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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.
A Look Back at How We Did
I started Odds and Ends this season knowing I couldn't make you better gamblers, but hoping I could make you better-educated gamblers. We talked about how Vegas makes its money (and most gamblers lose theirs), how to outperform other recreational bettors in casual game-picking pools, how much of your bankroll to bet on individual games, and different kinds of bets you can make that may or may not be more entertaining.
I can't evaluate whether we're all better-educated at the end of the season, but I can test the hypothesis that I wouldn't make you better gamblers at least! I know I said earlier in the year that you can't really trust touts when they tell you what their record is on picks. But I'm not trying to sell you anything or convince you how good you are, so you can trust me. (Or you can go back through the archives and verify for yourself if you're the skeptical type. When it comes to sports betting, I'm never going to discourage skepticism.)
Final Results Against the Spread
Ignoring the week where I took both sides of the same game as a joke about narratives, our revenge game picks went 15-12 on the season. Our "Thankful" picks went 1-2. Picks made by a literal random number generator (pseudorandom number generator?) went 8-6, and the three weeks we spent tailing the Saints just to be stubborn we went 1-2. Overall, our deeply unserious picks we went 25-22, a 53.2% winning percentage that... actually returned a profit! Granted, a profit of just 1.5% of the total amount we bet, but profit is profit.
If you put $100 on every one of my picks, you'd have made $72.72 on the season. Congratulations, treat yourself to a nice dinner. Not too nice. Maybe like an Applebee's or something.
The next time you see a tout bragging about a 56% hit rate on their picks, remember that a random number generator just cashed on 57.1%. That's why gambling can be so addictive-- even if you have no edge at all, sometimes you're going to be up and sometimes you're going to be down. Over a long enough span, the downs will outnumber the ups, but the difference will be so small that it'll be easy to fool yourself into believing otherwise.
Final Results on the Unders
The one quasi-serious piece of advice I gave all year was that when betting on totals, unders tended to have a very slight long-term edge vs. overs. Not enough to be profitable, but enough to be marginally less unprofitable. I also noted that unders had been making a killing over the first few weeks, but Vegas was smart and would likely adjust. Given the stable long-term edge, if you wanted to mass-bet unders, though, I wouldn't blame you. Unders went 8-5-2 last week, bringing them to 84-74-3 since I made that suggestion. That's a 53.1% hit rate that just barely trailed my joke picks and was also technically profitable!
Putting an equal amount on every under would have also returned a 1.5% profit. With $100 on every under, that'd be a total profit of $236.36. (The profit is significantly bigger despite a slightly smaller edge because you'd have risked a lot more money in the first place-- $16,100 to put $100 on every under vs. just $4700 to bet on the joke bets. Of course, you wouldn't have had to put that $16,100 down all at once, you could wager last week's winnings on this week's result; over a typical week you'd have just under $1500 in play on the unders vs. just over $275 on the joke bets. If you'd bet an equal amount on the unders that you spent on the joke bets every week, you'd have made about $44.41. The total is smaller mostly because we're comparing 17 weeks of joke bets to 11 weeks of unders.)
Of course, all of these profit totals are predicated on the idea that we could get -110 odds on every bet. If the best we could do was -120 on every bet, we would have lost 2.5% of the total amount wagered on our joke bets instead of winning 1.5%. (Insert another reminder about the value of line-shopping here.)
Realistically, you probably couldn't have gotten -110 on everything (setting aside the fact that you almost definitely couldn't have found all the same lines I found, since lines shift slightly from hour to hour and day to day). If you did your absolute best to tail my picks in this column (for some reason or another), I think the most likely outcome is that you probably about broke even.
Breaking even is a positive outcome! You got a year's worth of sweats essentially for free. That's about the best we can hope for in this hobby. At the end of the day, all I want is for you to have as much fun reading this column as I had writing it and don't come out too much poorer for it. I'll count this as a win.
Also, despite the "season recap", Odds and Ends will continue through the playoffs and end with a Super Bowl Prop Bet Extravaganza.
Lines I'm Seeing
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