The Top 9 Sports Betting Mistakes to Avoid

New sports bettors are terrified to make a mistake.

It’s understandable – you’re taking your hard-earned cash and placing it into an invisible place where you can’t touch it or influence it anymore, and whether or not you get it back depends on the actions of a bunch of huge millionaires squaring off potentially thousands of miles away. It’s a little terrifying when you think of it that way, isn’t it?

To top it off, the jargon and traditions surrounding sports gambling are confusing, Byzantine, intimidating. It’s no wonder we haven’t seen a renaissance in sportsbooks like we have in poker and cardrooms.

How to Avoid Sports Betting Mistakes

So, what’s a sports betting mistake? I’d say anything that a rookie sports bettor might do that could actually do harm to their bankroll is a mistake. Also, a mistake, a breach of etiquette or faux pas, or something like that. The idea behind educating sports bettors in common pitfalls and mistakes is to prevent the development of bad habits.

In short, it’s good for the sportsbooks when rookies make dumb mistakes, and we never want the sportsbooks to have a good day.

These are the nine most common and most damaging mistakes we see newcomers to sports betting make, in no particular order:

1. Betting on emotion.

When you’re a newbie to the sportsbook, you’re not much of a handicapper. You’re not much of an expert in anything. The thing you’re maybe the least educated about and aware of? Your own emotions, especially while you’re placing bets of any kind.

Betting on your feelings leads to goofy nonsense like hot and cold streaks and teams being “due for a win.” Betting on your feelings will have you chasing losses, ignoring good bankroll strategy, and researching and wagering on things you have no business pursuing.

You’ll often read the advice that you should gamble while sober – the same goes for your feelings. A strong feeling of exhilaration or depression can intoxicate you as much or more than any liquor.

2. Placing exotic bets.

Exotic bets, also known as props, are long odds offers designed to hook your typical degenerate gambler into a losing wager. They also have the side effect of confusing and frustrating newcomers. You should stick to bets you understand and can research and feel confident about, especially if you’re new to the hobby.

A caveat – if you understand that your exotic wager is unlikely to pay off, and you’re using it exclusively as a way to make your gambling more entertaining, AND you aren’t spending outside of your bankroll, more power to you. Placing an exotic wager with long odds as a plank of your gambling strategy is a bad idea. Placing a $10 throwaway bet on the length of the National Anthem at the Super Bowl is fine, if it makes you enjoy your gambling budget more.

3. Betting on too many games.

In the beginning, you should wager as little as possible. You should have a rigid bankroll strategy in place that creates a unit bet size that you can manage, one that won’t drain your betting budget before the midseason mark.

Some newcomers spread their budget too thin, betting every single week of a football season, for example, even if they don’t have a good or strong feeling about a line. Stick to positive expectation bets, when you can, and question every wager as though it were going to break the bank.

4. Betting from a sense of obligation.

This means betting because you feel like you have to. You honestly shouldn’t have too many emotional attachments to your bets – when you do, it may be time to consider slowing down and reconsidering the hobby altogether. Experts say that feelings of obligation are an early warning indicator for gambling dependence. This goes along with point 3 – you shouldn’t be betting if you don’t have some reason to believe you’ve got a positive expectation in place.

5. Betting on your favorites – a beloved athlete or hometown team.

Similar to betting on your emotions, betting on your favorite sets you up for unwise play. It’s hard to have a clear head about a team or athlete you’ve dedicated your life to. By the way, we’re not saying you should never bet on a team, or you should skip a real positive expectation type of sports bet just because it involves your favorite player of all time or whatever. Just be aware that wagers placed on favorites tend to be small-brain bets driven by emotions and other influences.

6. Placing bets in goofy formats (parlays, teasers, pleasers, etc.)

We have no problem with parlays, teasers, pleasers and the like – for experienced gamblers. What we don’t like is seeing newcomers burnt out and bitter at our favorite pastime because they got in above their heads and lost a lot of money on an alternative betting format.

These types of wagers (parlays in particular) are popular in part because in some areas of the country they are the only legal wagers sports fans can place. These are nothing more than exotic wagers, sometimes called multi-bets, all of them offering terrible odds compared to the pay tables. These are a kind of sucker bet that should be avoided on principle.

7. Depending too much on outside influences.

At some point, to be a successful (or at least happy) sports bettor, you’ve got to learn to trust your gut. Yes, that means you have to build up a gut that you can trust. But too many newcomers sign up for newsletter after newsletter, call the “hot tip” phone lines until their credit cards bleed, and watch 24/7 sports coverage hoping for a tidbit they can turn into an edge.

Please don’t do this, newcomers.

Betting based solely on what you read online or hear on ESPN or whatever will only make you as smart as the smartest person in a gigantic wagering herd. Betting with the herd is a great way to lose your bankroll and get bored betting while you’re at it.

Yes, it’s good to develop your own sources for information, and you have to watch games and sports coverage to be an informed bettor. Just don’t listen to the talking heads to the exclusion of your own instinct and strategy.

8. Betting at the Wrong Sportsbook

Do your homework, read our reviews, ask your gambling friends, and check into the history and legal status of any site you send your money to. This goes for banks, retailers, charities, and (yes) sportsbooks. Not every “bad sportsbook” is a rip-off or a scam, some just offer terrible odds, notoriously garbage bonuses, or bad customer service. Find a source of sportsbook reviews you trust (like the one we operate here!) and spend a little time looking over any book you fund with your hard-earned cash.

9. Using the “Can’t Lose” Martingale System (or Other Betting Systems)

Betting systems are fun, and you should totally use them if the point of doing so is to improve the amount of entertainment you get for your budget.

Don’t try to use the Martingale system to win back your losses – it won’t work, your budget will eventually limit your ability to double after a loss, and most online sportsbooks have relatively low max bets that will max you out well before you mortgage your house to chase a loss.

Eventually, every betting system we’ve ever looked at (and there are dozens of them) don’t work when applied to the real-world gambling business. Replace bootleg betting tricks like the Martingale with good betting strategy, sport and athlete research, and experience gained over long seasons of measured sports wagers.


Winning money placing sports bets is hard work. Think of the hours put in by experts all over the world just to set odds every few days – now consider that there are exponentially more people producing hot takes and tips for bettors like you.

The mistakes mentioned above are common enough that, should you make one of them, you shouldn’t feel bad. It’s common for newcomers to any activity to fall prey to pitfalls. We do hope, however, that reading over the nine most common mistake of sports bettors has prevented you from making a fatal error for your bankroll.

We can’t promise that avoiding the nine behaviors above will lead to more winnings, but we can promise that you’ll have more fun over time if you stay away from the traps set for you by sportsbooks and overeager gambling websites.

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