Sports Betting Guides for Beginners

Sports betting is becoming more popular as it becomes available to a wider audience. Changes to US law in the past few years, and the emergence of daily fantasy sports betting, were the perfect storm for creating a growing industry. Forecasters now expect American sports betting revenue to increase fourfold by 2025.

With new ways to bet and new legal access to sportsbooks come crowds of new bettors. Bookmakers are happy to go fishing in this suddenly overstocked pond. The same goes for purveyors of bogus sportsbook reviews and betting strategy guides. If you plan on signing up to place bets at an offshore book, you’ll have yet another group of potentially dangerous people to interact with.

If you’ve never placed sports bets before, it’s important to do a little homework, read up on strategy, and do a few other things necessary to protect you from making a dumb move. Online sportsbooks can be just as entertaining and safe and legitimate as a Vegas casino, but with little or no knowledge, rookie bettors have a lot to lose right at the beginning of their new hobby.

This page is designed to be a catch-all resource for beginners to sports bets. We’ll discuss things like beginner strategy, common rookie mistakes, and tips for research as a newcomer. At the bottom of the page is an FAQ featuring answers to the most-asked questions related to sportsbook beginners.

Sports Betting Prerequisites

We’ve come up with a few prerequisites to success in sportsbook play. A person doesn’t necessarily have to have all of these traits, but a tendency toward any of them can be leveraged into sports betting success:

Good organizational skills will help you in every aspect of your sports gambling. Handicapping produces tons of data, as does line shopping and many other slightly more advanced betting tactics. But even as a newcomer, practicing good organization strategies will give you an edge. Tracking bets means tracking every bet placed, wins and losses, amounts, etc. You can’t manage your bankroll without tracking your bets – something people with good organizational skills will find easy.

Frugality is the least-popular sports betting prerequisite, but it’s also the one that can take you the farthest. If you want to bet on an entire season of games, your money has to last for months. A frugal person won’t find it difficult to bet using a standard unit and will be less likely to fudge that bet limit in an emotional moment. People who are good with their money will also naturally be better at shopping for the best promotions, odds, and other sportsbook offers.

Sports knowledge is important, thought maybe not as important as you assume, and probably not in the way you’re thinking. A beginning sports bettor only needs knowledge in one sport – the one they’re choosing to start betting on. In fact, it’s probably best if you begin to research and learn about one sport in particular. If you want to bet on the NBA and MLB, you can expand your knowledge during each sport’s offseason. However you do it, know that you don’t have to be an all-sports trivia phenom to bet successfully, you just have to have some working knowledge in one sport at a time.

A fondness for math will help, though you don’t necessarily have to be an A student in mathematics to fit the bill. Being calculator and math-literate is necessary for a successful sports betting strategy. This isn’t to say that someone who struggles with math can never win a bet on a football game or whatever. But to maintain enough success long-term to keep betting interesting, being a friend of math is a boon.

Playfulness is the most surprising entry on this list, but it’s an important one. The happiest and most successful sports bettors can think divergently, move against the betting public, form their own statistical models, and approach their betting and their sports fandom with playfulness. A playful, creative, divergent thinker with a passion for a sport or two makes for the best handicapper and dedicated sportsbook fan.

Common Pitfalls for Beginner Sports Bettors

Bettors who can avoid doing the following four things should consider their rookie season a success:

  1. Mis-managing money.
    We sports betting writers don’t like to talk about it, but money is at the heart of this business. Losing your money the wrong way or too quickly or for some stupid reason is definitely not the point of betting on sports. Ways that newcomers mis-manage their money range from running out of money before the season ends to spending money on scammer betting tips. Keep to your betting budget and you’re way ahead of the game.
  2. Overreacting to short-term trends.
    A team gets hot early in the season and peels of four impressive wins in a row – suddenly, the books can’t sell action on that team fast enough. It’s a total novice move, backing a team based on a short-term trend. You shouldn’t fade a team that got blown out last week, at least not for that reason alone. It’s easy for new bettors to fall prey to the idea that a team is “hot” or “cold.”
  3. Buying in to the gambler’s fallacy.
    Speaking of hot or cold, the gambler’s fallacy applies to sports bettors as much to roulette or slot machine fans. Believing that a team is “due” for a loss, or betting against a player because they’re “due” for a big win – that’s the same logic that drives slot machine gamblers to hunt for hot and cold machines. It’s bunk, and in some cases runs counter to good strategy. In the NFL, for example, teams coming off a losing weekend are undervalued by the books.
  4. Making too many bets.
    Don’t let emotion or boredom drive you to stretch your bankroll too thin. Going back to bankroll strategy, it’s easy to burn yourself out and blow through your money by placing too many bets or playing in too many markets at once. It takes discipline to follow a strict budget but avoiding the pitfalls common to other newcomers means placing the number of bets you decided on before the season.

Rookie Sports Bettor FAQ

How can I avoid fake or fraudulent sportsbooks?
If you want to avoid scams, late payouts, bad customer service, and the like, your best bet is to find a source for sportsbook reviews that you trust. Look for reviews that aren’t designed to sell you anything, ones that are written by real players offering honest advice, not bonus codes and sales pitches.

Is sports betting legal?
This question is complicated. Some forms of sports bets are legal – others are not. 25 US states have some form of explicitly legal and regulated sports betting industry. The other 25 states are a combination of areas with no laws (where these bets are technically legal) and areas with laws against bets on sports. If you want to be sure your bets are legal, look up your state’s laws or contact the customer service department of a book you’re thinking about joining.

What’s vigorish?
Vigorish is a slang word used in sports betting to refer to an amount paid to the house in exchange for placing a bet. The amount of vig required for a bet is indicated in a game’s odds, usually a number like -105 or -110. That number represents the amount you’ll need to bet in order to win $100, in this case either $5 or $10. The vig is used by sportsbooks to guarantee profit.

Does the Martingale system work?
Be suspicious of any “sure thing” betting system. The Martingale system comes to sports betting from the casino. Bettors who use this system double their bets after losses. The idea is that you’ll always win back whatever you lost, provided you’re always doubling your way back in. Unfortunately, the Martingale requires an infinite bankroll, and a sportsbook with no cap on a player’s max bet. Since nobody has either of those things, the Martingale won’t really “work.” It’s fun, but not a surefire way to beat the book.


Gaining experience in the world of sports bets requires a little work and a lot of patience. A bettor’s first season of wagers is particularly stressful. Besides absorbing new vocabulary and getting used to bettor jargon, there’s those pesky issues of sports handicapping, line shopping, and money management.

The biggest hurdle in a career as an amateur sports bettor is avoiding burnout. What causes bettor burnout? Obviously, losing your shirt on a stupid wager will poison you against placing another bet on sports. But, in our experience, the most common causes are the ones addressed here on this page: boredom, confusion, and simple mistakes.

This information was written and presented here to help you avoid the worst possible outcomes of betting as a newcomer. Following the advice here, and studying the resources linked from this page, will help address your financial and emotional needs, organize your betting, and avoid the pitfalls common to the early days of sports gambling.