5 Myths About Sports Betting: Definitively Debunked
The world of sports betting can be a confusing place for new bettors — and, in truth, it’s not always a lot clearer even for those who’ve been at it awhile. With a wide range of choice on sports, bookies, types of bet, and even ways of funding your account, the chances are that hundreds of potential new players are put off before they even get started due to the overwhelming list of things they just don’t know.
In order to avoid this being true for you, we’re going to try and shed some light on this often-confusing world. To do this, we need to engage in a little myth-busting, as few industries suffer quite like the gambling industry when it comes to misconceptions and outright falsehoods. Betting myths have a way of being rather damaging to our enjoyment of gambling, too. Either they are negative and false , which may make you reluctant to get involved at all. Alternatively, they are positive, but still false, in which case you may end up disappointed when what you were promised fails to materialise.
The crucial point is that knowing what to expect is essential to our enjoyment of betting, and to gambling effectively, safely and successfully. In this article then, we are going to approach head-on five of the biggest myths about gambling and explain what the reality behind them is. From gambling winnings tax to omniscient bookies, we’ll give the facts and help to demystify betting. This should allow you to approach sports betting with more confidence, safe in the knowledge you’ve got the full facts behind you.
Ready? Let’s get mythbusting!
#1: “The bookie is always right.”
This is a sense that we all get sometimes, when we look at odds lines and can’t believe quite how good they are. A prolific striker may be 9/1 to score the first goal, or a team in form may be rank outsiders against an opponent that has nothing to play for. The natural reaction to seeing odds like this is that we think the bookie knows something we don’t. You know the type of phrases that get used in cases like this:
“Well, you never see a poor bookie, do you?”
“Bookies have insider knowledge — if they have those odds, there’s a reason for it.”
“If something seems too good to be true, it probably is!”
Not that there isn’t merit to that kind of logic, but every bettor can tell you a story about a bet they wish they’d taken. They didn’t take the bet because they convinced themselves one of the above statements was true. They reckoned without the fact that sometimes, you’ll know better than the bookie. Bookies are not always right. No-one is. Go and find the bookie who had Leicester City any shorter than around 5,000-1 to win the 2016 Premier League if you want to prove the point.
Quite simply, bookies are human, and they miss things. Sure, they’ll get it right more often than the average bettor, because bookies literally exist to know these things. They are, nonetheless, fallible. So if you see a striker at 9/1 to score against a team he’s been victimising for years, don’t talk yourself out of taking the punt. By all means check to see if he’s injured — skepticism is healthy — but bookies need to set odds on hundreds of thousands of markets, and that means that they can’t be right all the time.
#2: “Those odds sound good, but don’t forget the tax on your winnings.”
It’s impressive quite how long this wisdom has stuck around, but if you are in the UK and interested in betting on sporting events, you may well have heard it. This line always comes from people who either has never made a bet, or last had a flutter on the Grand National circa 1993. It remains a popular warning despite the fact that Gambling Winnings Tax was abolished by then-Chancellor Gordon Brown in 2001.
The early noughties were a time of widespread deregulation of the betting industry — casinos also started to appear in the towns and cities of the UK in that decade, and online gambling became a thing. More restrictions are being placed now,, as the ill-effects of being too permissive with the industry are becoming clear, but there is still no gambling tax on your winnings if you place a successful bet.
Why does this myth persist? Well, precisely because of the casual bettor who used to have £1 on the National, or on the FA Cup Final, and who knew precisely one bit of wisdom about betting: “If the bookie asks you if you want to pay tax before or after, pay it on your stake — you don’t want to be handing over a percentage if you win!”.
They were absolutely right at the time, of course. However, anyone who has placed even occasional bets over the last couple of decades can tell you that the last time they paid a gambling tax, UK citizens had never even heard of Twitter, Jose Mourinho, or even Ed Sheeran, the lucky things.
#3: “Bookies hate when an underdog wins!”
This myth is so prevalent that any time an underdog wins, you will see articles in the press, usually with headlines including the odds that bookies had against said underdog winning. The message, sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit, is that the plucky underdog left the bookie with egg on their face. This even feeds into the perception that bookies will be stingier with their odds on a genuine underdog, because they are nervous of being stung as they were with the Premier League title of 2016, or the US Presidential Election of the same year.
The truth of the matter is that bookies don’t mind an underdog at all. Consider how much they needed to pay out when Leicester City won the title, or when Greece beat Portugal to win Euro 2004. Of course they had to pay out larger amounts, but they were paying them to far fewer people than they would have been if the favourites had won. They took untold amounts of money on Manchester City, Chelsea, and Tottenham in the first case and on Portugal, France and Holland in the latter — and didn’t have to pay anything out on those bets.
In fact, there’s an argument that bookies prefer it when an underdog wins. After all, almost everybody who follows English football knows that Leicester were 5,000-1 to win the league when the 2015/16 season started. It was even the title of a book about their season. Could you say what the odds were on Chelsea to win it in 2015, or 2017? Unless you had money on it, probably not. When an underdog wins, it means more talk about betting, and more publicity for bookies; and they like publicity.
#4: “You should always cash out while you’re ahead.”
There are several bettors these days who bet exclusively in-play — reacting to changes that take place during matches, observing the flow of play and trying to maximise their advantage by buying in and cashing out when the time seems right. They’re playing sports betting like a Wall Street broker plays the stock market — and if it works for them, there’s no reason they shouldn’t keep doing just that. The question is, should you follow their approach?
The positive thing about cashing a bet out early is that you will get some money back from the bookie if you do that. If you cash out while ahead, you will make a profit, and profits are good. However, the negative thing is that you’ll pay a price for that peace of mind — the amount you will make will be markedly less than if you’d stayed in until the end and won. In addition, there are countless bookmakers who offer incentives and promotional odds when you make a certain number, or certain value, of bets. Whether you can benefit from those odds may depend on you staying in those bets until the end, so you’ll need to be very careful with cashing out if you’re hoping to achieve a promo deal.
Your smartest choice will be to have a policy that you stick by, and which is informed by experience, when it comes to cashing out. For example, if a team is leading by a single goal with ten minutes to go, you might feel better for cashing out at that point, because one goal could mean you win nothing. Conversely, if your choice are ahead with thirty minutes to go and a player is sent off, then you may see some sense in cashing out, because circumstances have changed materially in a way which is likely to negatively affect your bet.
With all of that said, there is no right or wrong way to approach early cash-outs. Staying in to the end increases your potential winnings, but also increases the chances that you’ll win nothing. Your decision must be based on whether you prioritise a potential big win or a definite smaller one.
#5: “Betting closer to the event is the smart choice.”
The above is a fairly specialised myth, and there is some logic behind it, but it’s not quite right. We’ll cover why it’s not quite right in a moment, but first of all let’s see why people say it.
The closer you get to an event, the more you are likely to know about it— or so the theory goes. If you bet thirty minutes before a match, for example, the teams will have been finalised, you’ll know how the weather looks and you’ll maybe even have had the chance to watch the players warm up and to judge how confident they look. Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the better your bet. Right?
The truth is that yes, you have seen the teams, and you have had a chance to look at the weather… but so has the bookmaker. Not only that, but they have a large business structure designed to leverage every morsel of information they get, and they’ll switch the odds in an instant if they pick up on something that may impact the result. If you wait to make your bet, the bookie will have made those adjustments, and you could find yourself staring at far shorter odds than you were hoping for.
Sometimes — and contrary to this myth — betting as soon as the odds are released is the best choice. As we noted in myth #1, bookies make mistakes, and experienced bettors notice this. When they see excessively-generous odds, they move in for a piece of the action. The bookmakers notice this, and the more money they take on a market, the more they move the odds to compensate. Therefore, for a match taking place on a Saturday, Monday’s generous odds can be much, much less generous by Tuesday, and will steadily worsen throughout the week. Sure, you may get to Friday and hear that your side’s star player has pulled a hamstring and will miss the game — but prior to the match you can usually get out without a loss anyway.
The counterpoint to this is that sometimes, the bookmaker’s reaction to a bit of late-breaking news may be different from yours. Returning to the idea that your side’s star player has pulled a hamstring, the bookmaker may have lengthened the odds on your team winning as a result of this. If you, knowing that the player’s likely replacement is an unheralded but brilliantly-talented star of the future, there may be some value in a late bet to take advantage of the bookie’s lesser knowledge of your team.
The bottom line to debunking this myth is that there’s no absolute “best time” to bet; all you have to focus on is placing bets before a bookmaker has time to correct mistakes in their judgement of the odds. Whether that mistake is five days before a match, or thirty minutes prior to kick off, your advantage is in striking while the iron is hot.
Myths take hold because they sound believable, but when it comes to sports betting, it pays to go beyond what sounds right and instead focus on what is right. Whether it’s regarding the existence of a gambling winnings tax or how bookies feel about underdogs, it is always wise to ask questions in an effort to find the truth of the matter. By all means be cautious, and be skeptical, but apply that to everything. Keep this in mind, and your sports betting experience will be all the more enhanced as a result.