13 Sports Betting Mistakes To Avoid

Sports betting, like any type of gambling, comes with highs and lows. Whether you get lucky and hit the over thanks to a last-second hail-mary or fail to cover the spread because of a dropped pass, the world of sports betting can sometimes feel like a rollercoaster. If you want to mitigate some of the risks that come with betting on sports, then consider avoiding the common mistakes below.

13 Sports Betting Mistakes To Avoid

You might be new to sports betting and looking to avoid losing too much money right up front. Or maybe you’re a veteran sports bettor who’s tired of regularly losing your money and not analyzing where your tactics might have gone wrong.

Either way, you need to know that it’s okay — sports betting is hard. There’s a lot to learn, and it’s easy to try to take what looks like the easy route. Plenty of people lose their money betting on sports, and you probably will, too. But you can try to mitigate some losses by learning what mistakes you can avoid in the future.

Follow these tips below, and you should be feeling better about your betting choices.

Not Managing Your Bankroll

First and foremost, you have got to manage your spending, even if you’re a recreational bettor. If you don’t, you could end up underwater fast.

Set rules for yourself that will be easy to follow through on. Think of it like a household budget, where you set aside some funds for this specific part of your life. In fact, you should keep your bankroll in an account that’s separate from your everyday funds to keep yourself on track.

Your bankroll might start off small, and that’s okay. If you make some wins and set aside some money from every paycheck for this hobby, then you’ll eventually have more money to play with. Maybe you’re just starting off with $100 as your initial bankroll.

Next, you need to determine your bet sizing by setting a percentage of your total bankroll. There are three risk levels you can look at:

  • Low risk (0% to 2%): This is the safest of the three options and is the best risk level for beginners. Here, you’ll bet between 0% and 2% of your total bankroll per wager. If you have a $100 bankroll, that means betting no more than $2. You may have multiple bets going at once, of course, but none of them will ever be for more than that $2 limit.
  • Neutral risk (0% to 4%): If you’re not a complete beginner but still don’t want to get too crazy, you can bet between 0% and 4% of your bankroll. With that $100 bankroll, you could bet anywhere between $0 and $4 per wager. If you have 10 different bets going at $4 each, you’ll have $40 in play.
  • High risk (0% to 5%): This is for folks who are more experienced with sports betting and want a bit more adventure. Now you can up your maximum wager to be up to 5% of your bankroll, or $5 if you’re working with a $100 bankroll. If you have 20 bets going at once, you’ll have all your money in play.

You should never bet more than 5% of your bankroll on any one wager. If you use these smaller individual bet sizes, you’ll have some protection against variance to keep yourself from falling into a hole too quickly.

You should also keep detailed records of all of your bets in a spreadsheet. Because you’ve already set your betting funds aside from the rest of your money, this is a clear way for you to see how well (or poorly) you’re doing with your sports betting. You should track:

  • Date of the bet
  • Bet type
  • Amount of the bet
  • Your outcome
  • Amount you won/lost

Setting Unrealistic Expectations

You can’t just go into your first round of sports betting assuming you’re going to win. Frankly, you will most likely lose. Winning at sports betting is hard — it requires a lot of research and quite a bit of luck.

You can win here and there, but really making money off of sports betting is a slow grind. You can forget that fantasy of doubling your money with every wager you make. The most successful sports betting experts still get only about 60% of their bets right. There are only so many factors a deeply educated bettor can take into account, and sometimes the team you bet on is going to have a bad day.

Instead, you should always look at sports betting as a hobby rather than something you can make a solid profit from.

Being Lazy With Research

While we encourage you to view sports betting as a hobby rather than a second career, you shouldn’t be putting your money down on a wager that you’re not educated about. That’s really just throwing your money away.

Doing research is more than just looking at the projections on SportsCenter. You should stay current on your favorite player or team’s injury updates and look at past matchups to see how two teams have fared against each other before. You could even look at weather forecasts and see if wind or heat might affect the players.

It might make it easier to pick a specific niche to focus your efforts on. If you love college football, maybe bet on only ACC games. Do the research on just those teams and see how well that goes for you. If you’re comfortable at that level, then maybe you can expand out to other conferences or other sports.

Betting on Sports You Aren’t Familiar With

Bettors should stick with the sports where their knowledge base is the strongest. Just because everyone in your office is all about football doesn’t mean that you should be putting money down on some Sunday action if you don’t really know or love the game.

You make it that much harder for yourself to actually win anything if you jump into wagering on a sport you don’t know fairly intimately. You can best understand odds, handicaps, and more if you are comfortable with how the sport is played and how different teams within that sport tend to fare.

Placing a bet on any random sport just for the sake of it means you’re pretty much bound to fail. Don’t do it.

Placing Too Many Wagers

Even if you’re being disciplined enough to bet only on the sports you really know, it’s still tempting to take a shotgun approach to betting. Plenty of people place far too many wagers in hopes that something will end up winning instead of being selective and looking for the best opportunities.

Remember that sports betting is a marathon, not a sprint. If anything, it’s wise to pace yourself so that you don’t blast through your bankroll too quickly. You also need to remember that you’re paying a vig on each bet that you place (which is often a 10% take on the part of the bookmaker), and that can be hard to overcome if you’re spreading yourself so thin on so many bets at once.

Instead, take your time to really research your options and put your money down on what you think are wise potential outcomes.

Betting With Emotion Instead of Logic

There are a lot of ways that people let their emotions get the best of them when it comes to sports betting, like always rooting for your hometown team or getting a bit wild and betting when you’re drunk. But this is another time when you should be using your head and thinking through everything with the help of research.

Bettors who go with their gut instincts instead of smart picks are bound to lose, especially over time. And while it’s admirable to have a ride-or-die favorite team, you have to be able to put your personal biases aside and keep an open mind when deciding how you’ll bet. If you can’t bring yourself to admit that your favorite team might not win, then you should avoid involving them in any bets altogether and keep that relationship untarnished.

Emotions can run especially high when you’re drinking, so definitely avoid putting any money down when you’re intoxicated. Alcohol brings out our impulsive side, so we’re certainly not making wise choices when we’ve had a few. And despite you thinking that betting on that one team is a really great idea right now, guys — it probably isn’t.

Misunderstanding Value

Plenty of bettors wager on whichever outcome they think is most likely to happen. This seems like that’s what you’re supposed to do, but of course it’s all a bit more complicated than that. You have to look at value to really improve your chances of making an actual profit.

Value isn’t the same as odds — rather, value measures how the odds relate to the estimated chances of your wager winning. You should bet only when the probability of the outcome is higher than the implied probability.

You can always calculate the implied probability of an outcome by looking at the betting odds from the bookmaker. Whether the odds are presented as fractional, decimal, or moneyline odds, you can determine the implied probability as a percentage.

Value is always thought of as positive or negative. A wager has a positive value if the chances of winning are greater than the implied probability that’s reflected in the odds. Meanwhile, a wager has negative value if it’s less likely to win than the implied probability suggests. To make money, you have to find bets with positive value.

Let’s say that the Iowa State Cyclones are going to be up against the Georgia Bulldogs in football. You can check each team’s standings, and you see that Iowa State is ranked first in the Big 12 with a 5-2 standing, while Georgia is second in the SEC-East with a 4-2 standing. The two teams are pretty evenly matched, but Iowa State has a small advantage. With some more research, you give Iowa State a 55% chance of winning and Georgia a 45% chance of winning.

Then you look at your favorite betting site, and they offer these odds:

  • Iowa State: 1.73
  • Georgia: 2.10

From these numbers, we can quickly calculate the implied probabilities:

  • Iowa State: (1 / 1.73) x 100 = 57.8%
  • Georgia: (1 / 2.10) x 100 = 47.6%

Then, we compare the probabilities we gave to the outcomes versus the implied probabilities:

TeamProbabilityImplied Probability
Iowa State55%57.8%

In this scenario, there’s no positive value in betting on Iowa State because the actual probability we figured out earlier (55%) is lower than the implied probability (57.8%). There’s also no positive value in betting on Georgia either because we gave them a 45% chance of winning, and that number is also lower than the implied probability from the bookmaker at 47.6%.

Since this game has only negative value for either team, you should save your money and look for a better game to wager on.

Not Comparing Odds and Lines

Once you’ve determined what might be a positive value when it comes to a wager, you really need to shop around on different betting sites. Compare the odds and lines available from different bookmakers to see where you can find the best deals and best potential payouts. It doesn’t take long to do, but it can be really worth the effort.

Here are some sample odds from five different betting sites for a soccer team to win an upcoming match:

  • Site A: 1.83
  • Site B: 1.75
  • Site C: 1.82
  • Site D: 1.70
  • Site E: 1.80

These odds all appear fairly close, but if you think about it for a second, you can see where you’d be getting the better deal. If you make a $100 wager on the best odds at 1.83, your potential winnings would be $83; if you make a $100 wager on the worst odds, your potential winnings would be $70. That’s a significant difference in how much you could win.

Not all betting sites will have such marked differences in their odds, but even small differences can noticeably add up over time.

Always Betting on Favorites

This isn’t the same as betting on your favorite team; rather, this is about betting on the favorites as presented by the bookmaker.

Sure, the bookmaker gave that team such favorable odds for a reason, but just because one team is the favorite doesn’t mean they’ll automatically win. Every team has a bad day, and you’ll have a bad day, too, if you put all of your wagers just on favorites.

This is where good research comes into play again. Look at how things went the last time these two teams played against each other. Check in on the players to see if anyone has some troubling injuries from practice earlier in the week. Maybe you’ll see something others don’t and get a tidy payout by betting on the underdog.

Chasing Only the Big Payouts

On the other hand, some bettors love to back the longshot every time because the potential payout is so much higher. While you should always entertain the idea of betting on an underdog instead of invariably backing the favorite, you shouldn’t do it just because the high odds could mean a giant payday. Those odds also mean that you’re less likely to win, so be prepared to lose a lot of money if you choose this route.

It’s not just betting on the underdog that teases huge potential payouts, though: Parlays can also offer colossal payouts. This is why a lot of websites recommend against playing parlays. They are insanely difficult wagers to win, but bettors become captivated by the size of the potential payouts. Sportsbooks love parlay gamblers because they’re usually just giving their money away by choosing those wagers — and because the vig on parlays is usually higher than it is for straight bets.

Straight bets may be more “boring,” but you have a better chance of winning with simpler bets like straights.

Not Double-Checking Your Betting Slip

If you’re placing your bets through a bookmaker, you should receive a betting slip or ticket that shows your exact bet, from the team you’ve selected to the odds and amounts. Always confirm every single detail before stepping away from the cashier or hitting “confirm” on the website.

Maybe the cashier misheard you and accidentally typed in your bet as being on the other team. Maybe your finger slipped and you selected the wrong team. Either way, double- and even triple-check your betting ticket to make sure that you’re not recorded as making a bet you didn’t want. Otherwise, you could be out your wager and frustrated at yourself.

Chasing Your Losses

Most people probably know better, but it still needs to be said: Don’t chase your losses. This means you should not try to win back your losses by doubling down on the next bet.

If you’re in the middle of a losing streak, it can be tempting to remedy that with one big bet to hopefully turn it all around. Maybe you feel like you’re due for a win soon, so you’d better increase your wager to make up for your previous losses. But this is an easy way to destroy your bankroll and make everything worse.

Don’t fall for the gambler’s fallacy. Instead, continue to work within only your set bankroll and keep making only small bets. This will help with your longevity and help minimize your losses because you’re still betting smart.

Blaming Losses on Bad Luck

It’s easy to blame a loss on bad luck. Honestly, though, you might have lost because of bad judgment on your part. They are not the same, and you need to be honest with yourself.

If you’re losing over the short term, it could be a bad run. But if you’re losing over the long term, you’re probably the one to blame. Did you let your heart guide your betting decisions instead of your head? Did you chase the payout instead of the smart pick? If you’re still losing with every bet you make, then you’re definitely doing something wrong.

You have to accept when you might have made the error because then you can look for ways to improve in the future. Recalibrate your system and do the work to fix what’s broken.

Remember: Play It Smart

Ultimately, the best way to avoid these sports betting mistakes is to take your time and do your research. You can’t rush into anything when it comes to gambling, whether it’s how much to bet or choosing a team. Research is going to be the foundation of all of your decisions, so never short-change yourself when it comes to reading up on everything you can.

However, don’t let all of this turn into a chore — you should still be looking at sports betting as a source of fun rather than as a full-time job. If you find yourself feeling miserable about having to analyze every team and value, maybe take a step back and hit pause on betting. Let yourself just enjoy the game for the sheer enjoyment of it and stay in love with the sport. When you’re ready to try betting again, you’ll hopefully feel less stressed about it.