I am the Sports Editor for a sports news and gambling website. I have many years experience of gambling, sports journalism and study of mathematics. Am I a gambling expert? Well, I guess you could say that.
There are innumerable so-called gambling experts willing to dish out information of their systems to ‘beat the bookie’ or to make a second income from gambling, for a price of course. I won’t do that. I will simply give you information about bookmakers, odds and gambling for you to use (or forget) as you see fit.
The first thing to mention is that the vast majority of people who engage in gambling will be net losers over time. This is the very reason there are so many bookmakers making so much money throughout the world.
While bookmakers can sometimes take big hits, for instance if a favourite wins the Grand National, they spread their risk so widely and they set up markets that incorporate a margin, so they will always make a profit over the medium to long term, if not the short term. That is, as long as they got their sums right.
When setting their odds for a particular event, bookmakers must first assess the probability of that event occurring. To do this they us various statistical models based on data collated over years, sometime decades, about the sport and team/competitor in question. Of course, if sport was 100% predictable, it would soon lose its appeal, and while the bookies are often spot on with their assessments of the probability of an event, they are sometimes way off the mark, simply because a match or contest goes against conventional wisdom and statistical likelihood.
Just look at any sport and you will find an occasion when the underdog triumphs against all the odds, literally. Wimbledon beating the then mighty Liverpool in the FA Cup Final of 1988, for instance, or the USA beating the then mighty USSR at ice hockey in the 1980 Olympics are two examples of when you would have got handsome odds on the underdog. And could have won a decent wedge.
The big bookmakers spend a lot of time and money ensuring they have the right odds that ensure they take into account the perceived probability of the event, and then add that extra little bit that gives them the profit margin. So if an event has a probability of, say, 1/3, the odds that reflect that probability would be 2/1. That is, two to one against that event occurring.
However, a bookie who set these odds would, over time, break even (assuming their stats are correct). So instead they would set the odds at, say, 6/4. In this way they have built in the margin that ensures, over time, they will profit from people betting on this selection. It is the same concept as a casino roulette.
So how can you spot the occasions when bookmakers have got it wrong? Well, it’s easier said than done, but far from impossible.
One way is to get very good at mathematical modelling and set up a model that takes into account as many of the variables that affect the outcome of an event as possible. The problem with this tactic is that however complex the model, and however all-encompassing it seems, it can never account for the minutiae of variables relating to individual human states of mind. Whether a golfer manages to hole a major-winning five foot putt on the 18th at St Andrews it is as much down to their concentration as to the weather or day of the week. Also, the maths can start getting pretty darn complicated.
Alternatively you can find yourself a sporting niche. Bookmakers will concentrate their resources on the events that make them the most money, generally found to be football (soccer), American football and horse racing. So trying to beat the bookies while betting on a Manchester United v Chelsea match will be tough. Unless you work for one of the clubs, or are married to one of the players or managers, it is very likely the bookmaker setting the odds will have more information than you.
However, if you are betting on non-league football, or badminton, or crown green bowls, it is possible, through hard work reading lots of stats, and general information gathering, you can start to gain an edge over bookies (if they even set odds for such things, which many do).
And what do you do when you have an edge in information terms? You follow the value.
Value betting is where you back a selection at odds that are greater than the actual probability of an event occurring. So for instance, if you assess the probability of a particular non-league football team (Grimsby Town, say) winning their next football match as 1/3 or 33%, and you find a bookmaker who has set the odds of 3/1, you have a value bet on your hands. The reason being, odds of 3/1 (excluding the margin built in by the bookie) suggest a probability of 1/4 or 25%. The bookie, in your now learned opinion, has underrated Grimsby’s chances, so you have effectively built in an 8% margin for yourself.
Of course Grimsby (as is often the case) might fluff their lines and fail to win the match, and hence you could lose the bet. But if you continue to seek out and bet on value bets, over time you will make a profit. If you do not, over time, you will lose. Simple.