How to Become a Professional Handicapper (Sports Betting Pro)

Most people looking for information about how to become a professional handicapper hope to become sports betting pros.

But not all handicappers are pro sports bettors. In fact, most handicappers are amateurs — some more talented than others. (They’re definitely not making $100 a day.) And some handicappers work for sportsbooks crunching numbers and setting lines. Others sell sports picks.

Here’s the truth most amateur handicappers don’t want to admit:

Handicapping is hard.

And handicapping as a professional is a full-time job. Even some top-tier handicappers rarely make an impressive living. It requires a big bankroll, for one thing, and it requires bookmakers who are willing to take your action. Once you’re betting large enough amounts, that part will get harder.

But the biggest aspect of professional handicapping and sports betting that should deter you is the risk. If you’re not great at this, you’ll lose money. And if you’re great at this but insufficiently bankrolled, you’re still likely to lose money.

You can find easier ways to get rich than learning how to become a professional handicapper. If you’re determined, though, he’s what you need to do to become a pro handicapper and bettor:

Start Thinking in Terms of Investments and ROIs Instead of Gambling and Wins/Losses

Some pundits claim that gambling with an edge isn’t gambling at all. It’s investing. While this isn’t literally true, it’s a useful perspective to have.

The difference between my buddies Andy and Ryan illustrates the difference in mindset. Ryan is a huge Dallas Cowboys fan and refuses to bet against them. He doesn’t even look at the point spreads or think about how good or bad the bet is. He’s a net lose, and he doesn’t mind.

Andy, though, looks at all the point spreads every week trying to find a situation that seems profitable. He doesn’t care about which team he’s betting for or against. This isn’t gambling to him. It’s business, and, as my dad often told me, if you’re going to do business, do it in a businesslike manner.

Build a Bigger Bankroll than You Think You Need

The best boss I ever had explained to me that the #1 reason most businesses fail in the early stages is that they don’t have enough money to get started properly. Pro sports bettors are basically running small businesses, and they should think about their betting activities as such. If you’re serious about become a professional handicapper, you need enough money to weather the vagaries of luck.

Experienced sports bettors might bet as much as 5% of their total bankroll on a sporting event. But if you’re just getting started, you need to be more conservative and bet no more than 1% of your bankroll on a given sporting event. What does that mean?

Let’s say you’re starting with a bankroll of $1000. You wouldn’t bet more than $10 on a game until your bankroll grew to a point where you can afford to bet more. After a few months of positive returns, you might have $1500, and then you can start betting $15 a game.

But wait, you say. I can’t make a living betting just $10 or $15 per game.

You’re right.

You need a bigger bankroll if you’re serious about betting sports like a pro. I suggest saving $10,000 to get started with, but $50,000 is even better. In those cases, you can bet $100 or $500 per game, respectively.

Start Learning to Identify Positive Expectation Bets

You need to be good enough at handicapping that you can evaluate point spreads and lines well enough to identify profitable situations. If a sportsbook is offering a bet that overestimates one team’s advantage over another, you might have a profitable betting opportunity.

Identifying those opportunities is what professional handicapping is all about. You’ll need to read some books, study some articles on the internet, and practice making bets on paper before you can be confident in your handicapping.

Start by betting on paper without risking any money at all. Maybe you can make it through an entire sports season and show a profit. If you think that’s because you’re going a great job handicapping, get your bankroll together and start betting like a pro during the next season.

Take notes and try to learn from your mistakes. You probably won’t be good enough at this at first to do it professionally.

Identifying positive expectation bets is the primary handicapping skill for pro bettors. And yes, this requires some math skills.

Think about Each Sports Betting Math as a Story and as a Prediction

Handicappers are trying to predict probable future events. No one expects them to predict these 100%. That’s impossible.

In fact, even the best handicappers only win bets maybe 60% of the time. You need to win 53% of your bets to show even a tiny positive ROI. The good news is that if you can predict the future correctly 56% of the time, you can generate a solid ROI over time.

But first, you need to tell a story. Think of this as being like putting together a business model to present to investors. And you make this business plan for every game you’re betting on.

The more data you can present to support your decision, the likelier you are to be choosing the right bets. The better the story is that you can tell predicting the future, the more money you’ll be able to win in the long run. And that’s true even though the actual results will often go counter to both your prediction and your story.

Also, most of the data and facts that you’re looking at must be stuff that most other sports bettors aren’t thinking about. If everyone knows the same story you’re telling, it will get priced into the lines and point spreads. Once that happens, you can’t get an edge.

Be Fearless and Sensible at the Same Time

You need enough confidence to actually place the bets. This means betting without fear. If you’re nervous about every bet you make, you’ll eventually start doubting yourself and not putting enough money into action to generate a profit.

Having a big enough bankroll will make you fearless. Never forget the #1 rule of bankroll management:

Never gamble with money you can’t afford to lose.

As long as you keep this mind, you won’t have to be nervous about placing the bets you want to make.

But don’t be foolhardy. It’s easy to start over-betting your bankroll when you’re on a winning streak.

But you’re not making bets based on how well things are going lately. If you’re a pro, you’re making bets because the story and the math add up to create profitable situations.

Think Long Term

What’s the difference between Warren Buffett and most other investors?

He thinks long term and looks for value.

You want to become the Warren Buffett of sports betting.

You can’t get hung up on the results of a single event. Even if you’re the best handicapper in the world, you’re going to lose your bets at least 2 times out of 5.  If you’re hung up on individual events, you’ll start betting scared or chasing losses. Both doom you to failure.

In fact, you can’t even get hung up on the events of a single day or a single week.

Start thinking about your results over the course of an entire season of a sport. Even that might be too short-term. Variance can be a harsh mistress.

Read some books by David Sklansky to get an idea about the importance of the long run when dealing with gambling math. The more general books like Getting the Best of It are probably better for someone learning to become a pro sports bettor than his poker books like Theory of Poker.

On the other hand, his poker books have insights that are easily transferrable to pro sports betting. So, read those, too.

Conclusion: How to Become a Professional Handicapper

How to become a professional handicapper and a pro sports bettor, summed up:

The first step is to become a profitable amateur handicapper and sports bettor. Then get a bankroll together and start placing bets that are appropriately sized for your bankroll.

If you can’t analyze a game and make a case for why you think a bet on that game is a positive expectation situation, you shouldn’t try to be a pro handicapper, though. Don’t even bother.

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