Are you the sharpest tool in the shed? The brightest sparkler in the box? Do you apply your keen mind seriously to sports betting? But, like, really seriously?
There are two types of sports bettors: recreationals and sharps. Recreational betters are your everyday, regular folk who enjoy betting on their favourite team, placing reasonable, considered bets from their disposable income. They might spend some time reading up on the statistics, getting to know the finer details of how sports betting works, but they aren’t, shall we say, devoted, to it. These are the people who make up the vast majority of the sports betting industry.
Sharps, however, are those who take sports betting way beyond fun and games. They don’t place small bets; they are the whales of sports betting, the ones who place large wagers on carefully considered bets having spent time and effort studying every detail of the team, player or participant. They know the family histories of the groomer who tends each horse and have a sample of the jockey’s DNA on file. Okay, maybe the DNA was a stretch, but make no mistake, sharps are no casual bettors. And bookmakers know it.
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When you place a bet on a sporting event of your choice, you’ll be presented with a set of odds. Check out our article on how to read sports odds if you’re not familiar with how these work. These odds will show you who the favourites are, what the points spread is expected to be, how much your potential payout will be, and the probability of any given outcome. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, in most cases, it really is that simple. The types of odds presented may vary, but for the most part, bookmakers will show odds on an event, and betters will place the bet they want to.
Bookmakers have one goal in mind: making a profit. They facilitate your ability to make serious cash off sports betting, but they are, after all, businesses, and they need to make a profit to keep operating. Throw sharps into the mix, and they can disrupt bookmakers’ carefully calculated odds, which are designed to make the maximum amount of money for winning bettors and bookmaker alike.
To sand down the sharper edges of these types of bettors, bookmakers will often run dual lines, or two sets of odds – one for recreationals, and the other for sharps.
Sharp bettors have a tendency to place much larger bets than regular folk. They pay close attention to all the available information, and they rarely place bets on gut feel. They may even be part of a syndicate that studies sports statistics, player performance and details that could impact the outcome. They sometimes pour about as much effort and knowledge into their bets as bookmakers put into calculating odds.
As a result, sharp bettors can easily throw calculations off, especially if they go against what bookmakers say. Other players may notice these disruptions and follow suit, which can seriously throw off the bookies.
That’s where dual lines come in. Bookmakers will calculate two different sets of odds – one for regular players, and one for sharps. They factor in the types of bets each type of bettor usually places, including the frequency and amount – as well as other trends – and use this information to determine the best possible outcome for both the winning bettors and the bookies themselves.
The best way to explain the difference is to look at the habits of regular recreational bettors versus sharps. Bookmakers know, for example, that recreational players tend to bet more regularly on well-known, public teams, regardless of whether the odds are in their favour. Therefore, when calculating the odds for games that include a wildly popular team, they factor this tendency in and often inflate the odds for the popular team. Anyone betting against these odds could potentially win big – this is known as a positive expected value bet.
However, sharps aren’t guided by emotion or fandom; they are guided by the numbers. They place the bets that make the most financial sense. If they are betting heavily and contrary to the bookmakers’ odds, they could win serious money, huge money – much more money than the bookies would like to pay out.
Once a bookmaker identifies a bettor as a sharp, they will switch from showing them the regular odds to presenting odds that remove any inflation based on popularity, shrinking the winnings margins and widening the spreads.
But does it matter if you’re just a casual player? Unfortunately, yes it does. The more sharps pay attention to certain plays, the more bookies level the playing field across the board, making it increasingly difficult for a savvy and informed, but recreational, bettor to get those potential huge winnings when they bet counter to bookmakers’ inflated odds.
The ideal situation for any sports bettor is a huge win from a considerably less-huge wager. You want to be able to put up the smallest amount of money possible for the biggest win possible. Now, what you consider the smallest amount possible might vary. You might have some serious disposable income and decide to place a comparatively large bet, based on all your careful research, that could potentially yield you massive gains.
That kind of behaviour attracts the attention of the bookmakers, however, and they could quickly identify you as a sharp and relegate you to tightened odds. If you want to be in a position to take advantage of positive expected value, you need to carefully tread the line between high-value bets and value-for-money bets. It can be challenging for a well-informed bettor to stay under bookmakers’ sharps radar, however, especially as you learn more.
It’s a dance, one that sports betting enthusiasts and bookmakers have been engaged in since Zog took dried fish wagers on whether Og or Nog would kill the mammoth. The only way for an educated sports bettor to stay ahead of the game is information.