Sports Betting 101: What betting advice you should take and avoid

March 26, 2020 11:57 PM

Once new bettors have abandoned their long-held allegiances and learned the pitfalls of betting like a fan, the next step is to block out media hype and bias. This means ignoring the noise and not falling into the trap of betting games based solely on the opinions of sports talking heads. 

Over decades, an entire entertainment empire has been built around covering sports. There are hundreds if not thousands of televisions shows, radio stations and web sites devoted to sports. Some media outlets provide worthwhile analysis and content, but the vast majority aren't in the business of informing or teaching their audience, especially when it comes to betting.

Instead, they are focused on spewing hot-takes. Why? Because hot takes generate buzz and discussion, which causes viewers, listeners and readers to continue tuning in. The truth is that the coverage of sports is a largely opinion-based industry. And it's all about ratings. The loudest, most outlandish and most controversial opinions generate the most clicks and eyeballs. 

The biggest and most popular media outlets, like ESPN or Fox Sports 1, have a massive affect on public perception. Their coverage can influence opinions and shape how the "betting public" views a game. 

For example, maybe the Seattle Seahawks open as 7-point favorites against the Detroit Lions on Thursday Night Football. It's a Monday and the game is several days away. All week, you turn on ESPN and see show after show, commentator after commentator hyping up the Seahawks. They air a non-stop stream of highlights showing the Seahawks crushing their opponents. They feature a one-one-one interview with Seattle's star quarterback Russell Wilson, cutting away to clips of Wilson throwing touchdown pass after touchdown pass. The Seahawks look like an unstoppable juggernaut and the greatest team in the world. Then it pans to each "analyst" to give their picks. All 10 select the Seahawks. 

Now imagine four straight days of this kind of coverage. Throughout the week, a media narrative forms around how the Seahawks are a much better team and "guaranteed" to blow out the lowly Lions. However, it's important to note that these talking heads are mostly driving opinions based on who will win the game. The conversation is rarely ever about who will cover the spread.

If you turned off the TV, were unaware of this media bias and decided the Seahawks were the smart bet based on your own research, that's fine. But if you failed to really do your homework and decided to bet on Seattle because the media manipulated you into thinking it was a lock, that is a mistake. 

Betting games based on opinion, especially the opinion of others, is a losing strategy. Instead, bettors should rely on hard data that you can quantify and weigh. Bettors need to make informed decisions based on facts, statistics, line movement and value. 

In 1969, investor George Soros formed the Quantum Group of Funds. It became one of the most successful hedge funds in history. Today, Soros is worth more than $8 billion. Soros credits much of his success to "the theory of reflexivity." This is the idea that people's biases can move the market in directions that don't align with reality, creating valuable opportunities for savvy investors. 

Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, has a similar mindset as Soros. Buffett has amassed a fortune of roughly $80 billion. One of his biggest investment tips is to not overreact to news stories and headlines. He popularized the 99/1 Rule. Only listen to 1% of the financial news you hear. The rest is worthless.

One of the main reasons it's important to ignore media hype, aside from the fact that network bias can talk you into a bad bet and out of a smart bet, is the harsh reality of shaded lines. 

You have to remember that if you're watching ESPN pump the tires of the Seahawks all week long, it means hundreds of thousands, if not millions of other bettors are watching the same coverage you are. They're hearing and seeing the same pro-Seattle highlights and opinion-driven analysis. And as a result, their opinions will be influenced by the talking heads. They will be brainwashed into jumping on the bandwagon and wanting to bet on Seattle. 

Unfortunately for the public, the sportsbooks are fully aware of this. They are conscious of which direction public sentiment is trending and will shade their lines accordingly. This means adjusting the line further toward the popular side.

Oddsmakers don't set lines in a vacuum. They also take public bias into account. 

For example, maybe the oddsmakers came to the conclusion that the Seahawks should be a 6.5-point favorite in the hypothetical Thursday Night Matchup against the Lions. However, they know that the public, with the help of the media hype machine, will be all over the Seahawks no matter what the number is, so they raise the line to 7. 

Then, throughout the week as the media bias builds in favor of Seattle, the public, influenced by the coverage, loads up on the Seahawks even more, which causes the line to rise further to -7.5. This causes late Seattle bettors to lay a bad number a full point higher than the true opener.

Anything can happen. The Seahawks could win by 10 and cover. The Lions could lose by 6 or lose by 3 and cover. The singular outcome in and of itself isn't the most important thing to remember here. The idea is to beware of shaded numbers and not let the media noise machine influence your opinion of a game. By buying into the popular and overvalued side, you are playing right into the sportsbooks hands by betting a shaded an overpriced number.

Ignoring the noise isn't just about disregarding the opinions of national TV shows or talk radio hosts. It also applies to social media. Twitter is a fantastic medium that has countless benefits for bettors. It's the best way to monitor breaking news in real time like key injuries. It also allows you to follow on-the-ground reporters for each specific team. The local beat reporters, especially in college sports and student newspapers, can be a great resource for bettors because they give you unparalleled insight into little things that fall through the cracks that the national talking heads might be completely unaware of. 

On the flip side, Twitter can have its faults as you are inundated with a constant stream of opinions, many of which come from Average Joes and unverified accounts. There is an entire subculture around betting called "Gambling Twitter" where bettors discuss games, tweet their picks and give their reasoning behind their bets. On the one hand, it's great that the platform provides everyone the opportunity to speak their mind. But on the other hand, very few of these opinions are data-driven and actionable. Also, the true sharps aren't tweeting their picks. Most don't even have a twitter account. 

When it comes to social media, take everything you see with a grain of salt. Always check the source and look for an account with a blue check mark, that way you know they are verified. 

A smart way to make sure you're avoiding bias is to cover up the names of the teams and diagnose the matchup based purely on the merits themselves. Instead of seeing the name Seattle, label the Seahawks "Team A" and the Lions "Team B." This is how professional bettors approach games. They bet numbers, not teams. They let the data do the talking, not the media. By covering up the names of the teams, you force yourself to dissect the game from a more objective- not subjective- perspective. You are less likely to talk yourself into a bad bet, or away from a good bet. 

Also keep in the back of your head that the popular side doesn't always win. Sure, the Seahawks could cover this individual game despite the lopsided public betting and shaded line, but over the long haul this is a losing endeavor. The house always wins, which means more often often than not, the public loses, especially when they're betting the worst of the number after it moves. 

Always remember: You are your best analyst. Always trust your own process, you own data and your own methodology, not some talking head in a borrowed suit or a random person on Twitter.

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