How to Be Lucky at Sports Betting

Sports betting is a skill-based gambling activity that gives you an opportunity to win long term profits. But sometimes it certainly doesn't seem this way.

My point spread bets have lost many times on a meaningless fourth quarter touchdown. I've also had moneyline wagers go down in flames thanks to a last second three pointer.

Oftentimes, it feels like you need luck just as much as skill to win. How you can capture this good fortune and make it work for you?

Let's discuss how to make yourself luckier in sports betting by covering volatility, the science behind winning and losing streaks, and what you can do to increase your betting luck.


Sports Betting Luck is Actually Volatility

Volatility is commonly used in financial markets to describe the level of risk behind a trade. The higher the volatility, the more risk you take.

The same concept applies to sports betting, where some wagers are more volatile than others. Here are examples of risky sports bets:

  • Betting on a specific school winning March Madness.
  • Wagering on a single tennis player winning a tournament.
  • Backing big underdogs on the moneyline.
  • Making future bets on teams winning titles.
  • Placing Super Bowl prop bets on who'll win MVP.

The types of bets listed above are volatile because they're more likely to lose than win.

For example, backing a single school to win the NCAA Tournament is a low percentage bet. This is even the case with a No. 1 seed because all four No. 1 seeds combined only win March Madness around 35% of the time.

Likewise, even taking a heavy favorite like Serena Williams in a tennis tournament can be risky. She'll need to win 6-7 matches to take the title, which isn't easy at the highest level of tennis.

This isn't to say that you should completely avoid the types of wagers listed above. After all, you can gain positive expected value with these bets and make long term profits.

But it's important to realize that you're more prone to losing streaks when you make highly volatile bets. And this means that you need to be luckier to keep winning.

What Bets Have Low Volatility?

Personally, I don't like stringing together lots of bets that require a high degree of luck to win. I don't feel lucky at all after losing 5 to 10 wagers in a row.

This is why it's good to mix your high and low volatility wagers together so that you have a strong chance to win some bets.

But what are examples of wagers with lower volatility?

Point spreads and totals (a.k.a. over/under) are good places to begin when you want to minimize risk. Most of these bets are near 50/50 propositions even after the house's 10% juice (commission) is considered.

Let's look an example of a point spread:

You're dealing with a high percentage bet regardless of whether you take Baltimore or Cincinnati on the spread. You stand to win $100 profit for every $110 you risk on either situation.

Of course, you may feel that one side is more likely to cover the spread than the other. But the point is that you have roughly a 50% chance to win no matter which team you take.

Here's one more example using totals:

This is another near 50/50 proposition on whether these teams will combine to score over or under 219 points. You'll have a decent chance to win regardless of which side of the line you're on.

I'm not saying that you should throw out all the fun Super Bowl prop bets and wagers on a player/team winning a tournament. But it's also nice to mix in these high percentage bets so that you can minimize your overall risk.

Furthermore, this makes it so that you're not just relying on a high degree of luck to win.


Science Backs Winning & Losing Streaks

Many sports bettors can attest to the following scenario:

  • You go on a solid winning streak where you win around 60-70% of your bets.
  • You start padding your bank account as the wins keep rolling in.
  • Suddenly, you enter a horrific losing streak that just doesn't seem to end.
  • When everything is said and done, you've lost more money than you've won.

Why do big winning and losing streaks happen? Why do you have the hot hand one month, then you can't win anything the next month?

We chalk these scenarios up to luck. But science shows that there's more than just luck to the equation.

Winning Breeds More Winning

A study appearing in a May 2014 edition of Cognition proves that you're more likely to succeed with a bet when you're coming off a win. In contrast, you're more likely to lose when coming off a losing bet.

This study looked at 565,915 sports wagers made by 776 online gamblers from the US and Europe. Here's what the University College London (UCL) team noticed with regard to a winning streak:

  • The average chance of winning a sports bet is 48% (ties account for other 4%).
  • Your chances of winning improve to 49% following one win.
  • Your chances of winning improve to 57% following two wins.
  • Your chances of winning improve to 67% following three wins.
  • Your chances of winning improve to 72% following four wins.
  • Your chances of winning improve to 75% following five wins.
  • Your chances of winning improve to 76% following six wins.

Does this mean that there's some magic behind a winning streak? Or does your luck improve when you have the hot hand?

Researchers discovered that the gamblers' fallacy is behind this phenomenon.

The gambler's fallacy refers to the belief that past outcomes can dictate future results. For example, if you win two bets in a row, you may feel like this means you're "due" to lose the next wager.

And this is exactly what's behind winning streaks because players go for safer bets when they're on a hot streak. These bettors think that they're less likely to win as they continue doing so.

"Winners worried their good luck was not going to continue, so they selected safer odds," the study noted. "By doing so, they became more likely to win."

Losing Causes More Losing

Now let's look at what the UCL researchers discovered with regard to losses:

The reason why you're more likely to lose following losing sports bets also goes back to the gamblers' fallacy.

Researchers noted that losing gamblers make low percentage wagers that offer higher payouts in these situations. The reason why is because they think that they're more likely to win because their losing streak has to end soon.

"The result is ironic: Winners worried their good luck was not going to continue, so they selected safer odds," explained the researchers.

"By doing so, they became more likely to win. The losers expected the luck to turn, so they took riskier odds. However, this made them even more likely to lose. The gamblers' fallacy created the hot hand."

Applying Research to Sports Betting Luck

The research discussed above explains why it feels like you can't lose during hot streaks, and you can't win when things are going badly.

If you want to stay lucky in sports betting, then the best strategy is to adopt the hot hand method. This entails making high percentage bets as if you're on a winning streak.

In other words, you should place the wagers such as point spreads and totals that I discussed in the volatility section. These bets are more likely to win than many other types of sports wagers and will help you sustain your bankroll.


How to Increase Your Sports Betting Luck

One of the best ways to boost your sports betting luck is by improving your skills.

Even the best sports bettors suffer losing streaks because this game is filled with variance. But you can at least give yourself a stronger chance to win by making well-informed wagers and properly managing your bankroll.

Let's cover a few different ways that you can take your sports betting game to the next level.

Develop a Bankroll Management Plan

The first thing that you want to do is set up a bankroll management plan.

A solid plan is to have a bankroll worth 100 units, which represent the average size of your bets. You then stick to a strategy that involves only wagering 1-2 units per wager.

Let's look an example of how to do this:

Sometimes you may decide a bet is so good that you need to wager more than two units. This is fine, as long as you have plenty of units remaining in your bankroll, and enough experience to know a great bet when you see one.

But the key is to avoid the following trap that many gamblers fall into:

  • You have $200 that you can put towards sports betting.
  • You begin making random bets worth anywhere from $10 to $25.
  • This only gives you between 8 and 20 units to work with.
  • You've quickly burnt through your bankroll and must resist the temptation of dipping into personal expenses.

It's important to have a large number of betting units, because you need to survive the variance.

Sports wagering can be a rough game even when you stick with high percentage bets. Things only get tougher when you introduce lower percentage wagers into the equation.

That said, create a bankroll management plan and stick with it.

Limit Your Bets & Focus

Continuing off the last point, it's also important to limit how many wagers you place every week. You need to focus on placing quality bets while limiting how much of your bankroll is at risk each week.

The focusing part is important because you can't make a dozen informed wagers in one weekend. Unfortunately, far too many bettors make the mistake of placing multiple wagers in a short time frame without dedicating proper research to each one.

The best sports bettors sometimes go weeks without placing a single wager, because they want to look for quality opportunities that give them an edge.

You can't do this when you're betting on Thursday Night Football, college football, Sunday NFL games, and Monday Night Football every week. That said, concentrate on quality over quantity when it comes to betting.

Keep Records

The best way to find out whether your betting wins are based on skill or pure luck is to keep records. I recommend starting a spreadsheet or Word document table that includes different sports, types of bets, stakes, wins, and losses.

The main reason for doing this is to keep track of how much money you're winning/losing over time. The second reason is to see what sports and games are most profitable for you.

One more thing that I recommend adding into records is what sportsbooks you're betting at and the odds (prices) being offering. This allows you to keep track of the value you're getting at each sportsbook.

Never Chase Losses

The single biggest mistake that bettors make involves chasing their losses.

I have fallen victim to this problem. And numerous bettors continue making this mistake again and again.

You know that chasing losses has become a huge problem when you normally bet on baseball and football, but suddenly begin wagering on ice skating and volleyball to get more action.

As mentioned before, you need to focus on individual bets to get the best outcome. Along with this, you should focus on one sport each season.

Don't bet outside the sports you know just to try and recoup losses. You'll only make the problem worse because you know even less about these other sports.

Research Bets

Most of the work behind making winning sports bets revolves around properly researching your wagers.

Every sport involves its own specific traits that you should look into when handicapping a bet. For example, field condition is important in outdoor football games.

General criteria that you should consider with every sport includes the following:

  • Injury reports
  • Motivational factors (e.g. rivalry games, star players going against old teams)
  • Recent team/player performances
  • Records against the spread (ATS)
  • Shopping different sportsbooks for the best odds

Also note that there are various programs you can use to make handicapping easier. These include everything from free odds calculators to extensive software programs that give you detailed statistics.


Many bettors see luck at face value. And they think that they're cursed when a lengthy losing streak happens.

But the truth is that there are ways to change your fortunes in sports betting. This begins with making wagers that give you a realistic chance to win.

Sure, it may be tempting to bet on a - 400 underdog on the moneyline. But this is a low percentage wager that's likely to lose.

Another good thing to do is create a bankroll management plan and keep records on your wagers. This helps you manage your bets and track whether you're winning over the long term.

In summary, being a lucky sports bettor isn't just about waiting for good fortune to strike. Instead, it's about making the right bets and taking the necessary steps to improve your odds of winning.