Future Book Betting Pitfalls And How To Avoid Them

By Ross Everett

Betting on sports 'futures' is an enjoyable and potentially profitable way to wager, but there are several potential risks that can lead to losses. Here's a rundown of things to avoid:

Search for the best price: A common mistake is to assume that the price on a specific futures wager position will be the same at every sportsbook. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, you'll often see a greater degree of difference between futures prices from book to book than any other form of bet. This is because that books aren't as worried about what price other outfits are offering as they are about keeping their own financial position balanced.

Don't try to pick the winner in a competitive marketplace: This may sound sort of counter intuitive since the general idea of betting on futures is to determine the actual winner but it's really not. Like everything else, its essential to always be mindful of the value you're getting. In a futures market with several legitimate contenders at the top the price offered is seldom high enough to properly compensate for the risk you're assuming. Here's an example: in a hypothetical NCAA hoops tournament Duke is +200 to win the national championship. They've certainly got a shot, but at a payback of only 2/1 its hard to justify a wager at this point with the potential for so many interceding events that can make a championship more problematic. Such events as injuries, a tough tournament draw or even just going into a slump at the wrong time can happen to any team but when you bet a higher priced team--a 'dark horse mid major at 15/1 for example--you're getting "compensation" for assuming the "risks" of betting on a proposition with so many unknown variables.

To put this in more theoretical terms, the "true odds" of Duke winning the NCAA Championship are almost certainly higher than the price we're getting. Obviously, determining the "true odds", or actual probability of a future event is an inexact science but think of it this way: if the NCAA tournament was played 100 times would Duke wind up winning 50 of those? Given the number of other good teams and the propensity for upsets along the way, its doubtful. For the sake of argument, lets say that Duke has a 33% chance to win the tournament. That means that I wouldn't consider a bet on Duke to be a good value unless I was getting a price that a) accurately reflected the true probability of their winning and b) gave me some compensation for assuming the "risk of the unknown" inherent in taking the position so far in advance. At +500 I might be interested, but at +200 the value just isn't there.

In a less competitive field, there can be instances where even a big favorite is a good value. For example, lets say a book was to take action on a bikini contest between a Victoria's Secret supermodel and three members of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The model would essentially be a 100% probability to win the contest, meaning that even a high chalk price would be a good value. Risking a lot of money to win a little is a tough thing to justify, however, even if the math makes sense.

Don't go for the big killing: Sports wagering is not a good arena in which to make a 'big killing'. It may happen from time to time, but it is extremely rare. A perennial doormat can come out of nowhere to win a championship at a big price, but the fact that it happens from time to time doesn't make it a good value. If you're a recreational player and want to throw a few dollars at a big long shot, no real harm. If you aspire to any degree of seriousness as a sports better, however, you need to maintain your discipline and commitment to value at all times. If you want to hit a big jackpot play the lottery or the slot machines, but don't try to do it in a sports betting paradigm.

Simply stated, the concept of value works the same at the bottom of the wagering ladder as it does at the top. Even if you're betting a big underdog at a huge price make sure that it accurately reflects the 'true odds' of the event occurring.

Don't waste your money on ridiculous prop bets: Occasionally sports books offer ridiculous bets to get press or to be funny. For example, a book once offered odds on Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher and Bruce Willis all hopping into bed together and releasing a video tape of the proceedings. You'd no doubt get a huge payback were this to happen, but the 'true odds' of such an event transpiring far exceeded even a big potential payback. - 30230

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