GH And Petey's Timberwolves Blog

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Sports Betting in America Part IV

Something about being awake at 5 in the morning really brings out the insomniac in me...

Anyway, here's some more stuff about sports betting.


The essence of all sports betting is based on trends. If you can figure out a trend that seems to determine a likely scoring distribution for a basketball game, you can handicap it well and become a winning sports bettor. Since sports aren't as mathematical as a game like poker, craps, or blackjack, the best one can hope to do is to come up with a model based on the past.

However, I tend to see a lot of trends that are essentially meaningless as well. For instance, the Twins started out the season 16-1 at home (or maybe it was only 12-1, I don't remember). Of course, the one game that I had attended was a blowout loss to the Royals. Based on this, you could notice a trend that the Twins never lost when I wasn't in a attendance and never won when I did. Of course, my presence at the game had no effect whatsoever on the outcome, so this trend is meaningless.

Even just looking at the record of 16-1 and assuming that it would keep up is relatively meaningless. If you decided to bet on the Twins at home every game for the rest of the season as long as you didn't have to lay more than 16:1 would almost certainly be a losing proposition. The fact that they had been winning a lot at home however may be some indication that they would continue to play good baseball and if you could get even money on the Twins at home for every game for the rest of the season, it would certainly be a winning strategy.

Every once in a while I see some trend like "Packers are 9-3 in week 5 coming off of a loss at home." I find it somewhat amusing that someone would actually take the trouble to dig up a stat like this, but even more funny that they think it would be somewhat useful in trying to make a bet. For starters, this trend would have been over a minimum of 12 years (and likely more in the 30-50 year range since they don't lose OR play at home on week 4 every year). Do you really think that a Packers team of 5 or 10 years ago has anything to do with how the Packers will perform in this game?

On the other side of the coin, you see people boasting trends like "Timberwolves went over the total in 4 of their last 5 games." Just like the last example was overly far-sighted, this one may be overly near-sighted. While it may be true that something about the Wolves has been causing them to score and/or allow more points per game, it might also just be random variance.

The truth of the matter is that if you try hard enough, you can probably find enough trends to justify a bet either way on a game. That's why it's very important to only use trends to modify what you would normally consider a good line for a game (as opposed to being the sole reason). You should start with an idea of how the game will flow under normal circumstances, come up with a line and then adjust it based on trends you feel might be relevant.

The following is a list of the trends you should look out for in order of importance:

1. Medium-Term Trends

These would be trends that are neither short nor long. They would include things like how well a team as played up to this point in the season or how well a player has played over the course of his career. If a team with a 21-15 record is playing a team with a 18-19 record at even money, then all other things being equal, a bet on the 21-15 team is good. If Kevin Garnett has to miss a game due to unforeseen circumstances, then that should affect the line of a game.

2. Trends The Public Will Notice

This should arguably be #1 on the list. If there is a trend that the public is likely to notice, they will tend to bet that way. Since they tend to bet that way, the sportsbooks will adjust the lines slightly, opening the way for a +EV bet on the other side. Oddly enough, this leads to some betting that might seem counter-intuitive to the uneducated bettor. If a team is on a 10 game win streak, you should tend to bet against them since the public will likely want to get their money in on the team that doesn't seem to lose. Also, if KG is going to miss a game, the public will tend to overbet the Wolves opponents that night, since the public will tend to favor the team not missing its superstar. Thus, the fact that the Wolves are missing their best player should make you more likely to bet on them!

3. Short Term Trends

Things like how well a team has been playing lately should affect your betting somewhat. However, you have to use caution and good judgment to avoid pitfalls when doing this. Like I said, a short term trend could be nothing more than variance. If there's a trend that's likely to affect the way the game will be carried out, you should try and get more info to figure out the reason for that trend. If the Wolves keep hitting the over it could just be because they've been hitting a higher number of jump shots than average, or it could be because they've started integrating a new offensive scheme that includes more running, hence leading to more possessions and more points per game by them and their opponents.

On a related note, people often tend to talk about streaky shooters (or streaky hitters in baseball). A baseball player who comes to mind is Torii Hunter. He'll go through streaks where he just hits the shit out of the ball, but then he'll seemingly go weeks without getting on base. Admittedly, part of this is probably mental. But on the other hand, he's not as good of a hitter as he is when he goes through those good streaks. If he was, then he'd hit like that all the time. He'd still have bad streaks, but they'd only be bad compared to his average, so on paper they don't seem as bad. Generally, a player who is considered streaky is just one who is overrated in the public's eye.

4. Long Term Trends

There are some of these that are important, but generally they're useless. The most important one that comes to mind is that homefield advantage in the NFL is worth about 3 points. This trend will likely continue until they start playing in empty stadiums or let fans sit in the middle of the field. Another one is that the Warrior's management will always blow it. In general however, any trend that spans a longer period than most of the people playing on the team is irrelevant.

It's always funny how sports announcers start talking about a team's playoff history. Talking about how well the Lakers have done over the course of their playoff history is completely irrelevant to how this years team will do, since the days of Magic and Kareem are long gone. It's more useful to talk about recent playoff history, but unfortunately, teams only get a few playoff games per year, making that talk less relevant as well.