Bankroll management isn’t the sexiest sports betting topic, but it’s one of the most important for successful sports bettors. We’re focusing on college football in particular, where betting is chaotic as we’re counting on 18-22 year olds.
The margins in sports betting are extremely thin. The break-even point is 52.38% after accounting for the standard -110 vig, and winning more than 60% of your sports bets is pretty much unheard of.
That means the difference between winning and losing is just a few percentage points in each direction. With that in mind, properly managing your bankroll is arguably the most important skill outside of actually handicapping games.
What Is Bankroll Management?
Your bankroll in sports betting is different from your bankroll in the real world. In real life, money is typically your reward for performing your job. You use that money to pay for goods and services, and then at the end of your pay period, you’re rewarded with more money. It’s a cyclical process.
In sports betting, your ability to generate more money is only made possible by using your current money. If you’re too aggressive and your bankroll dwindles, you’re not going to be able to generate any additional income without reloading your account. Therefore, it’s on you to protect your bankroll and look to grow it in a responsible manner. That’s bankroll management in a nutshell.
You need to look at beating the sportsbooks as a long-term process. Given the slim margins, short-term variance can put a dent in your bankroll if you’re too aggressive. It is only over a long period of time that the cream is certain to rise to the top.
How Much Should You Wager on Each Game?
In a perfect world, we would all have monster bankrolls enabling us to comfortably wager around 1% on each bet. But of course, this approach isn’t the most practical for bettors who are just starting out. If you start with a bankroll of $1,000 — which is not an insignificant amount of money — 1% works out to just $10 per wager. That’s not exactly the most enticing way to start a hobby.
Being more aggressive with a smaller bankroll is fine, but I wouldn’t recommend moving your wager size above 5% of your total bankroll. Anything more than that is simply too risky. A good medium is probably around 2.5%. Whether you decide to go with 1%, 5%, or somewhere in between, that amount would be considered your standard “unit” size.
Units are used in the sports betting world because it makes it easier to compare your results to other bettors. After all, if one player has a $10,000 bankroll and another player has a $500 bankroll, it wouldn’t be fair to compare which bettor has made more money wagering on the NFL. The player with the larger bankroll could have a far worse record but still be up more money through sheer volume.
Setting a unit size allows you to determine how much you are up relative to your standard wager. If you’re someone with a unit size of $100 and you’re up $500, that would mean that you’re up five units. It also allows you to extrapolate how much money you could potentially make as your unit size increases. Unit size is often displayed as 1u.
Bankroll Management Strategies
It should go without saying that you don’t necessarily have to bet the same amount on each game. There are a variety of different strategies that can be incorporated into your sports betting profile.
Flat Betting Model
This is the simplest bankroll management strategy and the safest over the long run. The only thing it entails is setting your unit size and then betting exactly one unit for each and every wager. Your recent betting form, your confidence level, and the betting odds do not matter.
The only thing you’ll need to consider is if you want to go with the “to win” method or “risk” method. If you’re going with the “to win” method, you’ll need to take the juice into account in order to win one unit. That means on a wager with standard -110 odds, you’ll need to risk 1.1 units to try to win 1.0.
If you’re going with the “risk” method, you don’t wager the additional units necessary to cover the vig. That means on a -110 bet, you would be risking 1.0 units to potentially return 0.91.
The same goes for betting on money line underdogs. You can either risk a flat 1.0 unit or just enough to win 1.0 unit. For example, if you’re looking to bet on a +250 underdog, you can either risk 1.0 units to try and win 2.5 units or .4 units to try and win 1.0.
I personally like to go with the “to win” method on spread bets and the “risk” method on money line underdogs, but ultimately it comes down to whatever makes you most comfortable. The biggest upside to this method is that it will preserve your bankroll while still ensuring profitability if you’re picking winners at a greater rate than the break-even point.
One thing to keep in mind is that you’ll need to periodically review your bankroll using this method. If you are up or down a solid handful of units, you should consider increasing or decreasing your unit size to reflect your updated bankroll.
The percentage model is similar to the flat betting model. The only real difference is that instead of setting a unit size in advance, your unit size is going to be determined by your bankroll. The numbers should be very similar in the beginning, but your unit size is going to move a lot faster than in the flat model.
For example, Let’s look at a hypothetical $1,000 starting bankroll. If you want your standard unit to be 2.5%, your first wager is going to be $25 in both the flat bet and percentage models. After that is where things start to change. If you win your first bet, your bankroll will increase to $1,025. That means 2.5% will now be $25.63 for your next wager.
The big pro to this sports betting strategy is that it allows you to take advantage of your winning streaks. You’re increasing your bet in a responsible manner after each successful wager, which allows you to post a greater return on investment during your upswings.
The downside is that it can be harder to dig yourself out of a hole. If your bankroll dips below your initial starting point, your wager size is going to decrease. Overall, this makes the timing of your win streaks more important than in the fixed-unit model. That extra variance makes this a slightly higher risk strategy overall.
The confidence model allows you to increase your bet size in games where you feel more confident. Your standard wager should still be 1.0 units, but you can increase your bet size to two or three units on occasion. Increasing your unit size any higher than that is not recommended until you have demonstrated an ability to win your most confident bets consistently.
It’s best to take this model for a test drive before you fully commit to it. Luckily, that’s pretty easy to accomplish. When you’re tracking your best bets in a spreadsheet — which is something you should be doing regardless of your betting model — start tracking how confident you feel on each wager using a scale of 1-3. Even if you are betting the same unit size for each wager, to begin with, you can see your record for each wager size.
If your most confident plays have a significantly better record than your less confident plays, increasing your wager size in those situations makes a lot of sense. The confidence model also allows you to sprinkle a half-unit on certain bets from from time to time. This is best used on higher upside wagers like parlays and money line underdogs.
Tracking Your Results
Tracking your results is extremely important regardless of which bankroll management system you ultimately decide to employ. Knowledge is power, and tracking your results is going to give you the knowledge you need to audit your performance.
Are there certain sports you’re crushing and others that are killing your bankroll? Are your confidence levels in line with your results? Are you better at spread bets, money line bets, or over/under? All of this data can be easily ascertained by tracking your results. You can easily create a spreadsheet to track this data or use an app!
Importance of Bankroll Management
So why go through all this trouble? In addition to the obvious reason that you can’t bet on sports if you lose all your money, there are some important psychological factors to consider.
Dealing With Streaks
Dealing with losing streaks is extremely tough for even the most seasoned sports bettor. Even if you’ve found success in the past, it’s difficult to stay disciplined when the losses start to pile up. It’s human nature to try to “chase your losses”, which is why the betting handle for Sunday and Monday night football is often significantly higher than the betting handles for the Sunday afternoon games.
If people have lost during the day, they want to get out of that hole as quickly as possible. This is the definition of a bad process and is a good way to blow through your entire bankroll. Employing sound bankroll management is the easiest way to ensure you aren’t chasing your losses and you can live to fight another day.
The same is true when you’re on a winning streak. You can feel invincible in those situations, which can lead to poor decision-making. You are certainly allowed to increase your bet amount when you’re on a roll, just make sure you’re doing it in a responsible manner.
Bankroll management is one of the most important aspects of being a successful sports bettor. It ensures that you are protecting your bankroll over the long term, which is where winning sports bettors will ultimately see profits. Setting a proper unit size is the first step toward good bankroll management, but there are certain betting methods that will allow you to increase your wager size depending on your confidence level.
Finally, make sure to track your results so that you can identify which areas you excel at and where you need to improve. If you can do all of that successfully — as well as accurately handicap games — your bankroll should steadily increase over time.