Can You Make A Living Betting on Sports?

A deeper look at making a living betting on sports

Many of us have found a new hobby or pastime since the legalization of sports gambling in many U.S. states. Some have found a consistent or steady stream of secondary income.

But how many Americans have been able to make a career out of betting on sports?

Sheer numbers for “Americans making a living betting on sports” aren’t readily available. But we know they exist. So, here’s a deeper dive into what making a living betting on sports would require. AND, how someone might go about trying to do so.

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Are People Betting on Sports as a Career?

The Supreme Court paved the way for each U.S. state to legalize sports wagering in May of 2018.

About a year later, the idea of betting on sports for a living gained popularity almost by accident.

James Holzhauer, who listed his occupation as “professional sports gambler,” appeared on the game show Jeopardy! and put together a record-breaking performance, winning almost $2.5 million over 33 episodes of the show. His aggressive, high-rolling wagering style made people curious about his strategies. It was there we learned a little about becoming a successful, full-time sports gambler.

Here are a few of the lessons we can take from perhaps the United States’ best-known sports gambler:

  • You better understand math, predictive odds, etc. Before he ever appeared on Jeopardy!, Holzhauer amassed a decent bankroll via, amongst other things, building his own predictive models for the NFL, MLB, and college basketball. Not exactly something you can do while watching the game in the background. But, for a former award-winning competitor in math competitions and eventual math major at the University of Illinois, it was a possibility.
  • Identify weaknesses in the odds. For Holzhauer, the year 2006 was a turning point as he wagered heavily on the World Baseball Classic. He believed the style of the tournament and the variability of baseball gave underdogs an edge. He hit pay dirt when Japan took home the title (at odds around 15:1.)

Later that year, Holzhauer identified similar inefficiencies to strike it big on a wager on Ryan Howard to win the National League home run crown (at odds of about 40:1). And, he won a wager on the Detroit Tigers to become American League champions at about 100:1.

At the time, Holzhauer added line shopping – checking out different sportsbooks for the highest available odds on a particular bet – was a key to his success. This is one area where sports wagering has become easier, with the sheer number of sportsbooks available in 2022.

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Was Holzhauer Just Lucky?

Just lucky? Maybe the first time, but hitting three such wagers within a year suggests there’s a method to the madness.

  • Don’t be afraid to change course. Despite his obvious knack for numbers and success betting on baseball futures, Holzhauer didn’t limit himself to one sport or market.

Holzhauer still loves futures bets. But, these days he claims he spends the majority of his time focused on in-game wagering – finding opportunities to wager after the contest has already started.

What Else Do I Need to Know About Betting on Sports for a Living?

The first point to make is that getting rich, or just making a living on sports wagering is quite the challenge. Only a small percentage of gamblers will be able to accomplish it, let’s be honest. It takes not only:

  • Talent – a knack for beating numbers consistently, finding inefficiencies in a market – but also…
  • Discipline – stick to your system, don’t “chase” losses by increasing the size of your wagers.
  • Persistence – You’ll need the willingness to tweak your approach if the odds catch up with you.
  • Patience – Build your bankroll gradually but consistently.

But if you’re successful in all those areas – won’t it be challenging to find a place to bet? Sportsbooks don’t stay in business by giving away hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to winning players. You best believe they keep a closer eye on a successful high roller than they do on the guy who likes to bet $20 on the New York Giants each week, for example.

But do sportsbooks outright ban winning players? Depends on who you believe. Win a big bet, or even a series of big bets, at a book and you likely won’t find yourself banned. UNLESS, these winning wagers follow a pattern. Did you know about a key injury before the public in each circumstance? Or did a suspicious number of gamblers play the same side in this contest?

If so, these types of behaviors are more likely to see your account restricted or banned than a simple “hot streak” or a consistent better-than-average performance.

Of course, it’s more involved than that – different books have different thresholds for ‘sharp’ gamblers. But let’s first worry about becoming a sharp gambler…

How Often Do I Have to Win My Bets?

This area trips up sports gamblers, because it’s not as simple as “win more than you lose.”

As the James Holzhauer story proves, one (or three) big wins can change the math in a hurry. But taking the simplest possible approach to sports wagering – consistently betting games with -110 odds (risking $110 to win $100) a bettor must win 52.46% of his bets to simply break even.

So let’s look at this: if you made 1,000 wagers in a year (just under three bets a day) at -110 odds (risking $110 to win $100), and were successful at the following rates, here’s what you’d win or lose:

  • Win 50% of your wagers: You would LOSE a total of $5,000 over a year.
  • Win 55% of your wagers: You would WIN a total of $5,500 over a year.
  • Win 60% of your wagers: You would WIN a total of $16,000 over a year.
  • Win 70% of your wagers: You would WIN a total of $37,000 over a year.

How Big a Bankroll Do I Need?

It depends on what you want to make. If you started with say, $55,000 and wagered 1 percent of your bankroll using the strategy described above ($550 to win $500) on each bet, you could make $80,000 in a year by hitting 60 percent of your wagers successfully.

But that leads us to the answer that stops most aspiring career sports gamblers cold in their tracks.

What’s an Elite Sports Bettor’s Win Rate?

The old saying “If it was easy, everybody would do it” has never been truer than trying betting on sports for a living.

It sounds like all kinds of fun, and the numbers above paint a picture of how to make it happen. But you cannot wake up every morning expecting to hit 60 percent of your sports wagers.

According to JV Miller, editor of Professional Gambler Newsletter, a long-term winning percentage of around 55 percent is ideal. It’s why professional bettors wager on so many events. Finding a proposition with 55 percent of greater odds of winning is simply too good to pass up.

Think about it: you’re talking about an area where winning 55% of the time allows you to make a living but winning 50% of the time will eventually cause you to go broke. That’s a difference of winning one extra wager over every 20 bets. The margins are tiny, and it takes a healthy number of wagers to swing such odds in your favor.

In summary, making a living as a sports gambler IS possible, and there are people out there every day “living the dream.”

Just make sure you understand ‘the dream’ comes with lots of studying, line shopping, ups and downs – and that ultimately, every little detail could mean the difference between success and failure.

Ready to Give it A Shot?

Be careful, be safe, and above all pick a legal sportsbook – we suggest starting with the 3 recommended sportsbooks below.

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