Discipline for the Sports Gambler

Some of the best sports gambling concepts are found in non-sports gambling books. 

That’s not really surprising, since there are so few serious works addressing sports betting and handicapping.  Of all the various gambling related disciplines, sports betting is perhaps the most complex. 

The paucity of written work on the subject is downright shameful in light of that fact. 

For that reason, some of the best theoretical resources available to the serious sports gambler can be found in books written for the serious poker player.

On one level, this is likely due to the fact that poker—like sports gambling—is a pursuit in which the knowledgeable and skillful player can overcome the theoretical odds against him. 

To paraphrase the great poker theoretician Bob Caro, there are some professional blackjack players, horse players and sports gamblers in addition to professional poker players. 

In the entire world, however, there is not one professional roulette player. 

The simple fact is that the house edge in roulette cannot be overcome by any combination of skill, experience and/or discipline.  When you win, it is because you get lucky. 

When you lose, it’s because you didn’t get lucky. 

To add another Caro concept to the equation, the decisions that the player makes when playing roulette simply don’t matter—at least in terms of overcoming the theoretical edge enjoyed by “the house”. 

In the long term, it doesn’t matter whether you choose red or black, odd or even, or certain numbers. 

You may get “lucky” with your choices or you may not, but these decisions do not impact the house edge one iota.

I highly Bob Caro’s book “Caro’s Fundamental Secrets of Winning Poker”. 

This is arguably the most valuable gambling book I have ever read.  It’s not very expensive (list price of $9.95) and you can pick up a copy at the local Barnes and Noble, as well as order it from Amazon or Barnes and Noble on the web. 

While some of the content is, of course, “poker specific” I’d be very surprised if a light didn’t go on over your head after you read it.  If it doesn’t hopefully the information herein will help flip the switch.

This discussion of discipline doesn’t come from the aforementioned Caro book, however, but from his contributions on five card draw poker in the huge poker volume compiled by legendary poker god Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson (Doyle Brunson’s Super System:  A Course In Power Poker). 

This is another excellent volume for the serious poker player, and also has information of relevance to those of us who wager on sports seriously.

Poker theory expert Bob Caro argues that one of the poker player’s most valuable weapons is discipline at the table. 

The reason for this is that the average person goes into a casino for precisely the opposite reason—he wants to have some “downtime” away from the discipline and order that circumscribes the rest of his life. 

He wants to down a few cocktails, leer at some cocktail waitresses, and throw some money around for awhile. 

He’s not worried about theoretical return on investment, pot odds or other concepts of serious play. 

Casinos exist for the sole reason of providing him all of the escapism he wants while they slowly use their house advantage to make a profit off of him. 

Granted, poker operates differently in terms of the “house advantage” but the motivation that drives the recreational gambler to the poker table is no different than that which drives him to the slot machines or blackjack layout.

And the lesson that Caro gives to the would-be expert poker player is the same lesson that I’m going to give to you here. 

The first step toward becoming a successful sports gambler is to approach it with the same discipline that you’d approach any other job. 

You must start to think about sports and sports wagering like a professional and not like a recreational gambler.  The greater degree to which you can apply a regimented framework to the sports betting process, the greater level of success you will enjoy.

Now, I have no problem with recreational sports gamblers—or any other recreational gamblers for that matter. 

Recreational sports gamblers are, in fact, crucial to the survival of those of us who do this for a living. 

They’re not our “prey”—like they are for the poker professional—but a thriving recreational sports gambling industry keeps the sportsbooks in business, and our efforts are useless if the book doesn’t pay me. 

If you want to bet recreationally, that’s fine and unless you have the dedication and discipline to do it right it’s probably better for most people. 

You can gain some knowledge from the concepts I talk about to make yourself a more frequent winner. 

As a recreational gambler, though, the only “discipline” you really need to know is the same as for other casino games or any hobby—just don’t bet more than you can afford to lose.  After that, you’re on your own.

If you’ve read this far, however, I’m assuming that your goals are not purely recreational. 

One of the most frequent requests we get from new clients is for help at being disciplined. 

I’m not in this business to be a surrogate parent to my clients, so ultimately discipline is something that you must develop for yourself. 

I can help in other ways, however, by giving you some concepts of how to develop wagering discipline as well as continue to underscore the importance of a disciplined approach to sports gambling.

Once again, I’m going to offer the disclaimer that there’s nothing wrong with recreational sports gambling.  The advice that follows is meant specifically for those who want to approach it like a professional.


This doesn’t mean quit your “day job” and start gambling on sports exclusively. 

Even if your longterm goal is to become a professional sports gambler, having a “real job” has its advantage. 

Not the least of these is a steady paycheck, insurance benefits, and so forth. 

I would argue that the best way to become a professional sports gambler is to transition into it from another career, and that’s speaking from the experience of someone who did it the other way. 

What I mean by this is simple—beginning today make a commitment to begin approaching sports gambling with the seriousness of a cardiologist doing a quadruple bypass surgery. 

Quit looking for a “big killing” and understand that your goal should be instead to grind out profits. 

Start to learn the theoretical basis of sports gambling—how lines are made and why they’re moved, the concept of money management, value, overlays and all of the technical stuff that the boiler room touts don’t talk about. 

I cannot emphasize enough that you’ll be far better served to learn the ins and outs of the business of sports gambling and the nuts and bolts of bookmaking than you will to develop an encyclopedic knowledge of players and teams.  

Starting today, your sports gambling goal is no longer to “pick winners” but rather to “find value” and to take a measured and disciplined financial position when you do.


This is perhaps the biggest dichotomy between the recreational and the professional sports gambler. 

The recreational player bets for entertainment—to have action on big events like the Superbowl and March Madness, or to make the endless array of televised games more interesting.  

It’s no secret that the entire sports information industry (with a few exceptions) feeds into this tendency. 

If you don’t believe me, take a look at the sports section of the USA TODAY before “big” games—Monday Night Football, the Superbowl, etc. 

The reality is this assortment of touts doesn’t have “huge information” on Monday Night Football, nor is a big televised basketball game “the strongest play ever”. 

This is nothing more than hype and marketing—the reality is that to the professional a “big” games is just one more wagering proposition on the never-ending menu of wagering propositions from which to choose. 

You could actually make a very good case that the higher profile events are by definition poorer value opportunities. 

I cannot state this more plainly or overemphasize the importance of this concept. 

You do not HAVE to bet on Monday Night Football, the Kentucky Derby, the Superbowl or any other sporting event. 

The tout industry wants to make it sound like these highly watched events are good wagering opportunities just to get your money and many of them will say anything to get it. 

The sooner you divorce yourself from the belief that Monday Night football is a “bailout special” or that you HAVE to bet a game because it’s on ESPN, the sooner you can move on to advanced handicapping and wagering concepts.

I’ve read some money management articles recently that have suggested that you should allocate a portion of your bankroll for “fun” bets. 

If you want to approach sports gambling like a professional this is something that I categorically disagree with.  Once again, I don’t want to disparage anyone who wants to bet on sports “for fun”. 

There’s nothing wrong with betting on sports as a recreation, but the notion that you can approach sports betting seriously “except for 10% of your bankroll” or whatever is a very problematic position indeed. 


One of the most valuable lessons you can learn about sports betting is that the ‘big picture’ is the only thing that matters. 

The recreational gambler focuses on the short term and will often resort to ‘chasing’ losses in hopes of ‘getting even’ for a day, weekend, etc. Boiler room sports touts play into this emotion by marketing ‘bailout games’ and the like. 

There’s certainly value in monitoring your performance from day to day, but don’t get hung up on the short term.  Think of sports betting not as a series of games over a day, week or month but as one long ‘game’. 

For that reason, decisions should be made based on sound principles of value and not a desire for short term profits.


There’s a great line that sports betting is ‘a hard way to make an easy living’ and that is 100% correct. 

Boiler room sports touts, like their counterparts on late night ‘no money down’ real estate infomercials, try to sell ‘marks’ on the illusion that it’s easy money. 

They’ll occasionally use pictures of fancy cars, women in bikinis, so on and so forth to hit the ‘something for nothing’ desire of their target market even harder.

Another variation on this theme that the sports information industry tries to exploit is the perception that successful sports betting are simply a matter of discovering an arcane ‘system’ that will automatically produce winners.  Other touts suggest that they’ve got ‘inside information’ on ‘locks’ or ‘wise guy moves’.

It’s all garbage. 

There’s only one way to make money betting on sports and that is to work your ass off at it day after day, year after year. 

This is something that can’t be stressed enough—there are no short cuts.  Getting the best of it in sports betting is hard work. 

It’s hard work to learn what you’re doing, and it’s hard work to keep doing it. 

Touts like to sell nonsense about ‘systems’ and ‘information plays’ because it plays into the public’s desire to believe that there is some ‘secret’ that opens the door to endless wealth.  There isn’t.  There’s only hard work and more hard work.

One of the best things ever written on the subject comes from Andrew Beyer’s ‘Picking Winners’. 

Obviously the subject of that book is horse racing, but it applies perfectly to sports betting as well:

“Here it was, the Secret of Beating the Races:  There was no one secret!  The horseplayers like me who searched for the great underlying truth of handicapping were as misdirected as the alchemists who spent their lives trying to find the philosphers’ stone.  The game is diverse and it is perpetually changing.  Methods that work beautifully at Bowie are almost useless sixty miles away at Shenandoah Downs.  Handicapping rules that sounded axiomatic a year ago are obsolete today.  The winning horseplayer is not the man who holds the proper set of dogmatic beliefs, but the one who can observe and adapt to the ever changing conditions of the sport”

(from ‘Picking Winners: A Horseplayer’s Guide’ by Andrew Beyer)

Hard to add much to that. 

The game is always changing and transforming itself, and staying on top of it is hard work. 

The only way to get around it is to delegate that work to a professional handicapper, and finding a good one amid all of the touts and scam artists in the industry isn’t easy. 

In the second half of this text, we’ve got some tips on how to find a good sports handicapper.


A few years back there was a big fuss over the fact that Florida State QB Adrian McPherson bet on Seminole games, including games in which he was the starting quarterback. 

The sports media went to great lengths to emphasize that he always bet on the Seminoles to win. 

Maybe if I was one of his teammates this would make me feel better and perhaps was intended to reflect positively on his competitive character. 

As a student of the sports gambling discipline, however, I can only categorize it as sheer idiocy.

I make it a point to get as little of my sports news information as possible from television. 

I’d estimate that 90% of the sports coverage I digest each day is written. 

If I do watch Sportscenter, or watch a game on TV I’ll most frequently turn the volume down. 

The reason for this is pretty simple—the TV sports industry, whether it’s ESPN or the networks, are not in the business of objective analysis of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the teams they feature. 

They’re in the business of generating ratings, and to do this they speak all too frequently in absolutes: 

Duke is a good basketball team, Clemson is a bad basketball team. 

The Portland Trailblazers are ‘good’, the Golden State Warriors are ‘bad’. Every matchup is a great rivalry, and every prohibitive underdog is an “upset in the making”. 

As a handicapper, I’d much rather make up my own mind rather than trust the interpretation of a shill on the network payroll. 

There are exceptions to this rule, but overall I’ve found that an over reliance on TV sports news is a good way to reinforce perceptions of teams and/or players that may not be accurate.

So to be a serious sports gambler you have several choices:

Try to divest yourself of all emotional attachments to the sporting events on which you wager:   Andy Iskoe made a great observation on the old “Insomniac Sports” radio show he did with the late Lee Pete, though I’m sure someone else said it originally:  “my favorite team is the one I’ve invested in for the evening”. 

Most serious professional bettors eventually reach the point where they could literally care less who wins or loses as long as they’re on the right side of the wagering proposition. 

Sure, there are teams I like better than others and players I like better than others, but my opinions are more analytical than emotional. 

If you think that you have the ability to be as cold as a mortician when it comes to who wins or loses, you’re ahead of the game.

If you can’t completely divorce yourself from the emotional experience of watching sports, you can make an effort to “compartmentalize” your feelings. 

In other words, be a fan when it’s appropriate to be one, but when you’re wearing the hat of a sports gambler approach the events from a strictly analytical perspective.

You may bleed L.A. Dodger blue, but can you pull the trigger on a play against them in the right situation?  I like to use the analogy of a gynecologist at a strip club. 

He can’t watch the exotic dancers with the same mindset that he approaches his medical practice and vice versa.  In both instances, he’s closely scrutinizing nude women but it’s important for him to understand the different context in which he’s doing so and to “compartmentalize” his approach to the female body. 

It’s possible to do so, but very difficult.

The other option is to “know your weaknesses”. 

If you’re a huge fan of Notre Dame, or whatever team, just don’t bet on their games. 

The downside of this is that a devoted fan of a particular team usually has an understanding that is very valuable in a handicapping paradigm—hardcore fans can often tell when players or teams as a whole are “due” for good or bad runs in almost intuitive ways. 

If you feel you can’t objectively assess the strengths or weaknesses of a particular team, you may be better off just not wagering on their games.

The other extreme may also be a concern—if you hate a certain player or team it can be difficult to correctly assess their abilities as well. 

In NASCAR, for example, I strongly dislike Robbie Gordon. 

In most weeks this isn’t a problem, but on certain types of tracks (road courses, to be specific) he’s very good. 

It’s important to not let personal disdain get in the way of objective handicapping just as it is to not let fandom cloud your perspective.

Discipline is perhaps the most crucial component of successful sports gambling, as well as the most overlooked. 

This is a good foundation with which to start as you work to strengthen your discipline on the road to becoming a serious student of sports gambling.


One of the advantages of being a sports handicapper is that I don’t have to find someone else to do it for me. 

Seriously, I don’t envy you people. 

Sports handicapping is one of the few industries I can think of where a majority of the “professionals” are either incompetent or downright crooked. 

Depending on what mood you catch me in, I’d say that somewhere between 50% and 90% of the industry is crooked, incompetent or some combination thereof. 

The good news is that there are probably more honest, successful and legitimate handicappers than ever before. 

The trick is finding them among the rabble of the industry. 

That’s the purpose of this article–these are the basics of what I’d look for in a handicapper or sports service. 


The first thing you need to understand is that nature of what a real handicapper does and how it can benefit you. 

Sports handicapping is a predictive science, and as such is similar to professions like stock advisers or weathermen. 

What we do is utilize our expertise and knowledge to interpret data to find wagering value that will allow us to profit in the sports wagering marketplace. 

Basically, it’s a function of experience, knowledge and hard work. 

Unfortunately, too many touts try to convince an unwitting public that they have privy to “inside information”, or “locks”. 

They imply that they have mythical “systems” that have “never lost”. 

They throw around ridiculous ratings–100,000 stars, 500,000 stars, that sort of things–and “games of the year” that come every few days. 

Oddly enough, many touts “strongest plays of their lifetime” seem to coincide with high profile “big games”–a fact alone that is almost completely in contradiction to any legitimate concept of finding wagering value.

The bad guys in the industry throw around a lot of hype about fantasies of locked games and inside information, and talk very little about the things that really matter in sports handicapping. 

You’ll never hear the boiler room guys talk about finding value, disciplined money management, and hard work. 

Yet it’s those qualities that uniformly characterizes the successful sports bettor

So step number one is to get over the fantasy of easy money. 

It doesn’t exist outside of a boiler room telemarketer’s sales pitch. 

Virtually every successful sports bettor in the industry does it the same way–finding value that allows him to grind out profits over the long haul. 

It takes a lot of research and a lot of work. 

It might not be as “sexy” as a “10,000,000 star never lost lock of the century” but it is the distinction between fantasy and reality, between what works and what doesn’t. 

Until you get over the fantasyland nonsense pushed by many in the tout industry, you’ll never be able to seriously and successfully approach sports wagering with the proper mindset.

Bottom line–the only thing that a handicapper can do for you that you can’t do for yourself is to leverage their experience and knowledge to find wagering value.  This is done through hard work. 


With that fact in mind, I’m going to give you a few tips on how to evaluate sports handicapping professionals. 

These concepts will weed out the crooks and bottom feeders of the industry, and help you isolate the guys who really know what they’re doing:

1)  Communicate with the guy who’s name is on the marquee

If you’re thinking of signing up with John Doe Sports, make sure that you talk or exchange emails with John Doe himself. 

Don’t settle for a salesman, or an “account representative” or whatever verbiage they use. 

Insist on dealing with the guy that does the handicapping. 

If you can’t talk to the guy who does the handicapping, don’t sign up with the service. 

If he doesn’t have time to deal with you as a potential client, he definitely won’t have time to deal with you once he has your money. 

There are a lot of reasons that you want to do this. 

First, a number of crooked services have a “stable” of handicappers who exist in name only. 

If one guy hits the skids some new handicapper will come out of the blue claiming to be “on fire” and “red hot”.  

As we’ll discuss below, you’ll also want to talk to the handicapper about his handicapping methodologies and experience in sports betting.

Dealing with the handicapper himself not only allows you to verify that he really exists, but will also let you get a feel for how much he has on the uptake.

So if the handicapper isn’t available ask that he call or email you as soon as he can.

I can accept someone being busy, but if he doesn’t get back to you promptly it gives you a good idea of how he approaches his business.

2) Don’t tell them how much you’re betting per game:

Simply stated, they don’t need to know and particularly not before you actually become a client.

This is one of the oldest scams in the sports tout playbook—you call John Doe Sports to get information on service and the first thing they ask is “how much do you bet per game?”.

They’ll suggest they need to know this so they can determine which of their many fine services is right for you.

The real reason they need to know it is so they can determine how much to charge.

If you’re a $1000 player you’ll be paying a lot more than if you’re a $100 player.

There is no legitimate reason that a handicapping service needs to know how much you’re betting per game. 

You’re paying for a service, and that service should not cost more for big players and less for small players. 

I’ve always compared our service to the Wall Street Journal–I can walk into a newsstand and get it for the same price that Bill Gates is charged for the paper. 

Sports service should be the same way. 

In fact, we’d prefer not to know the dollar amounts my clients are playing. 

Our goal is to treat them all the same and when we discuss plays we speak in terms of units and not dollars. 

If a handicapper seems too interested in how much you’re playing per game its probably greed–not interest in your sports betting fortunes–that is driving this concern.

3) Once you pay for service, it should be inclusive: 

In other words, don’t sign up with a service that wants to charge you more for “big” plays and the like. 

Obviously, I don’t have a problem with a service that charges separately for individual sports or individually for the services of different handicappers (assuming they really exist). 

What I’m talking about are services that charge for football service and then try to get more money out of you for the “good” plays. 

This is also a classic sports tout scam–you sign up for the basic service and start losing money. 

You gripe about it, and the tout tells you that his “Silver Plays” are really kicking ass. 

He’s hoping you’ll pony up the additional money for his “Silver Package”. 

He’ll then try to repeat the process with his “Gold”, “Platinum” or “Titanium” plays. 

Once you get wise to what he’s doing he’ll give your name to another tout–probably another guy in the same office–and try to repeat the process.

So don’t accept unreasonable charges for service. 

If you sign up with Anatta Sports to get service for a year, obviously we’ll expect you to pay again next year. 

You won’t, however, be charged for anything else during that time frame. 

If a handicapper doesn’t give you all of his plays during the season/timeframe in question go somewhere else.

4) Grill the handicapper in depth about his experience and methodology: 

This one is pretty simple–talk to the guy and ask him about his background in sports betting. 

Since there’s no graduate degree program or board certification for handicappers, you’re just looking for something that makes sense. 

If a guy has never actually bet on a sporting event, for example, I wouldn’t be too anxious to send him my money so that he can advise me on my betting activities. 

The more important component of the “audition process” is the second part–if a handicapper doesn’t have a coherent methodology that he can talk expansively about don’t send him your money. 

Basically, you want to know how he comes up with his daily plays. 

If a guy tries to suggest that these are “inside information locks”, the products of some secret system or information that he fishes out of the dumpster behind the now imploded Stardust, go somewhere else. 

This is boiler room tout hokum, and not serious handicapping. 

What you want to hear is talk about line value, money management, power ratings, statistical analysis, and so forth. 

There’s no “right” or “wrong” handicapping methodology, but if a guy doesn’t have a methodology you’re better off on your own. 

Serious handicappers can talk at great length about their theories and strategies and if a guy you’re considering can’t I’d definitely go somewhere else.