How Much Should You Bet on Sports?

The explosive growth of legal sports betting is just beginning. While several states are completely up and running, others are still ironing out some kinks while even more will follow in the coming months and years. For those in legal states looking to get involved, now is the perfect time to do so.

Scores of users have done just that, but there are plenty of others who remain on the fence and want some answers before diving in. That’s where we come in. In this guide, we’re going to cover the answer to one of the most commonly asked questions in full detail: How much should I bet on sports?

We’ll also run through all of the variations of that question, walk through some basic sports betting math in plain English, and generally arm you with the knowledge needed to make some informed decisions about your sports betting budget. If you’ve got questions, you’ve come to the right spot as we have the answers. Read on.

Understand how the odds work

To fully understand the potential returns from the amount you put at stake, you need to have a solid handle on how sports betting odds work. For all bets available for wagering, sportsbooks will attach odds to the available choices. As an example, a simple NFL moneyline bet from William Hill will have odds next to the two team names.

  • Philadelphia Eagles +135
  • New York Giants -155

By noting the direction of the numbers, we can tell which side is the favorite: negative on that side and positive for underdogs. If you click on a choice to add the betting slip and plug in a wager amount, the book will display the potential return. However, it’s helpful to be able to ballpark the returns at a glance. Here’s a simple way to do so.

When odds are negative, that same number is equal to the amount you would have to bet to see a return of $100 on a winner. For our example, a $155 bet on the Giants would bring back a cool $100 if they won. For positive odds, the number is equal to what you’d get back for a winning $100 bet. For example, $100 at +135 brings back $135 if you win.

The odds work in the same fashion for all simple two-sided wagers, but the numbers may be negative for both choices in some cases, such as with point spreads and totals. There are also bets with multiple choices in which all of the odds could be positive. An example is the BetMGM futures market for betting the Super Bowl where odds are listed out for all teams in the league.

How much money do you need to start betting on sports?

When determining a starting bankroll for sports betting, it’s imperative to be completely honest about your current financial state of affairs. The amount you wager on sports should be akin to what you would consider spending on an entertainment-related expense. It should never be money that you need for other purposes.

If you stick to the mantra of ‘only play with what you can afford to lose,’ you’ll be on the right track. Your total bankroll refers to the amount that you are comfortable wagering. While no one wants to be completely wiped out, if you lost it all, it wouldn’t cost you any financial hardship. If it would, you’re betting too much.

Your bankroll can be the amount that you keep on-site, as well as additional funds to reload as needed. If you have a total bankroll of $1,000, you could keep $200 at the sportsbook and replenish it from the remaining $800. Remember: you can always increase your roll down the road as skills advance, but you can’t get back the money you wish you hadn’t lost.

How much should you bet on each game?

It’s a good idea to keep things consistent. This helps for tracking purposes, which is an important step to take for long-term success. In a nutshell, tracking will help you determine how far ahead or behind you are on an overall basis.

In terms of how much to bet, many schools of thought suggest assigning a percentage of your bankroll to each wager. On the conservative side, that may only be 1-2%, while a more aggressive bankroll management approach could call for up to 5%. For newer bettors, it’s good to err on the side of caution and keep it small until you at least have the basics down.

How do I know if I’m getting a fair price on a bet?

Sports betting is a bottom-line business. Odds and lines are set by the books and released to the public. From there, the numbers may adjust in response to betting action. The ultimate judge and jury for what a fair price is can be found by looking in the mirror. You make the call on what’s a good or bad number.

If you don’t like what you see, you can simply take a pass and move along as nothing is requiring you to place a bet at those odds if you’re uncomfortable. That said, you can take the time to do some digging when it’s a game or event that you’d like to wager on. To find a more appealing price, you can engage in what’s known as line shopping.

This simply means that you are checking the odds at multiple books. There may be some ticks of difference at DraftKings Sportsbook or FanDuel Sportsbook that will make the wager seem much more appealing. For example, you might find that extra half-point on a spread or a much better potential return on a futures bet. You won’t uncover instances such as these unless you shop around.

When should you increase your bet size?

It’s never a good idea to increase the amount of your bet off of a ‘feeling’ or what you view as a ‘sure thing.’ This can be a recipe for disaster. No matter how good of a read you may think you have on the game at hand, one indisputable truth remains in your way: There are no guarantees with sports betting.

Take the time to determine your overall feel for all of the bets you plan to place. For a simple example, let’s consider four bets you’re thinking about making.

  • You’re feeling really good about an NBA moneyline wager
  • You feel like you have a good read on a pair of NBA point spreads
  • You’re not sure about an NBA total, but it’s a game you plan to watch

If we weigh out all three of the above points, we have a high confidence level on the first bet, a mid-range feeling on the two spreads, and not much of a read on the total. By taking a bottom line look at this, the answer becomes obvious. We should wager on the moneyline and two spread bets while taking a pass on the totals wager.

Is there a limit to how much you should wager on one bet?

You should be looking towards keeping your wagering amounts consistent. If we follow the theories of only a certain percentage of your bankroll on any single bet, we can determine the size pretty quickly. For example, let’s say you have a fictitious bankroll of $1,000 for betting on sports. What does that translate into per bet?

  • Conservative approach of 2% per wager: $20 per bet
  • The aggressive strategy of 5% per wager: $50 per bet

It all comes down to your bankroll size, and we’ll walk through how you can determine what’s right for you on that front in a bit. Once again, by keeping your unit amounts consistent, you know when might be a good time to increase stakes and when it may be time to reel it in.

There will always be time to increase your play down the road as skills improve, so don’t rush it before you’re ready. If you wind up deviating from the norms and going outside of your comfort level for bets here and there, you’ll know it, and your bankroll may be drained more quickly than you were expecting as a result.

What does one ‘unit’ mean in sports betting?

In gambling circles, several terms are used commonly. One of them is ‘unit,’ which refers to the dollar amount for a wager that has been placed. For example purposes and in general terms, many folks consider $100 to be a unit for betting, but the amount could be much different for you.

For a bettor with a much larger bankroll, a unit size could be $1,000 per bet. Meanwhile, someone who is just starting and getting their feet wet before spending additional capital could have a unit size of $10. The actual size of the unit isn’t important, but understanding the significance of keeping things consistent is.

Once you have your bankroll set, you can figure out the optimal unit size for your approach. If you want to take it slow while learning the ropes, 1% of your $1,000 bankroll means you’re betting $10 per wager. For those comfortable being slightly more aggressive while understanding there may be some lumps along the way, 3% per bet means the unit size is $30.

When should you cash out?

The answer is going to depend on your ultimate goals. If you plan to build up the bankroll to increase unit size, then you may want to keep withdrawals to a minimum. For those who want to keep their bankroll at a set amount, withdrawals can be planned for when you reach a certain benchmark.

Also, there’s no need to keep more on-site than you’re comfortable with. While your funds are protected at legal and regulated sportsbooks, keeping a large amount in one spot may make you feel uneasy. If that’s the case, withdraw some funds once your account balance goes over the level you’re comfortable with.

One final note: if you happen to make a nice score, it’s a good idea to take the vast majority of the profit out. A big win can boost confidence levels, but you don’t want to make the mistake of giving it all back because you feel like you’re on some kind of hot streak.

Make the withdrawal and decide if your play warrants an increase with a clear head.

How can I spot the differences between good and great bets?

There’s a lot that goes into betting on sports successfully on a long-term basis, and it can take some time for those new to the scene to get up to speed. The good news is that the learning curve isn’t an insurmountable one by any means. If you’re willing to be patient and gain some seasoning, you’ll have a good handle on things before too long.

That includes how to spot appealing opportunities. Ultimately, what’s a good or great betting opportunity will come down to your feelings, but your instincts will begin to rise right along with your experience level. When you go through a schedule or a set of game lines, it won’t be uncommon for certain contests to automatically jump out at you.

Of course, you still need to handicap to confirm your instincts. If you go through the games and apply the confidence test we discussed earlier, you’ll know when to bet and when to take a pass. The ones you feel best about are the great bets, while those you have a little less confidence in may be good ones. If it’s not one or the other, take a pass.

Be sure to remember that your confidence level is not something that directly translates into winning bets. Even the best-laid plans can go awry after all, but if you learn to be selective with your wagers, you’ll find that it becomes much easier for you to accept the results. From there, learn from what happened and make improvements to your game as needed.

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