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Gambling on the NFL is big business, especially after a 2018 Supreme Court decision striking down a federal ban on sports betting. Recent estimates suggest that as many as 46.6 million people will place a bet on the NFL this year, representing nearly one out of every five Americans of legal gambling age. As a result, there's been an explosion in sports betting content, most of which promises to make you a more profitable bettor. Given that backdrop, it can be hard to know who to trust.
Fortunately, you can trust me when I promise that I'm not going to make you a more profitable sports bettor. And neither will any of those other columns. It's essentially impossible for any written column to do so, for a number of reasons I detailed here. (I'm not saying it's impossible to be profitable betting on the NFL, just that it's impossible to get there thanks to a weekly picks column.)
This column's animating philosophy is not to make betting more profitable but to make betting more entertaining. And maybe along the way, we can make it a bit less unprofitable in the process, discussing how to find bets where the house's edge is smaller, how to manage your bankroll, and how to dramatically increase your return on investment in any family or office pick pools (because Dave in HR and Sarah in accounting are much softer marks than Caesar's and MGM).
If that sounds interesting to you, feel free to join me as we discuss the weekly Odds and Ends.
I figure we'll just make it a weekly feature to track the performance of "under" bets through the season. Last week the unders went 7-7-1 (the second straight week they went exactly .500), which leaves them 52-48-1 since we noticed how well they were performing five weeks ago. This is fairly consistent with my original "unders tend to have a structural edge, but it's not big enough on its own to be profitable" claim. If you bet an equal sum of money on the under in every game, and if you got -110 odds on all of those bets, you would have gotten 99.3% of your money back. This... is actually a fairly good outcome when it comes to gambling. You're still losing money, but you're losing it awfully slowly!
Checking In on that Bankroll
I've been saying all year that gambling can be a good way to add excitement to football. You're not likely to be profitable at gambling, but then again, I've never turned a profit at Netflix, either, and I still don't regret paying for it. In matters of entertainment, "profitability" is rarely the point.
With that said, it's important to know the true costs of what we're buying. I may not make money at Netflix, but I lose a predictable amount every month. This makes it trivially easy for me to decide if the benefit I receive is worth the cost. Gambling doesn't work like this; our true costs are often obscured, and we'll experience periods where our costs actually go negative (meaning we make money). This is... actually kind of a bad thing.
Every compulsive gambler can tell you about hot streaks where they were way, way up. The reason they keep gambling is that they know it's possible. If everyone just lost 10% of their wagers every week like clockwork, you wouldn't get people going bankrupt and ruining their lives because of a gambling addiction.
As the season draws to a close, I'd recommend looking back and tracking how much money you actually wagered and how much you are really up or down. If you're up, that's awesome, and congratulations. I'd caution against reading too much into it-- We're 6-3 so far this season in games picked by a literal random number generator. (Possibly, it's a pseudo-random number generator, I'm not sure on specifics.)
If you're down... I'm sorry, though again, I'd caution reading too much into it. If you're picking against the spread, the long-run expectation is you will likely hover around 50% and lose about 9% of your total wagers to the vig.
But however you're doing, it's good to know and take stock. Certain products are restricted because they're potentially dangerous. As a society, we have decided they will only be available to people we believe are capable of making responsible choices about them. We don't sell guns, alcohol, or cigarettes to children. We don't let children drive or get married. And we don't let children gamble, either.
This isn't to say that guns, alcohol, cigarettes, driving, marriage, or gambling are necessarily bad. I'm not interested in moralizing; in fact, I happen to regularly take advantage of three items on that list. I'm just saying it's good to make informed decisions. To do that, we need to know the true costs of the choices we make. Even if we're going to make the choices anyway.
If you find your gambling is starting to become problematic-- if you're losing more than you can afford or finding it difficult to set and maintain limits-- there are resources available to help, starting with the National Council on Problem Gambling.
Lines I'm Seeing
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