How Sports Betting Has Changed Over the Last 20 Years

I recently picked up a used book called The New Gambler's Bible by Arthur Reber. It was written in 1996. The section covering sports betting has over 50 pages of information and advice.

As I read through the section, it struck me how sports betting is much the same now as it was then. But I also realized that a few things have changed.

Here are some of my observations, written while the information is still fresh in my mind. Even long time sports bettors can use this information to increase their winning percentages.

Punters who are just learning can use a historical perspective to learn what changes to expect over the next 20 years.

The Lines Are Better

Over time the sports books have gotten better at setting opening lines on all of the major sports. I expect this trend to continue until we reach a point where almost 100% of opening lines are within a couple points or less.

The public still plays a large role in the final lines; the sports books still move the lines if too much action is placed on one side or the other of games. This means the final lines won't always be as accurate as they should be. But when the major sports books set opening lines now, the lines are closer to a true line than any time in the past.

This makes it harder for sharp sports bettors to find profitable opening lines. But it also helps them find closing line opportunities when the public has bet heavily on one side of a game.

Here's an example:

The public tends to over bet favorites, particularly those who play at home. The sports books know this, so they set the lines slightly against the favorite. That way the general public pays the price of an extra point or two.

If the Patriots are playing at home against the Dolphins and the sports book handicaps the true line at the Patriots -7, they'll likely open the week with Patriots -8 or -9.

Traditionally, the public will still bet the Patriots. If the public money outweighs the sharp money, the line might move further up during the week. In the case the line moves to Patriots -10½, the sharp sports bettors will probably place as much money on the Dolphins as possible before the line starts moving back.

The best sports bettors realize everything the sports book does about this situation. They also realize that if the true line should be 7, a line of 10½ offers a large value.

They might not win every time, but a spread between a true line and a line that's moved this much will be profitable in the long run.

The good news is you can start watching for these same types of line moves during the week. You have the opportunity to profit from them'just like the pros.

Watch for one trap when trying to profit from moving lines. If a line moves right after it's published, it's usually from sharp sports bettors who feel the opening line was off. When this happens, avoid the game–unless you're better than the professionals who moved the line early.

When the public moves a line, it happens throughout the week. You won't see a big move early.

It might be hard to tell the difference on some games. But who said being a winning sports bettor was easy?

As you study games and watch for these opportunities, you'll learn to see most movements for what they are.

Information Is More Readily Available

When I handicapped games 20 years ago, I had to use newspapers, magazines, radio, and television to gather information. These weren't bad ways to handicap, but they rarely offered the most up to date news and information.

I remember pouring over box scores to handicap baseball games every morning when I got the paper.

Box scores offer a good statistical view of what happened, but they don't make any differentiation between a pop out and a deep drive that barely stayed in the park.

Now you can find any information you could possibly want online and see highlights of games around the clock.

Sure, the sports books have access to the same information. But it's a way more balanced system than it used to be. The Internet has helped even the information playing field tremendously.

Easier To Place Bets

20 years ago you had to travel to Nevada in the US to place legal bets. Other countries had their own laws and regulations, but most players either had to travel or place bets with a local bookie.

These options are still available, but you can now also place bets on the Internet from almost anywhere in the world.

Many governments have tried to make this practice illegal, but you can find a sports book willing to take your bets on games and matches in almost every country in the world.

I haven't placed a bet on my phone yet, but the technology is available. I check lines and sports news on it all the time.

Now the challenge is how to get your money into and out of the sports book. Finding places to place wagers is easy.

I know several players who live where the law supposedly states it's illegal to place bets online. They've been wagering online for years. Governments in most parts of the world go after the owners of online sports books, but they rarely go after the people placing the bets.

More Bets Are Available

Did you know you can bet on how long the National Anthem will be before the Super Bowl?

What about placing a futures wager on the next President of the United States?

You can place bets on a wider range of games and situations than ever before. Even the smallest college football and basketball teams have lines available at some sports books.

Before the next Super Bowl, take a look at all the prop bets you can place on the game. Even during the boring regular season you can find all kinds of wagering options–including in game betting on what the next play will be, the total points in the first or second half, if the next batter will strike out, or hundreds of other options.

Here's the question:

Do all of these extra betting opportunities offer more or less chance to profit?

You'd think that more options would offer extra places for the sports books to make mistakes. While they do occasionally offer a wager that is favorable to the bettor, most of these bets have such a large vig that the book makes a killing on them.

The other thing it does to the casual bettor is divide their attention. To be a profitable sports bettor, you need to specialize on a few areas so you can have a chance to see and learn things the sports books don't know or respect.

Of course, you can choose to specialize in some of the newer betting opportunity areas, but make sure you can beat the vig before investing too much time and effort.

Some Things Are the Same

Most professional sports bettors specialize in one or two areas and concentrate on beating the spread, the over/under, and/or the money line.

I don't think this will change any time soon.

If the sharp sports bettors are focusing on the same bets they used 20 years ago, don't you think you should be working on a way to make the same bets profitably now?

Another thing that's the same and will continue for as long as I can see is the sports books are the real profit makers in the sports betting world. Only a small percentage of sports bettors make a long term profit, but every sports book that's run correctly makes money.

How often do you see a local bookie go out of business unless he runs into legal problems?

Taking the bets is still more profitable than making them.


Sports betting has changed quite a bit in the last 20 years, but not so much that if you skipped 20 years you wouldn't be able to place a bet today.

As I wrote this I tried to decide if the changes were good or bad. I was placing bets 20 years ago. I still place them today. I can see both good and bad in the changes.

I like how easy it is to place bets and the extra information being readily available, but I don't like the sports books being better than ever at setting lines.

Overall I think now is better, but it's no easier to be a winning sports bettor today than it was 20 years ago.