It’s the goal of every punter and handicapper who puts money on a sporting event: to be considered a sharp bettor.
A “sharp” bettor is someone who can see something that no one else can — not even Vegas. They can find value in all sorts of bets, and more often than not, they wind up coming out on top. Some sharps even make a career out of it.
So what do sharp sports bettors know that no one else does? Or is there more to it than just knowledge?
Our sharp sports betting guide will show you exactly what you need to learn to be one of the smartest handicappers. We can’t promise you’ll win, but if you follow the strategies below, you’ll have a leg up on the rest of the betting public — and that’s half the battle.
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What is a Sharp Sports Bettor?
Before we define a sharp sports bettor, it might be worthwhile to define what a sharp sports bettor is not.
A sharp is not someone who wins every one of their bets — far from it. The best punters in the world win between 55-60% of their wagers. If you see someone claiming to win more than that, run — they’re either idiots on a hot streak, or they’ll try to sell you something.
They can’t instantly eyeball a game or a line and pick a winner. They’re not Nostradamus. Rather, most sharps are extremely selective in the bets they place, choosing to only wager on games that they’re very confident in rather than spraying money all over the day’s slate.
Sharps aren’t people who have a person on the inside feeding them privileged information, and they’re certainly not people who can blackmail competitors into affecting the outcome of games. Those people are called criminals, and they usually end their sports betting careers wagering on prison basketball games.
Ultimately, a sharp sports bettor is someone who is willing to do the work to look at various lines and odds to find profitable discrepancies. They can evaluate games with a clear, passionless eye, and they’re not swayed by things like emotional storylines or personal affiliation.
They’re also extremely disciplined. Nobody likes to talk about it, but more often than not, it’s a bettor’s behavior away from the books that will determine how successful they are. If you can’t manage your bankroll or your emotions, then chances are you’ll never make it as a sharp.
Difference Between Sharp Sports Bettors and the Public
It’s a grim reality: most members of the betting public will never turn a profit on their bets. The most they can hope for is losing slowly enough that it never really becomes noticeable, and they can continue with their sports betting hobby being only a slight leak in their finances.
At the end of the day, the difference between a winning and losing sports bettor can be attributed to a few different behaviors, such as:
If you want to be a sharp sports bettor, you need to abandon all your favorite teams. If you can’t pick against your hometown team when the data clearly suggests you need to do so, then you’re too emotionally invested in the outcome of games to analyze them with a critical eye.
In fact, many handicappers make a tidy profit by taking action off the books. If you can find a rabid fan who wouldn’t dream of betting against their beloved Dallas Cowboys, for example, you can get an incredible price — and they’ll likely pay off all season long.
We’re not recommending that you capitalize off your friends’ weaknesses, of course. We’re merely pointing out that you can’t have your allegiances get in the way of your desire to make a profit.
If you can’t bring yourself to bet against your favorites, at the very least, you need the discipline to leave their games alone.
If you let your emotions get the best of you, you’ll soon start making rash decisions, which is a sure road to ruin.
You’ll see this often among gamblers on a losing streak (poker players call it “going on tilt”). Some poor sap will lose a few bets and then start chasing those losses, making increasingly foolish bets in hopes of getting their money back.
This rarely works and usually ends up in someone squandering their entire bankroll in a frighteningly short amount of time.
Your goal should be to become a sports betting robot or at least a handicapping Mr. Spock. Look at each game on its merits, and bet accordingly. If things don’t go your way, let it go — it happens (of course, if things don’t go your way more often than not, you might need to reconsider your strategy).
This goes for watching the games you’re betting on as well. If watching a backdoor cover happen in real time can set you off for days, you might be better off just reading about your bets in the paper the next morning.
Making Too Many Bets
When the average member of the betting public wants to make a wager, they usually go all out. It’s not unusual for them to make multiple bets on the same game and repeat it for nearly every game on the day’s schedule.
Bottom line: if you’re doing that, you’re just guessing. You can’t possibly have that good of a feel for every contest (unless you have a team of researchers backing you up).
That’s not what sharp bettors do. They pick a handful of games or bets, and that’s it. They don’t go crazy and don’t try to have action on every contest running that day.
If there’s a game that they don’t have a good feel for, they simply pass it up. There will be more games tomorrow — no reason to guess and waste money today.
Your average punter makes so many bets because they’re hooked on the thrill of gambling; they like having skin in all these games. That’s fine, but it contradicts our “don’t be emotional” rule, so keep in mind that your entertainment will come at a price.
Poor Bankroll Management
This is the boring stuff that no one likes to talk about, but it’s one of the most important parts of being a successful handicapper: you have to be able to manage your money.
If you’re going to take this seriously, you have to treat it like a business, and a business is only as good as its cash flow. After all, what good will it do you to have a can’t-miss angle on today’s game if you don’t have the money to bet on it?
If you don’t have money, you can’t make money — so do whatever it takes to safeguard the cash already in your pocket.
Not making too many bets is a great start, but it’s only a start. You must also regulate carefully how much money you make on each bet.
Most experts recommend wagering between 1-3% of your bankroll on each bet. That’s smart, but there’s a problem: it’s not very exciting. If you have a $100 bankroll, you’d only bet a buck or two each time.
Again, we’ll refer you to our “don’t get emotional” rule here. Smart bankroll management might not be exciting, but ask yourself whether you want to have fun or make money here.
Bad Work Habits
Now we’re into the topics that most sports bettors really don’t want to talk about. Bad work habits? This isn’t a job — it’s gambling.
If you treat it like that, that’s all it will ever be — a fun way to lose money. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, but if you’re looking to become a sharp, you will have to approach things differently.
Sharps treat sports betting like a legitimate job. It’s a fun job, to be sure, but it’s still a job. You need to work harder than everyone else if you want to succeed.
What does hard work look like for a sports bettor? It means putting in the effort to thoroughly research every single bet you want to make so you’re coming into it with a clear head and thoughtful analysis.
It means digging through the lines at multiple sportsbooks to find one that’s off by a point or two. That might not seem like much, but as any sharp can tell you, it adds up over time. Most members of the betting public just pick one bookie and stick with them, no matter what.
Most of all, it means sticking with it and monitoring your results. On a losing streak? Don’t stick your head in the sand — dig into the data and try to see if it’s due to bad luck or if you have a leak.
The best sports bettors constantly evaluate their decision-making processes to ensure that their wagers are smart and well-informed. You’d be smart to do the same.
Sharp Sports Betting Behaviors
Now that we’ve outlined most of how smart bettors differ from everyone else let’s look at what a sharp does on a day-to-day basis.
Create a Model
The most important thing you can do as a handicapper is develop a model for predicting games. Nowadays, most sharps have sophisticated statistical models that allow them to zero in on the likely outcome of a game, so you’ll find very few that are just trusting their gut.
If you can’t do this on your own, you may be able to find other models on the internet somewhere. The important thing is to not just blindly trust the model, regardless of whether it’s yours or someone else’s.
You need to constantly monitor and fine-tune it to ensure it’s giving you optimal results. After all, if you keep feeding data into a flawed algorithm, you will keep getting flawed results. A model that you don’t refine is just a fancy gut feeling.
Your model should seek to define the “true” odds on each contest, which will then allow you to compare those odds to the lines offered by Vegas to see if a bet has a positive expected value (or is “+EV,” in gambling parlance).
Find a Good Price
Most of the time, you’ll find that Vegas is pretty spot-on with its lines. That’s when you exercise discipline and move on to the next bet.
If you find a line that’s out of whack with what you’d expect from your modeling, you should investigate it thoroughly. It may just be worth a bet.
You can expect to find good prices several times, and as a sharp bettor, you should plan to be online when these occur.
The first is immediately after the lines are released. Not every sportsbook releases its lines at the same time, so you should learn when each bookie does. As a general rule, you’ll likely have more luck betting on the sites with early lines, as the latecomers will have more information to use when setting their odds.
Ride the Wave
What generally happens is that lines will be released, and the “smart money” will bet one way or another. After this, the public money will start coming in — this will usually sway the lines in one direction.
This often creates an imbalance that sharps will seek to exploit. There may be plenty of +EV possibilities here, so try to check the lines again midway through the day or week, depending on the sport.
The smart money will then reset the lines a bit, although not as dramatically as public money. This will be followed by another wave of public money. Sharp bettors will typically try to pick over the odds one last time right before the games begin.
It’s important to realize one thing here: sharps are looking for +EV bets, not necessarily betting on one side or the other. If you think taking the Cowboys +6.5 is smart on Monday, that shouldn’t stop you from taking the Giants -3.5 on Saturday if you feel the value is there.
If you can get value coming and going on your bets, you’ll be in an excellent position to come out ahead.
Look for Anything Out of the Ordinary
You might notice an unexpected jump here or there when you’re checking the lines regularly throughout the week. If this can’t be attributed to breaking news, like a key injury or weather report, then it’s probably due to an influx of money from somewhere.
Sometimes, lines will swing back suddenly by a point or two. For example, the line might have been the Giants -3.5, then -2.5, and suddenly jump back to -3.5. This is often due to sharp money that came in to capitalize on the line movement.
At that point, it’s probably too late to make a bet yourself — the moment has passed. What you can do, though, is make a mental note that the sharps think that the Giants -2.5 is a good value, so you can be ready if the line gets there again.
You may also see a sudden, massive swing in the odds across all the major sportsbooks simultaneously. This is called a “steam move,” and it often means that a large betting syndicate just placed a massive amount of money on one side or the other.
Steam moves are important to note because sometimes, they’re a harbinger of an even bigger steam move. Betting syndicates sometimes place a large wager on one side to move the lines, and then they come back with an even larger wager on the other side once the odds are favorable.
If you see something you suspect is a steam move, you might want to place a bet on the other side, just in case.
Consider Varying Your Bet Amount
This one isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Some sharp bettors swear by betting the same amount of their bankroll every time, no matter what.
Others mix things up a bit, wagering a bit more on games that they feel a higher degree of confidence in. They don’t go crazy — you’re not going to suddenly gamble half of your bankroll or anything — but they might add in an extra percentage point or two occasionally.
The former is probably the smart play in minimizing variance, but it could also cost you value at times. Ultimately, this is a personal decision, so it’s up to you how you want to play it.
Guide to Sharp Sports Betting
Is Sharp Betting Legal?
Sharp betting is no more legal or illegal than regular betting — that all depends on your particular jurisdiction, so check your local laws. However, some sportsbooks try to limit sharp betting (they like losers, after all), so if you’re too successful, you might find that some bookies refuse to take your action.
How Often Do Sharps Win?
On average, sharp bettors win between 55-60% of their bets. You’ll find some that claim to win more than that (sometimes much more), but that’s usually either the result of a hot streak or outright lying.
Do Sharp Bettors Bet Early or Late?
The short answer is…both. Sharp bettors typically try to bet as soon as the odds are released before the public can move the lines. Then, once the public has weighed in, they’ll wager again if they see any line movements that create value.
Do Sharp Bettors Parlay?
Sharp bettors almost never parlay. Parlays have terrible odds, and they’re typically reserved for recreational bettors who are more interested in having fun or chasing massive paydays rather than sophisticated handicappers who want to win regularly.
What is the Easiest Sport to Gamble On?
The easiest sport to gamble on is whichever one you know the most about and are willing to put the most work into. However, beyond that, the most value typically exists in college basketball, while the easiest sport to get into is usually American football.
What is Reverse Line Movement?
Reverse line movement is when the betting public places a large amount of money on one team, so the sportsbook adjusts the line the other way. Sharps often use this to make a profit.
Why Is BetOnline the Best Sportsbook for Sharp Bettors?
BetOnline has built its reputation around 25 years of supplying online bettors with a superior betting service. Despite dealing with well-equipped competitors, it remains the platform of choice for many betters nationwide – including sharps.
Bonuses are everywhere, but only some platforms allow players to benefit from genuinely good ones. As you’ve probably already guessed, BetOnline has some of those ‘good ones’. The highlights include a 50% welcome bonus worth up to $1000 and risk-free player prop wagers and live bets.
When it comes to safety and security, you can have no worries about playing at BetOnline. They use the latest SSL encryption technology, keeping your personal and sensitive details away from nefarious sources.
BetOnline features some of the most competitive odds in the industry. Ideal for any successful sports bettor looking for sharp action. They also boast a wide range of markets from sports worldwide, brimming with opportunities.
Other sports betting markets worth checking out:
Sports Betting Tips for Being a Sharp Sports Bettor
While we’ve already covered some of the biggest strategies for being a sharp sports bettor, there are some simple things you can do to ensure you have the best chance of coming out on top.
Maintain Accounts at Multiple Sportsbooks
Time is of the essence for the sharp sports bettor, so you’ll need to be able to take advantage of lines the moment they’re released. This means having an account set up at multiple online sportsbooks, as you never know which one will be the best at any given time.
Also, if you become too successful, some bookies might refuse to take your action, so you’ll need to have a backup plan (and preferably several) in place. It’s a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.
The good news is that there are plenty of options — we’ve listed our favorites above — so it’s easy to find sportsbooks that will accept your wagers.
Keep Money in Your Accounts
Remember how we said time was of the essence? You can’t be one of the first to bet on fresh lines if you’re wasting time filling in your banking details and making a deposit every time you visit one of your sportsbooks.
Try to make sure that you have enough money in all of your accounts to cover at least a few bets. That way, you can immediately spring into action when you spot some juicy value, rather than fumbling for your wallet.
Take Advantage of Deposit Bonuses
Most online sportsbooks make it easy for you to keep your account topped off, as they offer a variety of deposit and reload bonuses for you to use. Don’t forget about these — for many punters, they’re the difference between being profitable and being break-even.
Be sure to read the fine print before you sign up, though. Every bonus comes with a rollover requirement: the number of times you need to wager your deposit before you earn the bonus.
Higher rollover requirements are harder to earn, and some have time limits attached. Be sure you’ll be able to meet all the requirements before you use the code.
Start Your Sharp Sports Bettor Journey with a Single Bet
Being a sharp sports bettor is hard to make an easy living, but it can be done if you’re hardworking and dedicated enough. The strategies above will get you most of the way there — after that, it’s up to you.
We recommend maintaining accounts with multiple sportsbooks, as most pro bettors do. If you’re just starting, though, BetOnline is probably the best place for newbies. They have an excellent deposit bonus, and their layout is noob-friendly.
It’s important to remember that most people who try to become sharp sports bettors fail, and that’s ok — you can still have fun along the way.
We’d encourage you to treat it as a fun hobby you might master someday rather than as a way to keep a roof over your head. Not only will that keep you out of financial trouble, but it will also allow you to still enjoy your favorite sports without shouting at your TV that a missed field goal just cost you your mortgage.
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