How Much Should You Bet on Sports?

So… how much money do you put down on a single sports bet? And how much should you spend on sports betting in general?

It’s a good idea to think of your sports-betting bankroll as disposable income, the same kind of disposable income you spend on other types of fun and entertainment. That’ll ensure sports betting remains a source of fun and entertainment for you and a losing streak won’t leave you worse off.

The amount of money you bet on each bet is, of course, entirely up to you. However, if you want to be smart about it, it should be based on a specific percentage of your overall sports betting budget.

Read on for more on how to manage your sports betting amounts with some specific numbers for how much beginner sports bettors really should be betting.

How are betting odds calculated?

Virginia sportsbooks will post what is known as American odds. That means either side of any bet will be displayed as positive or negative three-digit numbers or larger.

If you see a positive (+) number that tells you that side of the bet is the underdog. The actual number shows you how much you might win for every $100 you bet.

If you see a negative (-) number that tells you that side of the bet is the favorite. The actual number shows you how much you need to bet to win $100. In both cases, the initial bet is also returned on all winning bets.

For example:

The Washington Capitals might be -170 moneyline favorites over the Montreal Canadiens for an NHL hockey bet. The Canadiens may also be listed as +150 underdogs. That means:

  • You need to bet $170 to earn $100 plus your $170 bet back on the Caps
  • You stand to earn $150 plus your bet back for every $100 you bet on the Habs

Remember these are scalable numbers, so you do not need to bet $100. You can bet however much you want (up to a maximum provided by the sportsbook).

How to calculate sports betting payouts

Anytime you see American odds posted on a bet at a Virginia online sportsbook you can take the odds and calculate a potential payout using a pair of simple formulas.

  • The formula for positive American Odds is: Bet x (Odds/100) + Bet = Potential Payout
  • The formula for negative American Odds is: Bet / (Odds/100) + Bet = Potential Payout

Using that same Caps -170 and Habs +150 moneyline example:

  • A winning $10 bet on the Habs would give you a $15 profit and $25 payout.
  • A winning $10 bet on the Caps would get you a $5.88 profit and $15.88 total payout

In either case, the best way to calculate a potential payout is to perform the middle part of the equation in brackets first. Then, either multiply or divide your bet by the number you get. Finally, add that number to your bet to see the potential payout.

The online sportsbook will also calculate all of these payouts for you when you simply add any proposed bet to your online betting slip. You’re not committed to any pick until you confirm it so you can add in or take out any numbers of bets to see your expected payouts.

How much should you risk per bet?

Once you’ve mastered the formulas for calculating how much you stand to win, it’s time to decide how much you can afford to lose. Herein lies the answer to the question of how much you should be betting.

After signing up for an account with a sportsbook or sportsbook app, you need to deposit before you start betting. Do not deposit more money than you can afford to lose.

In sports betting, there’s no such thing as a sure thing. As much as you think you know about sports, you have to accept that anything can happen, including losing streaks.

Here’s a three-part mantra that works for most casual sports bettors:

  • Try to win
  • Expect to lose
  • Treat sports betting as fun and entertainment

That means never spend more than what you consider disposable income betting on sports. Choose your first deposit amount carefully and consider it your starting sports betting bankroll.

Once you’ve established your total sports betting budget one of the tenets of proper bankroll management is:

  • Never bet more than 5% of it on any single bet

That means if you deposit $200 into your betting account you should limit yourself to $10 maximum bets.

What are sports betting “units”?

An easy way to ensure you manage your sports betting bankroll properly, and never bet more than 5% on any one bet, is to break your bankroll down into units.

  • A unit is 1% of your bankroll
  • In the case of a $200 deposit, that means each unit is $2.

Whenever you bet on sports you’ll find bets you like and others you love. It’s a good idea to gauge your confidence in a bet first, then bet a corresponding amount of units on it.

Betting anywhere from 1-5 units on any single bet gives you the chance to maximize profits on the bets you’re most confident in while still staying under your 5% limit.

With $200 in your account, that means betting as little as $2 or as much as $10 on any bet. This is considered a small but fair amount of money for beginning sports bettors.

What’s the size of the average sports bet?

When you read statistics like the one that shows $5.32 billion was bet on sports in Nevada in 2019, it might make you think your $200 bankroll and $2-$10 bets are far too small. The truth is, they are around the average.

Consider that more than 40 million people visit Las Vegas every year, and the entire population of Nevada is around 3 million. That means Las Vegas visitors and Nevada residents bet around $120 per year on sports. Of course, not everybody who goes to Las Vegas for vacation or lives in Nevada bets on sports.

Let’s say 60% do. That would mean those who bet on sports at Nevada sportsbooks bet around $200 per year. If they manage their bankroll properly and never bet more than 5% on any single bet, they’re making the same $2-$10 bets you are.

Your $200 bankroll and $2-$10 bet sizes may seem small when American Gaming Association numbers show Americans bet $13 billion at legal sportsbooks across the country in 2019. But a closer look reveals these are more than likely the average bankroll and bet sizes across the US.

Seasonal sports betting strategy

Sports are seasonal, so your sports betting habits probably should be as well. Just because you can make plentiful NFL bets over the fall and winter doesn’t mean you should do the same amount of MLB betting over the summer. In other words, stick to betting on what you know.

It also means you should avoid chasing losses with obscure sports you know nothing about after a bad day in your chosen betting arena. However, if your sports knowledge knows no bounds, it can also mean spreading your bankroll around throughout the seasons.

You might be a year-round sports bettor, with a good knowledge base for NHL betting and NBA betting, but if that’s the case, you should probably manage a separate bankroll for each sport’s market.

Just remember to only deposit an amount you think you can afford to lose on each sport. Then, manage each bankroll properly and never bet more than 5% of it on a single bet. Gauge your confidence in each bet clearly before betting up to five units on it.

Good sports bettors aim for a 55% success rate

Your bankroll isn’t the only thing you need to manage properly. If you bet on sports you need to manage your expectations as well.

Even the most successful bettors lose almost half of the bets they make. A sports bettor is considered successful if they win 55% of the time. Those that win 60% of the time or more are likely on a major heater and will cool off over time.

Don’t expect to win any more than this, particularly when you are just beginning to bet on sports.

Is it smart to hedge a sports bet?

Hedging involves placing bets against yourself. In other words, betting on the other side of your original bet. It’s not a recommended sports betting strategy, per se, but it can be used at particular times to ensure a win.

Often, bettors that make a futures bet and are close to a big win consider hedging to lock in a smaller but guaranteed win. Let’s say you bet $10 on Washington to win the Super Bowl at +17,000 and they won the NFC Championship. You’d be in line for a massive $1,710 payout if they can win the big game.

However, if they lose the game, you’ll get nothing.

Let’s say Washington is facing the Kansas City Chiefs and the Chiefs are -180 moneyline favorites to win. You can hedge your original bet by taking some of your potential profit on the bet and betting on the Chiefs.

If the Washington Football Team loses, you still make something. All told you’ll make less than the $1,710 you might have, but you’ll never walk away empty-handed.

You can also use in-game or in-play betting to hedge all kinds of single-game bets other than futures. If your pre-game bet looks like it isn’t going to come in you can hedge by betting against it and minimize your total loss.

You can also hedge parlays if you win all legs heading into a final leg that’s scheduled for later. That would mean you can bet against your original pick in that final leg.

Profitable sports bettors often hedge to mitigate losses and earn smaller but guaranteed profits. However, it’s a personal decision and should be made individually when facing each hedging opportunity. It’s generally not a profitable strategy for casual sports bettors.

What are true odds in sports betting?

Using the odds posted at Virginia sportsbooks and a simple formula, you can determine what oddsmakers think a team’s chances of winning are. You can also refer to this as a team’s probability of winning.

The probability formula is a simple one. For negative odds you insert the number alone, without the minus sign:

  • Odds / (Odds + 100) X 100 = Probability of winning

Using the Capitals (-170) and Canadiens (+150) example from above, this would mean the sportsbooks give the Caps around a 63% chance of winning:

  • 170 / (170 + 100) X 100 = 62.96

For positive odds use the following equation:

  • 100 / (Odds + 100) X 100 = Probability of winning

Using the Capitals (-170) and Canadiens (+150) example from above, this would mean the sportsbooks give the Canadiens around 40% chance of winning:

  • 100 / (150 + 100) X 100 = 40

After that, it’s up to you to decide what you think a team’s true odds are. Only good research will lead you there, but once determined it’ll give you a solid idea of how good a bet truly is.