Sports betting is supposed to be fun, right? If you are putting $5 on your favorite team once a week, you probably don’t have to spend too much time worrying about the ups and downs of your balance. If you want to try to make a bankroll last, however, you need to decide how you are going to handle your betting amounts. And if you want to make your bankroll grow, you need to practice bankroll management.

But first, let’s try to look at sports betting from a different perspective… one that removes emotion from the equation.

Personal finance is a hobby of mine. I’m a big advocate for understanding personal finance, and I feel successful sports betting follows the same basic guidelines as proper financial planning. One of the first things I discuss when asked for financial advice is the importance of having an investment policy statement (IPS). Bogleheads.org describes an IPS as a written document that lays our your personal objectives and, most importantly, spells out your strategies for how you will react ahead of time to different scenarios. Let’s see what they say about investing without an IPS, and try to picture the author saying the same thing, but about keeping a long-term outlook while sports betting:

Drawbacks of not using an IPS

Someone who doesn’t have a written policy often bases decisions on day-to-day events, which often leads to chasing short-term performance that may hinder them in reaching long-term goals. Having a policy encourages maintaining focus on the long-term nature of the investment process, especially during turbulent or exuberant times.

In other words, you need a plan laid out in advance for how you are go to keep a long term perspective when your bets are going great and when you can’t find a winner to save your life.

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Here are the basic things you need to have in your plan:

  1. Starting bankroll amount
  2. Starting unit amount
  3. Handicapping strategy
  4. How to react when things are going great
  5. How to react when things are going poorly

Bankroll Amount

The first thing you need to decide is how you are going to define your bankroll. The most important thing to remember: only start with an amount that you are willing to lose. Don’t risk money that you need for fixed expenses like rent!

There are a few common approaches for determining your bankroll amount. The first approach most recreational gamblers take is to consider their gambling as a budgeted entertainment expense. If you decide to take this view, you would budget a certain amount of money per unit of time. For example, you could say you are comfortable losing $100 every weekend during the NCAA and NFL season. The advantage to this method is you have a defined stop loss: if your balance goes to zero, you will wait until next weekend to deposit your next $100. The drawback is you might be less careful deploying your budget when you place your bets. After all, one of the beautiful things about budgeting a certain amount for an activity is you no longer have to feel bad about spending that money!

A second approach is to determine a total amount of money you are willing to put at risk for your gambling venture, and treat it like your seed money in a brand new business. Once it’s gone, your enterprise is bankrupt and it’s time to move on to other things. The advantage to this method is you will treat every wager with great care. There are two drawbacks: it is hard to walk away from gambling when your balance reaches zero, and some bettors will be turned off by treating it like a business – where’s the fun in that?

Units

Seeing the term unit used with regard to sports betting always makes me chuckle. An inch is a unit of measurement. Six inches for you is the same as six inches for me. However, if I say I am betting 5 units on the Boston Celtics, you have no idea what that means. Do I consider units to be a percentage of my bankroll or is it a dollar amount? Is 5 units my maximum bet size amount, or is that what I call my normal bet size? Can you see why it is so confusing?

Defining your unit size is very important. You can choose a few ways to come up with your unit. One approach is as a percentage of your bankroll. However, you need to specify if it is a percentage of your starting bankroll or of your current bankroll. The second approach is consider a unit to be a certain dollar amount.

What matters most is consistency. Most online articles will recommend 1 unit to equal 1% of your bankroll. Social media bettors will use all kinds of definitions of units – avoid the mistake of risking too much your bankroll following a posted play and then finding out afterwards that 10 units for that person is only $10!

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Handicapping Strategy

Click here for an article that goes in more depth on my personal handicapping strategy and click here to visit the main page for my spotlight on handicapper Travis K Sports Investments and access his two series on handicapping. For bankroll management purposes, the key thing to remember about your handicapping strategy is consistency from day to day and week to week in regards to how you are handling your unit amounts per wager. Again, consistency is the most important thing. Have a game plan for the following topics:

  • Am I going to risk a certain number of units, or am I betting to win a certain number of units?
  • Am I going to bet the same unit for every bet, or am I going to vary my units per bet?
  • Am I going to follow my own guidelines, or am I going to follow a third party? What are my criteria for changing my model/who I follow?

When Things Are Going Great

Champagne problems, right? Why should I have a plan ahead of time for how to deal when I’m on a heater? Remember, an IPS lays out how you will continue to invest in “exuberant times”. The worst thing you can do is give away all your winnings because you stray from what got you there in the first place. I recommend you have a defined criteria before you increase your definition of a unit. For example, if you begin with a starting bankroll of $500 and you bet $10 per unit, you can say you will not increase your unit amount until your balance reaches $1,000. Just like how the dice have no memory in a craps game, the outcome of your next bet has nothing to do with the lucky half court buzzer beater that kept your win streak alive. If you increase your bet amounts during hot stretches, you can easily give it all back and have nothing to show for it. Stick to the plan. Embrace the grind.

When Things are Going Poorly

First of all, do not despair. There is nothing wrong with taking a break from placing bets – you don’t even have to have that written in your IPS! There will be more opportunities to get back to the grind if you take a week off.

With that said, having a game plan in place for when you hit a rough stretch is very important. Most bettors are unable to find success in the long term because they aren’t able to stick to their plan when they start a long losing streak. You will survive cold streaks by sticking to your handicapping strategy and not trying to quickly win it all back. When I find myself entering Chase Mode™, I remind myself of my IPS and go back to my normal handicapping strategy. Do not use Martingale or Fibonacci sequences to try to win it all back… it doesn’t work at the Blackjack table, and it isn’t going to work with sports betting either! If you are using proper unit sizes with regard to your starting bankroll amount, you can survive rough stretches without having to deviate from your plan.

What Else Do I Need to Consider?

Circling back to how I said I like to discuss the idea of an IPS when friends ask me for personal finance advice, I sometimes encounter resistance because they think that having a policy written down in advance will make them feel trapped in their plan. I always make sure to say that it is a living document that can be updated! If you learn something new that exposes a flaw in your plan, you can always make changes – as long as you do it in advance and you are not acting in the heat of the moment.

So… Let’s put it all together

I’ll use the rest of this article to lay out a summary of my own personal IPS when it comes to sports betting. I also have an IPS when it comes to playing craps, but I’ll leave that for another post.

Again, this is my current policy right now. If someone convinces me to make a change, I have no problem doing that. In fact, I encourage you to leave replies if you agree or disagree with anything I’m about to say!

Starting Bankroll Amount: I choose to have a lump sum starting bankroll amount. If it ever reaches zero, I will stop gambling until I save up enough to start again.

Starting Unit Amount: 1 unit = 1% of my starting bankroll amount.

Handicapping Strategy: I risk 1 unit for every bet I place. I do not bet to win 1 unit. I have a list of handicappers that I follow, and I only consider predetermined bets for each handicapper. For some, I will bet every recommendation. For others, it can get complicated. Consider the following example:

I follow a free handicapper on Twitter with the handle Minnie Miñoso. He posts plays from models that he personally developed, and his model looks for value on moneyline bets only. Even though his model may sometimes find value in betting a heavy favorite, I will not follow his suggestion if a favorite exceeds a certain threshold. I will consider the handicap line to see if I think it is worth playing the same side at lower odds. For example, if a baseball team is -167 as a moneyline bet but -132 with a -1 run line, I might play the -1 run line and live with a push if they win a close game. On the other hand, if his model finds value in an underdog, I will subdivide my unit into two bets: 75% of my bet will be played on the moneyline and 25% of my bet will be played on the handicap line. For example, if his model finds value in a baseball team at +148 as a moneyline bet, I will bet 0.75 units on the moneyline and 0.25 units on the -1 run line at +240. Finally, his model uses the bet to win strategy and Kelly Criterion to place larger wagers when his model perceives a greater value. I choose to risk only 1 unit total on each play.

When Things Are Going Great: Be happy, but stick to the plan! If my balance reaches a certain threshold, I will allow my 1 unit to equal 1% of that achieved balance.

When Things Are Going Poorly: Breathe in, breathe out. Feel sorry for myself, but stick to the plan! Take a break if I want. Re-evaluate my handicapping strategy and consider making adjustments to how I’m handicapping matches/how I’m following handicappers, but do not start increasing bet amounts in the hopes to quickly make up losses. If balance drops to a certain threshold, consider decreasing bet amount for a specified duration.

I hope you found this article on bankroll management thought provoking. Stay tuned for articles on handicapping strategy and line shopping!

Please note: if you think your gambling is becoming harmful or you think someone you know is having a hard time dealing with problem gambling, please click here to learn more about obtaining help.