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How to Become a Winning Sports Bettor Using a Small Bankroll

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Whether you do it recreationally or have visions of becoming a professional, there’s a starting point for every sports bettor. This usually entails a bankroll — money set aside solely for betting — and unit size — the amount you plan on betting per game. In this article I’ll discuss how you should approach sports betting with a small bankroll. “Small” of course is a relative term but, for the sake of clarity, our bankroll in this piece will be $1,000 and the average bet size $25 or 2.5%. Even if you can “go to war” with a bankroll four or five times larger, by starting small, the emphasis is initially placed on winning bets rather than winning money. This is very important. Realistically, if you are new to sports betting, breaking even over the course of your first year would be a very impressive accomplishment. In fact, if you took 10 rookie bettors with similar handicapping acumen and gave them each $1,000, 9 out 10 would go bust due in large part to poor bankroll management. This can include increasing and decreasing unit sizes and inappropriate times and/or too much volume, i.e. making too many “edge-less” wagers.

If you were to track your winning percentage with 100% of your bankroll vs. only 10% of it, which do you think will be higher? With a full bankroll and a college football and NFL weekend on the horizon, you’re much more apt to not only bet the games you feel strongly about, but the “leans” as well. Now instead of placing five wagers that you legitimately have an edge with, you place 15, which means over 40% of your bankroll is in play on one weekend! A few weeks of that approach and you are practically begging to go bust. But before you do go bust, you miraculously start to turn things around. Your handicapping becomes more thorough, the rate of “good” numbers you bet increases, and you “trim the fat” by eliminating those dreaded “leans.” This is an all-too-common occurrence and one that can be easily avoided by simply treating each bet you make with the same level of importance. Why wait until your back is up against the wall to start practicing smart sports betting habits?

So now you are to the point where you have a good feel for how to manage your bankroll while also showing an increased ability to pick winners. A good goal for a $1,000 bankroll bettor would be to double it over the course of a calendar year. Note that this is just a round number and commonly used time span. Understand that depending on your approach, skill level, variance, and win rate, doubling your bankroll could take as little as a few months (less likely) or a few years (more likely). Nevertheless, using a calendar year, here is what it looks like to win $1,000 betting $25 per game.

1 bet per day average

211-154, 57.8%

2 bets per day average

402-328, 55.0%

3 bets per day average

590-500, 54.1%

This is where we get into the conundrum of is “less really more”? Hitting nearly 58% over the course of 365 plays can be accomplished, but it takes a level of ability most bettors simply don’t possess. A more realistic winning percentage is in the 54-55% range of which you’ll need to make upwards of 800-1,000 bets per year. This may seem like a lot but, if you handicap three or four of the major sports (MLB, NHL, CBB, NBA, NFL, and CFB), it isn’t difficult. Compared to a lot of colleagues, I am by nature a “low volume” bettor. I don’t handicap NHL or NBA and will still make well north of 1,000 bets full game bets over the course of a year — and that doesn’t include first halves, second halves, props, and other miscellaneous wagers.

Now let’s say you were able to double your original bankroll of $1,000. At this point, it is time to decide whether or not to increase your unit size. With $2,000, your average bet size should, in theory, double to that of $50. This is just a recommendation; most will tell you anywhere from $40-$80 is doable. Too many will increase their bet size to an unrealistic amount. One of your goals should be to avoid a situation in which you’re forced to decrease your bet size because of a losing streak and betting beyond the recommended 2-4% of your bankroll. If I could draw up a blueprint of how a bettor doubles his or her bankroll, it would ideally take longer than a year. The reason is simple; more time to gain experience and cope with the ebbs and flows. A bettor who accomplishes the feat quickly may have better than average talent, but is also more exposed to the pitfalls of bankroll mismanagement vs. the bettor who “grinded” his or her way to success.

The profile I just discussed was one that I actually experienced. I started out betting $20 or $30 a game. The monetary gains and losses during my first few years took a big backseat to the knowledge I accrued. The best way I can explain it is because I wasn’t focused on money, I was able to focus more on handicapping techniques — a lot of which I still utilize. There’s a misconception that you need to go bust at least once in order to “season” yourself as a bettor. I’ve gone through more than a few bad runs, but not once was I in a position of needing to quit due to a lack of funds. It took around 3-4 years before I won enough money to even move the needle. But all the while, I was improving my skills as a bettor. And it didn’t take long after that before the monetary gains really started to show. Thanks to patience and persistence, all of a sudden I was making enough money that I was able to set aside some of my winnings for needed purchases in my personal life. Nowadays, the goal is no longer just winning bets, but winning bets AND money. And that should be the goal of every bettor. No matter if you bet $25 a game or $5,000 per game, with sound bankroll management and a thirst to learn, you can achieve the rare distinction of being a winning sports bettor.

Next time, I’ll go into detail about the specific sports and types of bets a small bankroll bettor should be making in order to maximize his or her growth.

Andrew Lange

With significant market influence, Andrew Lange has produced a decade-long 58% winning rate on over 750 selections in college basketball. Using a low volume, high return approach, Lange's results in the NFL have been equally impressive with a 61% mark and over +49 units of profit on a 1, 1.5, and 2-unit scale since 2012.