If the bookmaker’s odds are unfair, how can a punter ever win? Given the disadvantage the over round imposes, it is no surprise that as many as 95% of gamblers fail to win at fixed odds sports betting over the long term. There is no denying that most bookmakers, particularly the well-established firms, are very good at setting prices, estimating the true chance of sporting results and locking in a profit margin.
Nevertheless, sports are not statistically quantifiable, in the sense that cards or other forms of casino gambling are, where simple laws of probability govern the outcome of games like blackjack, roulette and craps. I know that I have a 1/37 chance of landing a number 36 on a European roulette wheel (1/38 chance on an American wheel). But how can I know what the true probability is of Ronnie O’Sullivan winning the world snooker championship again? And if I think I know what his chances are, how can I be sure that my estimate is more accurate than the bookmaker’s?
Unfortunately, the answers to these questions only come with time and experience, by acquiring a “knowledge” of a sport and its betting market, and a familiarity with the way bookmakers set their odds. The good news, however, is that whilst bookmakers are very good at setting odds for sporting events, they, like punters, can make mistakes, sometimes very glaring ones, which knowledgeable bettors will snap up without a moment’s hesitation.
William Hill, for example, astonishingly offered 200/1 on Primoz Peterka, the back-in-form Slovenian ski jumper, to win the opening ski jumping World Cup competition of the 2002/03 season at Kuusamo, Finland, despite the fact that he had won the qualifying competition the night before, and had been double world champion in previous seasons. The true odds, by contrast, were likely to be nearer to 10/1, and most other bookmakers had priced accordingly. Peterka won, and William Hill ceased offering odds for the ski jumping World Cup thereafter. Of course, such large mistakes are relatively rare, but smaller pricing errors do and must exist to account for the few per cent of gamblers who are profiting regularly from fixed odds sports betting.
Punters differ in the methods they use to acquire a sports betting “knowledge”. Some like to adopt a more mathematical approach by using rating systems based on past performance to predict future outcomes. Others spend hours each week poring over sports journals and Internet sites to glean as much information as they can about a particular event, including news about the weather, and team or player injuries and morale. Still others base their judgement on a subjective feel for the forthcoming event, relying on an inkling or a hunch about what may happen. And finally there are punters who simply pay others to do the thinking for them, by subscribing to one or more sports advisory services.