Many people have this warped view and idea of what being a professional sports handicapper actually entails. People seem to have these grand expectations of gamblers (successful ones) driving in expensive foreign cars, buying bottles in the club overnight, and living this life if luxury with very little work. Some gamblers do live this life, all it takes is one search of Vegas Dave or Dan Bilzerian to see that these people do exist, although how both parties actually make their money is more than up for debate.
While obviously there are different levels to this and everyone’s goals are different, I promise you this couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve been fortunate enough to handicap sports professionally in Las Vegas for over a year now, and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some amazing people who also make their living this way. Some even border on what you would call friends, if such a thing can exist in this industry.
It’s Not All Fun And Games
To be completely honest, sports handicapping isn’t fun. I often make the comparison to being a stockbroker, but the thing is, once the market closes on Wall Street you’re done for the day. You’re free to have a life with friends, family, and go about your business. The market never closes in sports handicapping. Now, for the recreational bettor this really isn’t a problem. One or two games a week isn’t a big enough sample size to really have to get the best of the number to make a long term difference. But when this is your only source of income, getting the best of the number is truly the only advantage you have against the bookmaker.
No matter how much analysis or how many trends you cover, if you don’t get the best of the number long term I promise you in the long run it’s going to hurt your return. If only one sportsbook in Las Vegas has the number you want, no matter the time–day or night, you better stop what you’re doing and get there. When that Don Best screen flashes a steam move or an injury, you better stop what you’re doing and get it down. I can’t tell you how many times myself or friends who are professionals have had to leave dinner to go get a number that just popped up. It’s just an expected part of it that we all know is built into it any time we try to go out.
It’s Not A Party
Most recreational bettors have the luxury of placing their bet at a sportsbook, having a few beers and watching the game and being done with it. Professionals on the other hand have barely even gotten started yet. This is where the stock broker comparison comes in. We mostly watch the games in our home offices, and I use the term home office very lightly, some guys I know literally just have a desk, about 3 TV’s, and a computer in the middle of their living room. Live betting is a completely separate market from the start of the game. Say that 7 point favorite was first to kickoff and the opposing team just ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown.
You bet your bottom dollar that informed bettors are now going to see that 7 point favorite has moved down to a 4 point favorite just based off of one play. The total is also now affected because of the “fluke” kickoff return, it also moved up from 40 to 46. Now depending if you want to work a middle or just double down on your position, that’s four additional bets you have the option to make. If you think we are just relaxing having a drink in a sports book while all this added action is going on, your crazy. Theres value everywhere!
No Official Schooling
The thing about being a stock broker, is theres legitimate schooling for it. A business degree from the likes of Harvard or an ivy league school is second to none. Sports handicappers never had the luxury of learning this stuff while sitting half hungover in a lecture hall. This was mostly learned by being thrown in the fire and learning from your mistakes. Yes, having a network and having great people around you helps, but at the end of the day, this is trial by fire in the worst type of way–your bankroll.
If you know me at all by now, you know i’m huge on having a network of people around you to handicap with. It’s impossible to do this all on your own. In a sense, they probably may not take this in the most kind of ways, but they almost act as your own personal “analyst” in the same way that mutual funds or hedge funds employ them. I have a guy who just loves handicapping the weather.
I have a guy who’s specialty is home field advantage. If you can think of any way that an outcome could affect a game, chances are I have a “guy” for that. Every handicapper also has their unique own style. Some are market readers who read the margins. Some are algorithm and model guys, and that’s even before I get into the guys who just play totals.
Professional handicapping is one of the most lonely occupations you can truly carve out for yourself. If you thought police, lawyers, stock brokers, or fire fighters worked a lot of hours, I’m telling you handicappers–the good ones– work more. Now I’m not comparing what we do to what police or fire fighters do in the least bit, they do a job far more demanding and more needed than sports handicapping, I want that to be clear. The point that I want to drive home is that at least most of them, have an end of the work day, or at least can relax when the job is done. Handicapping sports and “the market” takes no days off. One particular total on a college football game moved 7 points during a Monday on Labor Day. It just doesn’t matter the time, day or night, the market is always fluid, and you need to be on top of it all times.
Here’s another unfortunate truth about sports handicapping. You’re going to have losing days, weeks, or even months. Variance and volatility in the market as as certain as the day is long. You can beat the market by as many points as you want, particularly last season in the NFL, you’re still sometimes going to lose. This is where bankroll management and never betting above your means comes in. I’m going to let you in on a little professional tip, no professional gambler I have ever spoken to uses a unit.
With the uprising of social media and handicappers and tipsters selling and giving out picks, all a unit is is a way to keep track of how up or down a handicapper is. Real gamblers don’t use a unit. They look at their bank account or how much cash they have. That’s all that matters in this racket at the end of the day. The thing to remember though is that our living expenses come out of our “bankroll”, so if you pay your car payment or rent on your house, are you down say, 5-10 units every month? It just doesn’t work like that in the real world. Yes, we usually wager about 1-5% of our bankroll per a given investment in sports, but even that can be thrown out the window based on the strength of a selection.
The Truth About The Term “Sharp”
I want to talk about the word “sharp” for a minute because I think over the years it’s somewhat lost its true meaning. There is this huge myth that syndicate groups and “sharps” hide in the shadows until their ready to strike, or they call a runner to place a max sized wager either to get their position down, or get money into the market in hopes of knocking a number either down or up to take the other side. Yes, those types of things do exist. But truly, a “sharp” is just someone who gets the best of the line.
That’s all it is. When someone is deemed “sharp” they get the best of the line, and are a proven long term winner. Look, money will move the line of a game every time, the only “pure” line is the opening one. But in talking with risk managers, all that is is a balancing act to try to get two way action. The respect of a $1,000 bettor will move the line just as much as a losing bettor with $10,000 every time. So who’s more sharp? Theres a reason limits are kept low at openers after all.
Ego Can Be An Issue
Handicappers are notoriously ego driven as I’ve said many times. We take such pride in small victories. There is no better feeling in the world than a sports book moving a line directly after you place your wager. It’s the ultimate sign of respect. Beating the market is another one. When you have 3 points the best of the number, it’s an amazing feeling to know you were out ahead of the market. Win or lose, it’s a small victory that you know long term you’re doing something right. After all, as I said above, it’s our only true advantage.
I hate to sound negative about this profession, because I truly love it. I just think the perception of it is a bit off. The beautiful thing about it at its core is that the more effort you put in to it, the more you get out of it in the form of money, but as I said, theres so much more that goes into it that we get to take away from it. The sacrifices in life are real though–make no mistake about it.