As we head into another football season, we are going to be talking about the betting public a whole lot. In the simplest of terms, the "betting public" is made up of the casual bettors who are the exact opposite of sharp bettors. Talk of the betting public is always important, but that is especially so in football season because public interest and betting action are so much higher than all other sports. Because we talk so much about the betting public, and we can learn so much from them, it only makes sense that this is a good time to really look at what the betting public is and why we should care:
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About the betting public
They assume the best - or the worst: As a rule, the betting public assumes that good teams will play their best possible game and bad teams will play the worst that they possibly can. That, of course, rarely happens. Even the best teams will exhibit flaws at times, and teams that lose all of their games can still make things tough for opponents and cover spreads at times. This lack of subtlety in evaluating teams is the biggest reason the public struggles to win.
They have predictable biases: The public has very predictable preferences in many circumstances. They will almost always back a ranked team over an outmatched opponent, for example. They'll take the team with the higher-profile player of coach, too. The more you can understand about these biases the easier you can ultimately profit from them.
They read the headlines and listen to talking heads: People who bet casually on football are usually big fans. They don't likely spend much time studying the minutiae of the sport, though - the little things that actually determine how games turn out. They rely on the headlines on major sports sites and TV shows to get their information, and they let the talking heads in the spotlight form much of their opinions about things.
They don't analyze, they react: When they hear that a star quarterback is hurt the betting public will typically immediately and aggressively assume the worst. They won't take the time to look at what actually matters - how well the star has actually been performing, how key his performance is to the success of the team, how likely the backup is to perform adequately, how the team has done in similar situations, and so on. The higher profile the situation, the more aggressive and immediate their reaction is likely to be.
They care about the games, not the spots: Smart bettors look for the best betting opportunities on the board. They care about the bottom line, not who they are betting on. The betting public isn't like that. They are motivated often by the desire to have action on the games they are going to be watching - to make things more interesting for them. Very often, the most viewed games don't present the best betting opportunities - and the significant presence of the public action is a big reason for that.
They don't make optimal bet selections: The public likes parlays. Parlays - especially point spread parlays - are a mathematical disaster, and they make it all but impossible over the long term to make a profit. The public also loves prop bets and can be drawn to bet ones that give them truly horrible true odds. They are more captured by the perceived challenge of making a play and the chances for a big payout than they are in making bets that actually make sense.
They don't win: In the short term the betting public can show profits. Heck, in the short term a gerbil could generate a profit. Long-term profits are very tough to earn in sports betting, though, and it's very rare that the public bettors come out on the positive side over the long term. Their tendency to lose, and to not get too bothered by that, is why sportsbooks are so eager to attract public bettors and to create bets that will appeal to them.
Why it matters
Lines can be set with the public in mind: Oddsmakers are very smart. When they know that the public is going to be likely to hit a side of a game hard then they can set the line to their own advantage. If you were to bet the same side as the public, then, you are possibly getting a less-than-ideal number. Luckily, we are able to see what percentage of bets are on each team in a game, so we can get a good sense of how the public is betting.
Test of your opinion: If you look at a game and pick a side and then check and see that a large portion of the betting public is on the same side, you might want to take a look again. I'm not for a second suggesting that you can't bet the same side as the public - they are right a good portion of the time, after all. When you are on the same side as the public, though, it's a good exercise to confirm that you are on the side for good, justifiable reasons, and not for the same simplistic reasons that the public likely is.
Opportunities to exploit the opinions: The more you understand about how the public bets, and how the oddsmakers react to those bets, the more opportunities you have to exploit that public action to find bets that are favorable for you. Our weekly Public Action report is a good example of this. We find games in which the public is heavily on one side but where the action isn't moving as we would expect. Those games are often very attractive bets - and we are tipped off entirely because we are watching the public action.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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