The buying and selling of sports betting picks is a major part of the sports gambling industry. Professional handicappers exist to help sports bettors make informed picks. The quality of these picks varies wildly, as thousands of handicappers touting their experience and ROI line up to assist punters in making good betting choices.
I wrote this post to let people know the ins and outs of sports handicapping. What do pro handicappers do? How much money do they make? How can I become a professional handicapper?
Skills Needed to be a Professional Handicapper
Obviously, a professional handicapper needs to have experience with sports. Deep knowledge of game trends is important, as is familiarity with betting markets and an understanding of probability and odds.
Handicappers are writers as much as they are sports or betting market experts. A successful handicapper can turn a phrase as easily as he can handicap a pro football game. That’s because the language of the handicapper is good old black and white words on a page.
Pro handicappers are newshounds, an aspect of the job that’s easier in the age of the 24-hour news cycle and multiple networks dedicated to sports coverage. But he’s also got a gut instinct honed over decades of covering, writing about, and watching sports and the people who play them.
Having said all that, all you need to be a successful pro handicapper is a group of people willing to buy your picks. You could make your picks at random, and so long as you have customers willing to pay a few bucks to read your advice – congrats, you’re a professional handicapper.
What are Handicappers Expected to Do?
I could say “make picks” and go about my business, but not only would my word count be short, I’d also be entirely in the wrong. Modern handicappers do a lot more than pick games.
At the most basic level, handicappers are meant to look for betting situations that offer a positive expectation based on their analysis, then write those picks up in a format that can be purchased by their subscribers or other sports betting customers. They’re meant to base these picks on their deep knowledge and familiarity with a market. In short, a pick from a handicapper is meant to give customers extra insight into a sportsbook’s slate of games, giving them an advantage that people who don’t read the pick won’t have.
The whole idea behind consulting a handicapper is to gain an edge against your sportsbook.
To get a better sense of what a pro handicapper is asked to do, I went and looked at a few job applications for potential handicappers. Here’s a handicapper application for sportscapping.com. I’m going to pick it apart a bit and see what we can learn about the process of becoming a professional handicapper.
First, they ask three questions:
- “Do you already sell your picks?”
- “Do you have samples of the analysis you provide with your picks?”
- “Are your picks documented?”
These seem to be exclusionary questions, designed to sniff out unlikely candidates right at the beginning.
1 – Do you already sell picks?
The first question will not only prove that you’re a good handicapper (if people are buying your picks, there must be some value in them), but it also allows the site to look at the prices and formats of what you’re already selling to see if it’s in line with their practices.
2 – Do you have samples of the analysis you provide with your picks?
The site makes clear with their second question that they’re only interested in hiring professionals who provide analysis along with their work. The idea here is that people buying picks are interested in more than advice on the level of “take the Jets at home.” By the way, there’s a provision on the application that says, “proper spelling and grammar is a must for all packages and analysis.”
3 – Are your picks documented?
That third question is a further drawing-out of a potential handicapper’s skills. Sportscapping.com wants to see evidence (from a respected forum or monitoring service) that you make valuable picks. Stating explicitly that they “only accept sports handicappers that have proven themselves,” this question is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.
Further down the application, we find that potential handicappers are asked to submit an essay explaining their handicapping strategy, specifying that it must be at least 1,000 words long. This strategy should include content like “how you break down games” and your approach to finding value bets for clients.
This written portion is probably a major factor in whether this site is going to hire you or not. For one thing, their application page mentions several times that writing skills are critical to employment, saying at one point that you can’t be trusted to be smarter than the sportsbook if you can’t write better than a third-grader.
At the bottom of the application, we learn what’s expected of handicappers. This is broken down by category, with headings like Consistency & Reliability, No Self-Promotion, and Good Record Keeping.
Once a potential handicapper has been vetted and approved, there’s a six-month trial period during which the types of sales you can make are limited, and your posts are monitored for quality and consistency.
What Does Professional Handicapping Look Like?
For the most part, handicappers who work for tout sites are writing bite-size analyses of various bets where they find value.
Here’s an example of a brief write-up of a game I wrote a couple of seasons ago for the college basketball market:
“Take Michigan +3 -105 over UNC. This is about as neutral a site as you can get, Paradise Island in the Bahamas. This is a good Tar Heels team, but I’m not buying their youth against the fastest and one of the oldest Michigan lineups in years. UNC hobbled their way to a win over a rebuilding ‘Bama team in a first-round game that made the Crimson Tide look like the early 90s Bulls. The Wolverines are on a 6-game winning streak in which their average MOV is 19.8 points. Take note that the books were way off on Michigan’s last game, as they were just a 2-point favorite against Iowa State, who they eventually beat by 7.”
How’d that pick turn out? Michigan upset UNC by 9 points and my bosses at the time went completely nuts. I got a nice bonus that Christmas.
Professional handicappers are expected to make picks but also to provide analysis justifying those picks. This isn’t just a sales method; it gives handicappers more authority. Unfortunately for those of us who’ve made some plummy picks in the past, it also forces handicappers to put strength to their opinions and publish them in public.
How Much Money do Professional Handicappers Make?
The title “professional handicapper” refers to a wide variety of people doing a lot of different kinds of work. There are levels to the pro handicapping game, as in any profession.
The majority of pro handicappers are glorified bloggers who sell picks in packages, sometimes on platforms that host these kinds of picks, sometimes all on their own independently.
We know that about $100 million is spent worldwide on gambling picks, but it’s really hard to say how many people are dipping their beaks in that market. It’s enough that working as a pro handicapper is about like working any other job – if you break down their income at an hourly level, they’re probably making about as much as an average person working an average job.
Think of it another way – how much could you make selling your picks? Assume you have enough knowledge and experience to write decent sports betting picks. Would you sell them for $5 each? At that rate, all you need to do is sell 20,000 picks and you’ll have a six-figure salary.
It’s unlikely that anyone is getting filthy rich selling sports betting picks, but no doubt the guys with the biggest platforms and the most customers are doing okay for themselves.
Working as a handicapper most often means working as a writer, selling picks based on analysis to customers interested in making more money from the sportsbook. It’s not necessarily a lucrative career, but for people with a specialized set of skills like sports knowledge and writing ability, being a pro handicapper makes a lot of sense.
If you’re interested in selling your picks as a pro handicapper, you need to start analyzing games, making picks, and documenting your success. You should also improve your writing skills and work with an experienced handicapper to help you learn the ropes.