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Football handicapping: The importance of bankroll management

11th October, 21:50

Legalized sports betting is up and running in 13 states entering the upcoming football season, with several more (including Illinois) gearing up to go in the next few months.

That means there are about to be a lot of brand-new football bettors out there.

Even if sports betting is not new to you, how you manage your bankroll this football season will have a direct (and substantial) impact on your level of success. After all, at the end of the day, your bankroll is all that matters in a game of money won vs. money lost.

As we prepare to embark on another long season of trying to beat the markets in college football and the NFL, this is the perfect time to remind ourselves why we should place bankroll management on the highest pedestal.

Sure, correctly picking games is going to have an immediate impact on your short-term outcomes, but proper bankroll management will put you in the best position to succeed in the long run. If a bettor fails to manage their bankroll effectively, even successful runs of good plays will be erased. Reminding yourself of that fact and, more importantly, navigating the challenge of executing optimal bankroll-related decisions over the course of an entire football season enables you to maximize the amount of money that ends up in your pocket.

Also read: Iowa becomes first Midwest state to launch legal sports betting

So you want to bet on football this season...

Whether you're planning to place just a few bets here and there, or if you are looking to wager on football every week this fall, how you treat your bankroll is the only thing you directly control.

You cannot control the market, you cannot control which spreads the oddsmakers offer you, and you certainly cannot control what the players do on the field. But as handicappers who routinely examine the optimal paths towards success, the one variable we can exercise complete control over is bankroll management.

The fact of the matter is that sports betting is a numbers game. As legendary Vegas oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro says: "Joes bet teams and pros bet numbers."

Winning money betting football in the long run is an incredibly difficult endeavor. As a whole, the NFL is more difficult to beat than college football, which offers softer markets with more games to invest in and thus, in theory, more potential market opportunities to exploit. But winning over 52.38% of your bets - the hit-rate needed to break even laying the standard -110 juice - is a lot easier said than done.

Anyone can go on a hot streak. Flip enough coins and you will land on "heads" five or ten times in a row. But eventually the law of large numbers comes into play, and the vagaries of sports betting take their toll. Your neighbor blindly picking a side on a point spread is going to hit close to 50% in the long run. Yet sadly, the vigorish will empty out your neighbor's bankroll after enough repititions.

The optimal path to success as a sports bettor is to grind out edges slowly over time. One should build their weekly football portfolio around investments they deem to have positive expected value in order to put themselves in the best position to hit over 52.38% of their plays at -110 odds and realize a profit.

Continually striving to scrape out small edges over time allows one to withstand the inevitable rough patches that come over a long and arduous football season. Even the best handicappers are not immune to prolonged bad runs. Over enough repititions, it becomes a mathematical certainty.

Establish a bankroll

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When you strip everything down, sports betting comes down how much money you win vs. how much money you lose.

Just like in everyday life, money management in sports betting is quintessential. Establishing a clear-cut bankroll helps inform your future decisions. The choices you make, good and bad, will directly impact your bankroll.

You would think that this is the simplest concept to grasp, yet even some of the best sports handicappers mess it up with regularity. Bettors who have an encyclopedic knowledge of players and teams are not necessarily successful sports bettors. A single lapse of bankroll judgment can undo weeks and months of building it up.

Possessing an established, clear-cut bankroll is a common denominator of all long-term winning sports bettors. They know it is the one variable that they can completely control.

Also read: NFL teams facing positive and negative regression in 2019

Establish a unit size

Your unit size is your base play, or in other words, your typical bet size. It should be a very small percentage of your overall bankroll.

Without getting too complicated and diving into the Kelly Criterion (which essentially says that your stake should be proportional to your perceived edge), a good rule of thumb is to make your unit size no higher than 1-2% of your overall bankroll. In fact, given the vagaries of sports betting and the unpredictable bounces of the ball, one can argue with merit that a base unit play should never be more than 0.5-1% of your total bankroll.

For example, if you have a bankroll of $1,000, then your typical unit size should be no larger than $10-$20.

Implementing a unit-based approach and sticking to it is difficult, especially when those inevitable bad runs roll around. But doing so is a essential in your quest to maximize your winnings.

Although there is no sure-fire way to win money long-term betting on football, proper bankroll management will put you in the best possible position to find success. Or at the very least, it will allow you to lose more slowly.

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Mike Roselli is a Chicago-based attorney and sports analyst. He runs "The Doggy Juice Podcast" - an analytics-driven podcast that updates listeners on state-by-state sports betting legalization and helps them find value on the betting boards.

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