Betting News & Analysis

NFL Betting 101: Tracking your Bets, Growing your Bankroll

Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams (17) runs the ball ahead of Denver Broncos linebacker Jonas Griffith (50) during the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Sports Betting is designed for individuals to lose, and for the house to win. Oddsmakers prey on the inexperience of public bettors, and even the most skilled gamblers often struggle to find an edge when betting on the NFL. It is possible to win, and exciting to do so, but such success requires discipline. 

Establishing a Bankroll

A bankroll is an amount of money that a gambler sets aside for sports betting. This amount shouldn’t be more than one can afford — or, in other words, an amount that would not affect quality of life were one to lose it all. 

For those new to betting, it is usual practice to establish a bankroll and stick to it. By doing so, transparency becomes inherent, and bettors can quantify their skill in profit. Further, bets should not be made using money outside of this established bankroll. If this fund were to be depleted, it should be taken as a sign that sports betting may not be for you. 

Importance of Tracking Plays

The failure to track one’s betting record is perhaps the biggest mistake a new sports bettor can make. If the goal is to become a profitable player, it is crucial to be conscious of wagered money won and lost, and to be honest with oneself. 

Furthermore, it is not uncommon that a bettor’s memory will fail in its recollection. It is easy to remember wins fondly, and to forget errors in judgment made along the way. This problem is easily remedied by keeping a log of wagers placed, and any mild annoyance in doing so will pay dividends en route to becoming a profitable bettor. 

Bankroll Management / Bet Sizing

Properly managing one’s bankroll is essential in becoming a profitable bettor. Establishing a bankroll should coincide with determining one’s unit size. One unit is usually equal to one percent of overall bankroll, though it can vary based on individual risk tolerance. It is not advised that one adjust their unit sizing frequently.

Furthermore, understanding how to size bets is integral to success, and it is easy to be reckless. Bet sizing should be proportionate to confidence, and should vary in relation to bet type. 

If one assumes a team to have a 70% likelihood to cover the spread, more should be wagered than if a probability of 60% had been assigned. Additionally, an equal amount should not be bet on a parlay vs. a straight pick. The chances of hitting a parlay grows exponentially lower with the addition of every leg, and being equally invested in such an unlikely outcome is an efficient way to deplete one’s bankroll.

An Optimal Money Management Strategy

No matter how good the odds, or how much of a perceived edge we have, restraint and conservative behavior are necessary when determining the optimal amount to bet. Prudent sports bettors often determine how much to bet on a single game by the Kelly Growth Criterion. The Kelly bet size is meant to maximize long-term profitability and grows proportionally to one’s confidence of winning a bet.

Kelly Growth Criterion

By this formula, it becomes clear that the number of units invested should increase as does the probability of winning the bet, or the payout of the bet increases. 

Note that this approach necessitates accuracy in ability to assign likelihood of outcomes, and such predictability is often not possible. Nevertheless, the logic holds, and the Kelly Criterion is good practice on the road to profitability. 

Shopping for the Best Line

Line shopping refers to checking multiple sportsbooks for odds prior to placing your bets, and it is not unusual for different sportsbooks to offer different prices/odds on a game. Individuals should always shop around to both maximize their potential profits, and minimize losses. 

This tactic, while mildly annoying, is the greatest edge that public bettors have in beating the oddsmakers. 

For more insight regarding how different lines can affect profitability, it is encouraged to check out PFF’s article regarding finding an edge in sports betting. 


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