Sports Gambling Isn’t a Vice. It Can Be a Rewarding and Enthralling Experience
By Cam Giangrande
I love Roger Clemens! There will always be a special place in my heart for the big oaf from Texas. Not because he’s the best pitcher I’ve ever seen, (sorry Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, and Randy Johnson), but because it was Clemens who introduced me to sports gambling.
It was the summer of 1986 and Clemens was unbeatable. He began the year with a 14-0 start, on his way to a 24-4 record and the first of his seven Cy Young awards. He was also on the mound when I made my first MLB wager.
I was 16 years old and working at a bowling alley, spraying rented shoes returned by non-athletes. The facility was like the Olympics for couch potatoes; aside from bowling, there were pool tables, darts, and a video arcade. The lanes were filled with billowy smoke; for it was 1986, and people could still smoke in public…there was even a coin-op cigarette machine at the end of the corridor.
You can imagine, by the picture I’m painting, that it was easy to find someone to make a sports bet. So there I was, with my $84, from my $3.50 per hour paycheck, wanting to bet on Roger Clemens in the All-Star game. I knew nothing about odds or how it worked, other than I believed that Clemens couldn’t lose. I got a quick tutorial; the AL was favored 7-8 over the NL, which meant that to bet $25 on the AL to win, I’d have to risk $40, but if I wanted the NL, I’d risk $25 to win $35. The second, larger number represents the premium to bet on the favorite, while the smaller, first number is the increased odds you’ll get if you bet the underdog and they happen to win. Notice the difference in the numbers; that’s the spread, or vigorish (vig), which the house keeps, and is their edge. It’s basically what built Las Vegas.
— The Ringer (@ringer) April 16, 2018
So that was my initial tutorial. I had $84, so I basically risked it all. I bet $80 to win $50 on the American League, specifically Roger Clemens. I was told it was a stupid bet because the All-Star game is just an exhibition; and Clemens, for all his greatness, would only pitch two or three innings. That was enough for me. I believed that in a baseball game, it was better to pick the side which only needed to stop the other team for six innings instead of the entire nine innings. What I didn’t know at the time was that the NL had won 13 of the previous 14 games. I was rewarded for my analysis; the AL ended up winning 3-2, Clemens was named All-Star MVP, and I won $50.
From that moment on, I realized one of life’s great truisms: Money won is far sweeter than money earned.
For years after that, as a single teen, living at home with no expenses or major responsibilities, I won and lost thousands of dollars; on all sports. I learned more terms and colorful phrases: action/reverse and birdcages, parlays and teasers. I laid the points and hit the posts. I made “if win” bets, and would drive to the dog track on Friday nights. The thing about gambling is, people do make a living at it. And in this age of technology, you don’t need to find your local bookie, or live in Atlantic City or Vegas. And, there are casinos in almost every state, within a couple of hours of driving.
So do you have what it takes to be a gambler? You’ll need discipline. Don’t wager what you can’t afford to lose. Don’t chase. Once your money is lost from a bet, the money is lost forever. If you chase it, you’re destined to get yourself into problems. Conversely, once you’ve won a bet, don’t go beyond your comfort level and say something like, “well, I’m playing with their money now”. Wrong, the money is in your column, it’s your money, not “their” money. Keep your money.
What I liked to do when I was gambling was to look at everything in weekly chunks. Typically, accounts get settled every week, so you may as well structure your “business” I weekly intervals. If you want to take this seriously, treat it as a business. Determine what your comfort level is. Remember, winning is unlimited, but losing has to have a limit because you can’t lose what you don’t have…and if you do, that’s a whole other discussion that takes us back to discipline.
Let’s say you are in a situation where you can put $500 per week at risk. You can do one of many things. You can find a game on Monday and put it all the line in one game, risking your entire bankroll, understanding that if you lose, that’s it until the following Monday. Or you can take a portion of the $500 and spread it out over the entire week. If there’s a game you’re extremely confident about, maybe you peel off 20% and risk $100 of your bankroll. As the week goes on, don’t go beyond your gambling level. For instance, let’s say it’s Saturday and you’re up $1400, so you have a total of $1900 including your initial $500 bankroll. There’s a game you really like. Stay within your means and don’t overbet. Stretch a little but make sure that by the time the weekend ends, you stay in the plus column. Take whatever your final winnings are after Sunday and put them aside into your bank. Don’t spend the money crazily on anything foolish. Remember, this is your business.
When Monday starts again, you start again with that initial $500 with the same approach. You don’t start the week betting $1500 even if you won $1500 the previous week. There are a million strategies you can utilize. Some people like to be contrarians, and some people like to ride the wave. Some people see a streak and like to bet against it, while others see a streak and keep betting into it until it’s over. Logic says that what happened yesterday has no bearing on today’s game, but there’s something appealing at seeing a team who’s lost six in a row, and say, “they can’t lose again”, or see a team who’s won eight in a row, and say, “I’m betting them until they lose”. If you bet with the Indians last season during their 22-game winning streak you would have been very happy. Conversely, if you kept betting against them, thinking they couldn’t win again, you are probably homeless now. Try not to make any blanket proclamations regarding philosophy; take every game and every day as they come.
There are so many ways to bet. You can bet on individual games or playoff series. You can make future’s bets, regarding who you think will win their division or championship. You can bet on a team’s over/under, which is the amount of wins Las Vegas predicts a team will have at the end of the year.
I don’t claim to be an expert, but I have over 30 years of highs and lows in sports betting. I’ve literally won and lost thousands of dollars through the years on a last-second basket, or missed field goal; to the point where I believe the sports gods were just out to teach me a lesson. If you have the right disposition, find an avenue to place a wager or two. I assure you, you’ll agree with me, that money won, is sweeter than money earned…but realize this: there’s another old adage. LOSING SUCKS! Tread cautiously, and with your eyes open.