Have your children watched a footy match recently? Well, if they watched AFL on TV they also consumed about 50.5 separate episodes of sports betting marketing, from TV and stadium ads, to footy jumpers and even the footy commentary. If they went to the ground they would have seen, on average, 58.5 gambling ads.
Australia is a lucrative market for the sport gambling industry – we have the biggest gambling losses per capita of any country in the world. Key players centrebet, sportingbet, TAB Sportsbet, tomwaterhouse.com and bet365 are competing for market share and advertising has been their number one weapon. This year alone there has been a 20% increase in spending on gambling advertising.
So, what’s wrong with these gambling agencies advertising their product everywhere? After all, gambling is legal, advertising is legal, adults can make their own choices and it’s just a bit of fun.
Actually, these arguments are false on all four counts if they relate to children:
It’s illegal for children to place bets
It’s illegal to advertise gambling during children’s programming, but sporting telecasts are exception.
Children don’t understand the persuasive intent of marketing messages and can’t critically evaluate them to make informed decisions
It’s not just a bit of fun for many children. Family breakdown, poverty, or even the loss of a parent to gambling-associated suicide is not fun.
Pathological gambling remains a psychological diagnosis in the new diagnostic manual for mental illness (the DSM-5) and continues to cripple thousands of Australians.
The Productivity Commission estimated in 2010 that 80,000 to 160,000 Australian adults were severe problem gamblers, with a further 230,000 to 350,000 at moderate risk of developing problem gambling.
Kids think betting is normal
The saturation of advertising normalises gambling and kids come to associate gambling as integral part of the sport. Rather than talking about their favourite team, kids are now talking about the odds of that team winning.
This inevitably translates into more under-age gambling, as kids can now anonymously gamble online and on smart phones. Online checks are insufficient, as ABC1’s 4Corners revealed last night, with kids as young as 12 placing bets and pressuring their peers to bet as part of the fan experience.
At a population level, normalising sport gambling will mean more people take up the habit, and more people will gamble at risky levels. There is also evidence of more risky gambling behaviour when online betting options are used.
Barriers to reform
So if regulators recognise that gambling advertising to children is inappropriate, why are we even having this debate?
We have to remember that the gambling industry pours millions of dollars into sport and it’s not altruism. They pay millions of dollars for advertising rights, naming rights on jerseys, to TV stations, to club sponsorships. Clubs, codes, media companies and advertisers are all businesses and right now there is much money to be made through gambling.
Why, then, doesn’t the government regulate to prevent advertising that is damaging children? After all at election time it is a good idea to do what voters want.
The powerful gambling and advertising industry has significant sway over the government and has pressured governments to drag their feet. The Gillard government, for instance, was pressured into reneging on the deal with independent MP Andrew Wilkie to introduce effective gambling reforms.
Another factor might be just how addicted our governments are to gambling revenue. Revenue from the gambling industry props up our deflated government coffers. In Australia, the government revenue from gambling is in the order of A$5 billion or around 10% of total tax revenue. The simple proverb “don’t bite the hand the feeds you” might explain the government’s lack of action.
Perhaps another reason for lack of action is the fear of a backlash from industry. This worked for the mining industry but seems to have been ineffective for industries whose name is not so trusted. The tobacco industry opposition to plain packaging, for instance, fell on deaf public ears. The trust and public support for the gambling industry might be similar to that of the tobacco industry.
The road to real reform
In response to pressure, FreeTV Australia (representing the broadcasters of Australia) today announced it will submit a revised code to Australian Communications and Media Authority to “ban promotion of live odds during play and by commentators during the game”.
On the surface this seems like a positive step, but it’s more an attempt to deflect from the real issue. This ban will only limit live odds promotion and will mean the industry can continue to advertise gambling to our children 58 times during an average footy match.
What we need is real action. The Joint Parliamentary Committee On Gambling Reform will report back before the election. Several independents and the Greens have suggested the removal of the sporting exemption to bans on gambling advertising during children viewing hours, including weekends. Such bans should also include advertising which is included in match commentary and pre- or post-match reviews.
It’s not only the Greens and independents who are speaking up. There is even support from the conservative side of politics, with Tony Abbott promising to limit gambling advertising to kids during sport. But will the Gillard government act in this area?
This may well win some much-needed votes but more importantly, it will protect vulnerable children from the powerful gambling industry. As a society, we need to be much more aware of the dangers of trapping a new generation into addiction and debt.
Section 1: Sports Betting as an Investment
Making Money by Betting on Sports
Most people think that sports betting is about finding ‘sure things,’ but in reality such ‘locks’ are nothing more than gamblers’ fancy. Just as in real estate, currency, stocks, or any other speculative market, ‘sure things’ simply do not exist. As a professional sports bettor, my goal is to find and exploit many small edges over a long period of time to earn a compounding return. Winning 55% of games is very significant, and with very conservative bet sizing, you can grow your return very quickly. Investing $10,000 into the stock market for a year and earning a 10% return is considered a great investment – but your return winning a modest 54% of your sports bets would trounce that return.
My picks have yielded a much higher risk adjusted return than the stock market. Obviously, the variance from season to season is formidable, but as anyone who had a significant amount invested in stocks or real estate in 2008 can tell you, such swings aren’t limited to sports. In the long run, my edge in what I do is far greater than the edge that you could hope to gain in any other speculative market.
Juice, and the power of 55%
Even though most sports bettors are losers in their own right (as a whole, bettors actually win an average of only 48% of their bets – less than they would expect to win if they just flipped a coin for every game), their losses are compounded by the fact that the house takes a cut of winnings, also known as the ‘juice’ or ‘vig.’ Most sports books charge a 10% commission on wins, which means that a bettor must actually win 52.4% of his games just to break even. (Wagering $100 per game, a bettor loses $100 with a loss and wins $90.91 with a win, so he must go 11-10 (11/21 = 52.38%) to break even).
In order to beat the juice and win in sports betting, a bettor must employ a disciplined approach in their analysis of each game using methods that have proven to be successful in the long run. I discuss my math models and analytical metrics in my Handicapping Methods essay, but you must realize that only the best and most knowledgeable handicappers can win more than 52.4% of their games. In their 2007 two page article about my handicapping success, the Wall Street Journal wrote, “…fewer than 100 people can sustain (win rates of 55%) over time. Most of them belong to professional betting syndicates that hire teams of statisticians, wager millions every week and keep their operations secret.”
Touts often claim to be able to hit 60% or higher, but as I explain in my essay on Bayesian Probability, anyone who tells you that their long term expected winning percentage is higher than 60% is deluding themselves. Ten or more years ago a sharp handicapper could win about 60% long term but those days are over, as odds makers have become more savvy in the past decade or so. For a bettor to claim a greater than 60% long term expected win percentage, that would be mean that Vegas would have to consistently release lines with egregious errors, and that simply just does not happen often enough nowadays for claims of a greater than 60% long term expected win percentage. Any short term win rates of around 60% or higher are simply due to blind, short-term luck. For instance, last year (2016) in the first season using a new NFL play-by-play model, Dr. Bob Sports’ NFL Best Bet sides were an incredible 66-26 (71.7%), but that record was enhanced by winning a very large percentage of close games (31-12 on Best Bets decided by 7 points or less) rather than splitting the close ones. It still would have been a great season on NFL Best Bet sides (62%) if the close games had been 50% but I still can’t expect the new model to win 60%-plus on sides based on that one season – although the play-by-play model back-tested at a very profitable 56% winners.
I often hear amateur gamblers erroneously claim that winning 55% of games isn’t even enough to beat juice. As demonstrated above, a bettor only needs to win 52.4% to break even, and a 55% bettor will be very profitable in the long run if they pursue an optimal money management strategy.
Of course, as in any game of chance, there is variability in the actual results and just because you have won 55% in the past and expect to win 55% in the future doesn’t mean that you’re going to win 55% this upcoming season. There is variance in sports betting, as there is in most investments, and I calculate the standard deviation to figure out how much of my bankroll I can safely wager on each game during the season to accommodate potential negative swings while having very little chance of exhausting my bankroll. I have extensively quantified the variance that exists in sports betting, and use mathematical formulas to dictate the exact optimal amount to invest so as to maximize the ratio of profits to variance.
My long term percentage on College Football Best Bets is 56% (1290-1017-40 over 29 years) and the new NFL play-by play model was 100-69 (59.2%) in 2016. However, despite being a combined 148-107 (58.0%) on Football Best Bets, college and NFL, in 2016, I will continue to use 55% winners as a realistic goal going forward. If I expect 55% on 200 Football Best Bets (I had 255 last year, which was higher than expected) then the expected profit at -110 odds would be 200 x (0.55 – (1.1 x 0.45), which is +11.0 units (or +22.0 Stars if my average Best Bet is rated 2-Stars). The Kelly Criterion recommends a wager of 3.4% of your bankroll for a wager with a 55% chance of winning and odds of -110. However, the Kelly formula assumes sequential betting and sports betting usually involves simultaneous betting, which is part of the reason behind using some fraction of full Kelly to reduce risk. If I play 2.0% of my initial bankroll per bet, or 1.0% per Star, (i.e. flat betting) then my expected return during football season (5 months) is 22.0%. Adjusting your bankroll after each week rather than flat betting will increase your expected return, as explained in the KC simulation section of my money management section.
A basketball season with 53.5% winners (my career percentage is 53.9%) on 500 bets would on average yield +11.75 units ( (500*.535) – (500*.465)*1.1 ), or +23.5 Stars if my average Best Bet is rated 2-Stars. Using a conservative 1.6% of bankroll per bet (full Kelly at 53.5% at -110 odds is 2.35% of bankroll), or 0.8% per Star, results in an expected return of 18.8%. So, despite a lower overall winning percentage and smaller average wager size, a season’s worth of basketball wagers is fairly comparable to a season of football because there are so many more Best Bets in basketball season.
The NBA Guru Basketball service has achieved even higher returns in the 5 seasons that the Guru has been with Dr Bob Sports. The NBA Guru has an incredible record of 647-532-20 (54.9%) on his Best Bets over 5 seasons and 1366-1118-41 on a Star Basis for +136.0 Stars (with an extra -0.2 for added juice), which is an average of +27.2 Stars per season. You can risk more of your bankroll per play with the NBA Guru because he has a higher win percentage and fewer plays. I recommend 2.0% of your bankroll per play, or 1.0% per Star on NBA Guru Best Bets.
Money Management is as critical to a sports investor as picking winners. I have devoted many hours of careful analysis and math to optimal money management systems, which I have painstakingly outlined in my Money Management articles. Sports betting is more high risk (higher volatility and standard deviation of return) than stocks, but also results in a higher return if you follow a proven long term winning handicapper (of which there are very few).
My Money Management articles outline how to adjust your bet sizing based on your goals (expected return vs. probability of positive returns), your investment length (one season or many), your growth preference (flat or compounding), your risk tolerance (high or low) and the proportion of your overall bankroll which is made up by sports betting.
It is always better to set conservative expectations to avoid over betting.
Factoring in the Cost of my Service
The cost of my College football service is $895, the cost of the NFL service is $995 ($1,595 for both services), my Basketball service is $895 ($2,195 for all Football and Dr. Bob’s Basketball service), and the NBA Guru subscription is well worth the $1495 given how profitable he’s been ($3,295 for all Football and all Basketball, including the NBA Guru). You must factor in that cost when calculating your expected return on investment (ROI). As explained above, winning 55% on the Football Best Bets and 53.5% on my Basketball Best Bets would yield an expected profit of +45.5 Stars and let’s assume the NBA Guru profits +27.2 Stars as well (he’s averaged +27.2 Stars per season). Let’s say you decide to play 1.0% of your initial bankroll per star on the Football Best Bets and NBA Guru Best Bets and 0.8% per star on the Basketball Best Bets, as in the example above. Doing so would have an expected total return 68.0% per year based on flat-betting using your initial bankroll. Using an optimal betting strategy, as explained in the advanced money management section, would yield even higher long term returns while protecting the downside risk in the inevitable negative variance seasons that plague even the best long term handicappers.
If you had $20,000 that you could comfortably afford to risk as your sports wagering bankroll and $3,295 went to pay for the all Football and all Basketball service, then you would have $16,705 left for wagering. As explained above the expected return on the combined Dr Bob Football and Basketball and NBA Guru Basketball services is +68.0% per year (using a less optimal flat betting approach), which would result in a return wagering profit of +$11,359 on the $16,705 initial bankroll. The overall profit, after factoring in the cost of the services, would be $8,064 (($16,705 x 0.68) – $3,295 = +$8,064), which is a very good 40.3% expected return on your $20,000. That percentage return is higher for higher bankrolls and lower for lower bankrolls since the cost of service becomes a smaller percentage of higher bankrolls and a higher percentage of smaller bankrolls. If you want to subscribe to the all Football and all Basketball package you would need a total of at least $4,846 to invest to expect a positive return after factoring in the cost of the service. The calculations above are based on expected results based on long term records and some years are better and some years are worse.
What is a Point spread?
Before I delve into rigorous explanations of how a bettor can gain an advantage against the point spread, it is important to understand what the spread actually represents. Point spreads were invented to keep bettors interested in games between teams of different talent levels – if a perennial powerhouse like Alabama plays a mid level team such as South Alabama, you’ll find very few people willing to bet on which team will win the game since Bama would be such a prohibitive favorite. However, most are willing to bet on whether Alabama will ‘cover the point spread’ and win by a certain number of points. If the point spread is 21.5, then the Crimson Tide must win by 22 or more points for their side of the bet to cover, while South Alabama must either win outright or lose by 21 points or less to cover their side. Point spreads are designed so that the probability of each outcome is roughly equal, and are generally set so as to approximate the median score differential between the two teams at the given site of the game.
However, skewed public perception, results-oriented analysis, and unsound metrics result in point spreads that are often biased one way or another. While the casual bettor does not possess the capacity to exploit these advantages, I have used mathematical models, situational analysis, significant trends and quantitative player analysis that are far more complex and accurate than anything else on the market to gain an advantage, which is why I have won 53% to 56% of my Best Bets (depending on the sport) over the last 29 years.
How are the lines set?
While the odds makers do to try approximate the median margin of victory between two teams, they also try to reduce their exposure to risk by setting lines such that the public money will fall evenly on both sides of a game, so that they can offset the bets against each other and earn a profit on the juice (cut of winnings taken by the house, explained below) without exposing themselves to large potential losses. Thus, odds makers are often in the business of gauging public perception rather than team performance, and therefore the betting public actually sets the line. In more recent years, the betting public has had less influence on the odds than professional betting syndicates or sharp money has had, but there is still value to be found – although in different ways than in previous decades. If Georgia is 4 points better than Georgia Tech according to my advanced metrics and analysis, but the aggregate public perception is that Georgia is 7 points better than Georgia Tech, then the posted point spread is likely to be closer to 6 or 7 points (public perception) than it will be to 4 points (the realistic difference between the teams). This makes my job as a professional handicapper much less daunting; not only can I exploit lines where the odds makers are off, but I can also exploit the uniformed opinions of the general betting public, and more recently take advantage of betting syndicates and ‘quants’ that rely more and more on algorithms but can overlook some of the hidden value in changes in team personnel or lineups and in the particular match up between two teams.
Isn’t gambling risky?
I don’t believe that the term ‘gambling’ applies to what I do. I sell information to subscribers, with which they can take positive expectation positions in uncertain markets. With correct financial optimization and bankroll management, long term risks are nominal compared to the risks of investing in other, more conventional markets. Just as a single stock may go up or down in a day, any one team may win or lose a given game. But as long as the investor maintains a long-term perspective, understands variance, and doesn’t over-extend themselves or bet more than they can easily handle, risk can be highly mitigated, and they can earn a very attractive risk adjusted return.