Ten Guidelines for Following Any Sports Handicapper
The sports gambling landscape has become way too crowded. Here's some helpful advice on navigating the minefield of handicappers out there giving out "free" betting advice that could end up costing you a fortune.
The internet is overflowing with “experts.” On just about everything.
This includes sports handicapping, and especially betting on the NFL, which is now in full swing. Because legalized sports betting has spread so broadly and quickly throughout North America, more “experts” are now giving their opinions than ever before. While typically “more information” seems like a good thing, the fact is most of the “experts” you see at sports information sites are anything but proficient or successful as football handicappers.
Over the years, I’ve browsed many online sites seeking other opinions. That’s often a good way to make sure that I didn’t miss something (like a key injury). It’s also a useful tool to pressure test my own ideas and methods. Many times, I’ve read stuff online that changed my opinion about a game and a pick. We should all strive to learn what we can from other reliable sources.
The trouble is — how do we separate the good from the bad? Who is real, and who is a fraud? What sources are valuable versus what sites are completely worthless as handicapping information reservoirs?
Let me take a crack at this. What follows is my ten bits of advice when seeking out handicapping information and coat-tailing the picks of a public handicapper:
(1) Does the sports handicapper post a comprehensive win-loss record?
This is critical. If an “expert” isn’t posting his or her track record, then skip the advice. Unfortunately, sports media is polluted with countless writers, podcast hosts, and video personalities who always seem to have an opinion on every game. Yet, they aren’t held accountable for any of their previous picks. Question: What’s the value of someone’s opinion who doesn’t even have the integrity to share his track record? Answer: Usually–zippo. Sadly, the bigger the media outlet, the less accountable these “experts” seem to be. You almost never read nor see any of the public handicappers posting a season-to-date and/or year-to-date record. This shouldn’t just be a huge red flag. It should be a disqualifier. Winning handicappers who work in media want the world to know they’re good at what they do. Pretenders want viewers to have short memories, so they don’t publicize their mediocre (or losing) track records. Again, this can’t be stressed strongly enough. Look for an honest W-L record of results. If it’s not posted, the opinion is pretty much worthless.
(2) Avoid the biggest sports media outlets for sports betting advice.
There’s a popular daily television show on ESPN that usually airs in the afternoon with lots of “experts” offering free advice on games. Sure, it’s great to see sports gambling treated as a legitimate investment sector, much as you would see on major networks that cover business and stocks. And, let’s be clear — there exists a deep hunger for good sports betting information and I’m glad to see the biggest sports media outlet serving this vast consumer market. However, betting the picks blindly given out on the daily show is a fast-track to the poorhouse. These “experts” dress well and look great on television. It’s all an illusion since their records are mostly terrible. Fact: I’ve tracked the picks given out on ESPN’s program over an extended period and just about every handicapper is hitting in the 40-50 percent range. I’ve yet to discover anyone on that show who is a consistent long-time winner. If one of them is a winner, then SHOW YOUR WORK. From the outset, the show was very suspect within the pro sports betting community since none of these personalities who appear regularly were/are known or respected within sports gambling circles. They lack credibility, which is everything in this business. It appears ESPN simply went out and plucked mostly young, well-spoken panelists who sound like they know what they’re talking about. The problem is, the picks aren’t any good. Some advice: Avoid the largest outlets that attract lots of traffic. And, you may even want to fade the very biggest media sources of sports betting information, such as ESPN’s daily wagering show.
(3) Big websites hire good writers, not good handicappers.
I can speak to this first-hand because I’ve written lots of stuff that’s appeared online. ESPN, CBS Sports, Bleacher Report, Barstool Sports, and others can be excellent sources of sporting news and entertainment. I frequent them all regularly. But I also shy away from the writers affiliated with these websites who make picks because most of the analysis isn’t helpful. Keep in mind the owners of big media outlets want traffic and clicks. They have little or no interest in actual content. So, there’s no accountability. Most of these writers don’t post their records (see #1). Most have an opinion on every big game (that’s a sure warning sign since the odds on many marquis games offer no discernable edge). Even worse, most of these “experts” are writers. They aren’t serious sports bettors. I seriously doubt if many of them are betting their own picks. Call me old-fashioned, but if I’m following someone’s advice, I’d like some assurance that the writer or media personality is actually betting his own picks. Doesn’t that make sense?
(4) Beware of eye candy.
This comment will get me in trouble. But I’m right, so here it goes. The more “eye candy” you see on a video, a television show, or a website the more worthless it is to your handicapping and making picks. Sure, we all like pretty girls. There’s a reason they’re popular in sports media. They get clicks. They generate web traffic and increase television ratings with a predominantly young male audience. But a serious sports handicapper isn’t interested in a pretty face or a hot body when he’s working unless it’s diving across the goal line and covering a point spread. I’m a big fan of ESPN’s inclusion of women in sports reporting, and many are outstanding (please make me president of the Suzy Kolber Fan Club). Perhaps in time, we’ll see some successful female sports handicappers with verifiable winning track records who also look great on TV. If and when that happens, let me know because I’ll be sure to watch and follow. Right now, I’ve yet to come across any “eye candy” handicappers who are winners. I’d love to be wrong about this, so if you know of someone, share it with the rest of us, okay?
(5) Fade former jocks and in-studio analysts.
Just so I won’t come across as a blatantly sexist dinosaur, let me offer an even more blistering critique of network analysts–especially former athletes. Their predictions are what we call “square.” That’s right, they’re squares. Mooks. Chumps. The same skill sets for being a great player or coach doesn't apply to sports gambling. Virtually every former player or coach goes along with the crowd and runs with the herd. With few exceptions, they’re always picking favorites and hyping the superstars. I’m far more interested in the analysis of a football team’s offensive line, but you’ll wind up staring at the passing stats of quarterbacks while ex-jocks argue about trivial fluff that has no bearing on handicapping (credit FOX’s Howie Long as at least one exception). To be fair, pregame shows are not intended for serious gamblers. They’re entertainers. Nevertheless, they do make predictions. My advice is to fade them, well, most of the time. That’s where you may find an extra point or two with line value. For years, TNT’s in-studio NBA analyst Charles Barkley was a gem to enjoy as an entertainer. His insight was always a fun experience. However, Sir Charles’ NBA picks and especially his halftime thoughts were a great fade. When Barkley made a prediction, you could bet the other side and often make money. Important Note: Let me add that NBC’s Chris Collinsworth’s in-game analysis is usually spot on. He’s outstanding, especially when handicapping what goes on in the trenches. He’s an exception so far as ex-jocks go.
(6) Don’t ignore a long-time winning handicapper with a (recent) losing record.
It’s difficult to keep track of others’ W-L records in sports handicapping. There’s a ton of misinformation out there. But the fact is, there are quite a number of very good analysts with years of experience who are modest winners. However, all gamblers do suffer losing streaks, even those who are the most successful. I’ve known more than a few professional handicappers who are outstanding analysts who suffer losing months and even go an entire season stuck in the red. It happens. Strange as it sounds, sometimes I look to these “cold” sources for insight because I know they take great pride in what they do. If they’re losing recently, they’re probably working even harder now to reverse the trend. So, they might do some extra work and uncover a spot in a game that most of the rest of us missed. Don’t ignore reliable people who are honest about what they do, based on short-term results.
(7) Beware of unknown handicappers who are running hot.
By the same token (see #6), don’t put too much stock in recent hot streaks. Short-term results almost always mean nothing. The biggest frauds are fluff promotions you often see littering sports gambling information websites parroting only the recent winning streaks. See links and click-bait with headlines such as “Dr. Einstein is 9-1 on his last 10 picks.” Most of these marketers are scammers who are only interested in (stealing your money) selling you something. Sure, if a handicapper is hitting 58 percent on the season based on 100-plus picks, that’s worth promoting. However, short-term hype screams “SCAM!” Perhaps the handicapper did go 9-1 this week. But if he was a winner last week, you would have seen it. The site should simply add the positive results to the overall record. There’s a recent they’re only hyping short-term results — because these frauds are long-term losers.
(8) Sports forums can be excellent resources, but be careful.
Public posting forums have been around for many years. This exchange if information offers the ultimate democratization of sports gambling since anyone can post an opinion and make picks. Frankly, this route is how many successful and well-known sports handicappers got started (note: be cautious of newcomers who never paid their dues in the trial and error arena of posting picks). While there’s lots of garbage on these open forums, you can also find some real nuggets of good information. Sometimes, they’re buried in an avalanche of worthless posts, but you can still find them if you look. Look for analysts on public posting forums who share truly unique insights, and especially those to handicap more exotic forms of wagering — like props, quarters, halftimes, etc. It’s really tough to pick point spread winners and over/unders. When coat-tailing strangers (meaning, I don’t know them personally), I like to see thorough analysis, outside-the-box thinking, and unusual forms of wagering that I haven’t considered. Sometimes you uncover buried treasure, which is far more valuable than articles and videos by big media outlets.
(9) Experience usually counts, but not always.
The unfortunate consequence of the recent sports betting boom is an explosion of flash-in-the-pan analysts and faux “experts” crowding public websites who overshadow real handicappers who actually do the legwork and have been beating the sports betting game for many years. Becoming a legitimate winning sports bettor takes a monumental investment of time and commitment. This venture is not for the faint-hearted. However, also be careful when following public handicappers who have been around for many years. Some of them, quite simply, lose money. Some (mostly older) handicappers are over the hill. Their methods might have worked years ago, but now they’re ancient. I’m usually interested in what any experienced handicapper has to say about a game, yet all betting advice should always be swallowed with a grain of salt. Everything else being equal, I’d rather hear what the experienced handicapper thinks as opposed to someone I don’t know, though I’m also open-minded to new methodologies particularly as they pertain to analytics.
(10) Avoid bait and switch content sites promising free picks but are, in reality, just marketing gimmicks.
Finally, here’s my guide to picking a sports handicapping service (pay for picks). One word: DON’T. Avoid any sports handicapper who offers a peek with a free pick while hiding their strongest plays (yeah, right) behind a paywall. Hint: He’s really just trying to sell you something.
Read more here: TEN WAYS TO TELL A SPORTS HANDICAPPING SERVICE IS DISHONEST