Handicapping the Handicappers

Over the last few weeks I have covered the last of my seasonal series of football betting types (although I may add a couple on props and futures if time allows later this season). I have received a ton of emails, many with excellent questions or suggestions that will hopefully make next year’s columns better than this years. However, I also get a lot of emails on topics outside what is covered in my columns. There are a couple of themes that stand out: Who do you like in tonight’s big game? and I want to use a handicapping service. Who do you recommend? I want to cover both of these issues today.

First off, for those of you that write in asking for my opinion on games, please understand two things. First, giving out plays is bad for business when you are a bookmaker. I am flattered that some of you respect my writing enough to ask my opinion on a game, but think about what happens from my perspective. If I give you a winning play, you beat your book and in some cases that will be from my pocket. If I give you a losing play there will be feelings of bitterness and perhaps even worse. It is a no-win situation and one I prefer to avoid. Speaking of no win situations, let’s move on to my second point. I am a bad handicapper. Really bad. I tend to over analyze every detail until the point where I could bet either side. That is how I came to work on this side of the counter. So in summary, getting Rob’s picks = bad for business = losses for you. I’ll stick to giving advice on matters I understand. Picking winners is not one of those matters.

All right, now on to topic number two, discussing the guys who really can pick winners. A handicapper is not a large man with a baseball bat who collects debts for bookmakers. A handicapper is somebody who makes a living selling other people their picks on sporting events. In my opinion there are two types of people in the handicapping business, legitimate handicappers and scamdicappers. The legitimate guys are among the most honest people in this industry. They have to be as reputation is the key to their success. They work hard to deliver good service to their clients at a fair price. Scamdicappers are guys that have no interest in delivering good service, they just want your money and will do whatever they have to do to get as much of it as they can. Today, I want to help you understand a little more of that side of the business so you can decide if using a handicapping service is right for you, so you can find a good service and so you can avoid the scamdicappers. I think the easiest format will be to deal with the common questions I get, one at a time.

If these guys are so good at picking winners, why are they selling their picks and not just betting? This is pretty simple really; they have families. Being a professional sports bettor means their will be winning streaks and losing streaks. While the handicappers understand and tolerate these streaks, spouses and children may not. Running a business that is legal in all 50 states where there is a steady source of income provides a much healthier lifestyle than trying to bet to make a living.

If these guys are so good at picking winners, why do you advertise on their sites? Are you paying them to give losing picks? Yes, we do advertise heavily on handicapping sites and no, we do not pay them to give out losing plays. Any handicapping site that has enough traffic to justify advertising there is probably giving out more winning picks than losers. However, many bettors that use these services also play their own picks or do not follow the advice to the letter and we profit on these in the long run. If clients of handicapping services only bet the picks they were given at recommended amounts, we probably wouldn’t be advertising there.

Should I use a handicapping service? That is not a question I can answer for you. To consider using a service, there are a few things for you to consider. Do you consider this recreation? Are you betting to make a profit? How much does the service cost? How many plays are you getting? How much do you bet per game? The first two questions are personal, but if you enjoy betting sports and want to try to make a profit but just don’t have the time to handicap yourself than maybe a service is right for you. The last questions are important to make sure the math works right. If a service costs $300 for a month, will give you 60 plays and you bet $110 per game, what percentage does the service need to hit to justify their expense? In other words, will the service get enough extra wins for you to cover the $300?

Sorry for the algebra but we will let X = number of wins, Y = Number of losses and so Y = 60-X. Now the equation, we need to balance the number of wins at +$100 with the number of losses at $-110 plus the cost of the service (in our example $300). So:

  • X($100) = Y($110) + $300
  • X($100) = (60 – X)($110) + $300
  • X($100) = $6600 – X($110) + $300
  • X($100) + X($110) = $6600 + $300
  • X($210) = $6900
  • X = $6900/$210
  • X = 32.86

32.86 wins means the service must hit 54.77% (32.86/60) to cover their cost. Better than that and you make money. Lower than that and you lose. Running the same example with a $550 average bet means the service must only hit 52.86%. At $22 per wager, it must hit 64.29%. Obviously, every situation is different but generally you should count on the handicapper winning 54-57% of their plays. If you are not betting enough (or getting enough picks for the cost) than you need to look for another service, or hold off for now.

How can I tell if a handicapper is legitimate? Ask questions and get answers before you give out your phone number or credit card info. Ask if a service is monitored. If a handicapper does not let a neutral third party verify their plays then their win% may not be what they claim. Ask how they make their picks. Some guys use complex analysis of the all the fundamentals. They watch game film and break down position-by-position looking for an edge. Others look for situations, following years of patterns and trends. Others use information gathered from personal contacts that watch the teams up close. Many use a combination of the three. Whatever their formula is, they should be able to explain it and it should be something you feel is important. If the service only wants your phone number and credit card information before they will discuss this kind of stuff, hang up the phone.

I am running out of room today, so I should wrap things up. My only other advice on the topic would be to stick with a service for a longer period of time. Every handicapper goes through peaks and valleys; to them it is only the long run that counts. Buying picks for just a week or a month may not give you a large enough sample to truly judge their abilities. Buying longer-term packages also means you get a much lower cost/play.

If you have problems finding a good list of handicapping services you can try the Links section on our homepage or use respected sites with multiple handicappers such as Covers.com, VegasExperts.com, VegasInsider.com or Picks.WS. I would like to thank Brian Gabrielle (www.bgsnetwork.com), Doc’s Sports (www.docsports.com), Big Al McMordie (www.bigal.com) and Bryan Leonard (www.footballwinners.com) for their help on this column.

As always, I want to leave you with Kent’s Line Move of the Week. Kent is Bodog’s top bookmaker and each week he discusses a key line move with us. This week’s comments are on the total of the Monday Night Football game between the Bears and Dolphins. Last night’s game goes to show how important 37 is as a total in the NFL. Four Touchdowns and 3 Field Goals adds up to 37 and is a magic number that we hate to move off of, if possible. When the Bears lined up to go for two late in the Fourth quarter with the score 27-9, only people who had bet the total were still watching. Make the convert and the Over is the winner, miss and Under wins – that is drama. Al Michaels even alluded to it with his Alka Seltzer comment. The sooner the NFL realizes betting creates viewers the better in my humble opinion. Anyway, just remember that 37 is a key total in the NFL and getting a half point above or below is very important. Just ask the guys who had the Over last night.

I will be back next week with a look at the NFL weekend in detail from our side of the counter. Good luck.

The enjoyment of your wagering experience with us is my number one priority. Should you have any questions, concerns, or comments, I will personally ensure you are satisfied with your Bodog experience.

Good luck with your wagers!

I always welcome comments, questions and suggestions via email at rob@Bodog.com
Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino