odds for the Lakers to win it all next season are low, which is why they’re handicapped to pay out big.

Let’s break it down a little more to see how professional bettors use handicaps to their favor.

How Sports Handicapping Works

There are two types of handicapping in sports: Vegas odds and individual odds. Vegas’ spread is not always about who will win or lose, it’s about creating favorable betting conditions. That is, to favor the house, of course.

For example, look at the odds between two evenly-matched teams, i.e. a repeat matchup of last year’s NBA finals. Golden State Warriors will receive a slight disadvantage if no major roster changes happen. The handicaps will look similar to this:

  • Warriors +10
  • Raptors -10

These odds don’t look very appetizing to new bettors. It’s the proverbial toss-up, but this is a good example of how Vegas makes its money. 

In this scenario, you would need to look at the betting line. If you have a lot of disposable income, you could actually make money betting for the favorites (the Raptors). For example, if the money line is $500, you would make $100 for betting the Raptors.

Things get a little more appetizing when looking at point spreads. 

Cover the Spread

It may appear that betting a lot of money on regular-season games on teams that aren’t favorites is all risk for little reward. That’s not the case when you factor in the point spread. Using the previous game scenario, you can bet that the Warriors will lose by ~10 points. 

The Warriors still have an amazing team and it’s a regular-season game. If they keep it a close game, even if they lose, you still cover the spread and win. The handicap odds in sports betting make every game competitive.

Beating Vegas at Their Game

The handicaps that are given out for every game, nearly every sport, and everything in-between aren’t infallible. The oddsmakers are very good at what they do, but they’re subject to biases, too.

Professional bettors know this and they take advantage of any edge that comes their way. For instance, it’s not uncommon for betting odds to drastically change throughout the week before a big game. This is because as new information comes in, oddsmakers have to adjust the handicap to maintain the house advantage.

Well, as any sports fan knows, news leaks and inside information can change the outcome of any game. If you do your research, you can definitely outsmart the smartest of bookies. The tradeoff is needing to devote a lot of time into combing stats, injury updates, and multiplying that for every game you bet on.

For hardcore sports fans, they already do this on their own anyway. Does mixing business and pleasure work, though?

Maximizing Value

To succeed as a sports bettor, you can’t bet as a fan. You have to leave all emotions out of your decisions. This is purely logical, value-based research. 

To get around this distraction of fandom, a lot of sports fans will keep their betting to sports they only casually watch. Or, if there’s a sport that doesn’t have any local market, you can avoid “homerism” completely.

Part of the reason why you can’t afford to invite hometeam biases is due to how Vegas places odds. You may feel personally slighted if they put your team on a 20-point handicap. “My team will easily cover that spread,” is what you say to yourself.

There are some sports bettors who can use their intimate knowledge of home teams to their advantage. This takes experience and lots of self-discipline. 

When learning the ropes, you should focus on betting volume and increasing the value of bets. You can do this by searching for betting incentives and joining sites that have loyalty programs. Gambling professionally is all about minimizing losses and maximizing the value of every bet. 

Once you master the art of point spreads and leveraging your winnings, you can break away from the bad habits associated with gambling “degens.” That means not risking your savings or food budget because of your favorite teams tanking. This is a numbers game, so if you’re a stats person, you’ll feel right at home.

Tips for Beginners

Rule number one for anyone joining a sports betting site: don’t pay for picks! There are plenty of places that offer free picks, they want you to check it out risk-free. These are the best places to test out and compare betting tools, strategies, and overall functionality.

The easier it is for you to place bets and view statistics/scores at a glance, the better your decision-making will become. It’s also nice to find a site with a sports news ticker so you’re always in the loop. 

Filtering Through the Noise

Sports betting is part science and part self-discipline. It’s nice to find a place with expert advice on industry picks. But, don’t rely too much on what experts advertise as gospel.

Expert handicappers have a vested interest in selling picks that benefit their own profits. Eventually, you’ll learn how to digest all this information about sports handicapping and get into a good rhythm of betting. As long as you don’t approach betting as a complete crapshoot, you can carve out a decent income.

Apply the lessons and strategies on passive income and budgeting found all throughout this blog. Thrifty Momma Ramblings is a great place to learn how to responsibly gamble and earn a little extra spending money on the side. Surprise your husband or kids with your newfound sports betting knowledge!

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