10 Avoidable Mistakes People Make When Betting on Big Sporting Events

Steering clear of these common sports betting mistakes could mean the difference between winning or losing big.

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Updated May 28, 2024
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Sports betting is legal or in the process of becoming legal in 40 states and the District of Columbia. Although betting on big sports events could be a way to get a little extra cash now and then, it could also lead to a depleted savings account and should never be used as a way to get out of debt.

Read on for our list of the 15 most common sports betting mistakes — for both the beginner and experienced sports bettor.

Betting on the popular sporting event instead of what you know

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Betting on the Super Bowl may be exciting, but is football really what you know best? A long-term, profitable betting strategy hinges on your historical and current knowledge of teams, individual players, and the sport. If you’re an avid baseball, soccer, or even Russian table tennis fan with loads of information under your belt, start there instead.

Making it too complicated

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Don’t be afraid to make a simple moneyline bet — which is just choosing whether or not a team will win — rather than something like a parlay, where you combine multiple bets into one wager. Making things complicated in the beginning before you know the ins and outs of sports betting could be a frustrating experience and might deter you from learning everything you want to know.

Not setting a budget

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Setting a budget and sticking to it keeps you from placing more bets in an attempt to recoup losses and helps you bet responsibly without taking on gambling debt or forming a habit.

Before you get started, decide how much money you can spend can afford to lose. This is called your bankroll. Many sports betting strategists recommend making bets with only 1% to 5% of your bankroll. You’ll also want to keep track of your wagers, wins, and losses using a simple spreadsheet. Some sportsbooks — the company or individual that can legally take your bet — offer additional tools to help you track your bets.

Relying on emotion instead of data

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This may seem obvious, but emotional betting — fueled by things like childhood attachments or even a compelling underdog story in the news — is so common that there’s even a name for it: sentiment bias. Just because you had a Pittsburgh Steelers raincoat when you were a kid doesn’t mean you always have to bet on them to win.

Betting in favor of popular home teams

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Another form of sentiment bias is when fans bet on their favorite home team. With hugely popular teams, sportsbooks often “shade the line,” giving the favored team slightly higher odds instead of opening the bet with true odds. This means that if you bet on the favored team and they win, your return will be less than what it would be if the sportsbook had opened with the true odds.

Not taking injuries into consideration

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Stay abreast of anything that could affect a team’s game day performance, like injuries or weather, that could cause a sportsbook to change the odds between the time the bet opens to the time the game starts. For instance, if a popular athlete is injured, that’s a big deal because of his popularity and following. As a result, it will likely cause the odds to change. However, if two team starters come down with the flu but are still playing, that might not change the odds.

Being swayed by a team or player’s recent wins

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Recency bias is when investors place more importance on recent events than long-term patterns. For sports bettors, this could mean ignoring historical or seasonal data in favor of a belief that, based on a team’s recent wins, they’re going to win. Instead, look at the long-term stats that make the most sense for the sport, whether that’s a few years back or just the current season.

Ignoring teams on a losing streak

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Teams on a losing streak are typically undervalued, as recreational bettors tend to bet with recency bias. But take a look at the team’s historical data — have they performed well otherwise this season? If so, you could have found a good opportunity for an upcoming win.

Believing that the gambler’s fallacy is not a fallacy

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The gambler’s fallacy is the belief that, after a series of losses, either the team or the bettor are statistically or energetically due for a win. Unfortunately, just as a roulette wheel is never due a color or number, a team is never due a win. Nor do the odds increase in “best two out of three” playoff or series situations. In short, consider the odds for each individual game rather than the series as a whole.

Focusing on your wins and losses rather than total value

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Not all wagers have the same payout. In your long-term strategy, you want to focus on total value, rather than the number of wins or losses. You could have an entire month of wins, but still not make as much money as someone who had a few losses. It all depends on the odds. Look for small edges in the bet where you can exploit the potential value and focus on the total value won or lost over a longer period.

Bottom line

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There’s no doubt that betting can be fun and exciting. However, gambling is not on our list of the best side hustles and shouldn’t be used as a reliable way to make more income. By learning to avoid these betting mistakes, you can keep betting on sports fun and not worry about breaking the bank.

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Author Details

Becky Holladay

Becky Holladay is a finance and travel writer whose work has been published in The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, and the California Business Journal, among others. She loves finding out what makes people tick and telling their stories, whether they're entrepreneurs, artists, or changemakers.