Bias in Sports Betting - Prediction Machine

Bias in Sports Betting

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Sports bettors understand that mixing alcohol with sports betting is a bad idea because it can cause regretful decisions after distorting our judgement and swaying our choices.

Sociologists and psychologists understand that “bias” influences us in a similar way, whether you’re gambling or not. Literature in the behavioral sciences tells us that bias is defined as a lack of objectivity when making a decision and that it distorts our judgement and sways our choices. Sound familiar?

If there’s one thing a sports bettor needs, it’s objectivity and a clear mind when making decisions. I believe one major difference between recreational bettors and professionals is that common Joe bettors are drunk off bias and don’t even know it, while professionals are hyper aware of their biases and constantly question them throughout their decision making processes.

Below, are common biases all bettors should be aware of and regularly consider.

Blind spot bias – This bias is defined as, “recognizing the impact of biases on the judgement of others, while failing to see the impact of biases on one’s own judgement.” In a sports betting context, the “others” are the individuals you are attempting to win money from whether it’s a friend during a casual bar bet or bookmakers at a casino.

For instance, your favorite football team is playing your best friend’s team and you’re confident your team will win, so you bet your friend that his team will lose. You might be thinking, “He hasn’t been watching my team as closely as me, and has no idea how good our rushing attack is, it’s going to overwhelm their defense.” While it may be true your team has a dominant rushing attack, and it also may be true your friend isn’t as knowledgeable about your team, you’re failing to realize you also have a blind spot (intimate knowledge of his team).

Favorite team bias – This one isn’t an official social science term, but several biases found in textbooks cause it to form one giant bias that can drain your bankroll. If you’re serious about sports betting, stop placing wagers on your favorite team. It’s a blast getting paid for your favorite team winning and it creates fun memories you’ll want to keep chasing. However, like with parlays fun often has a converse relationship with winning.

Recency bias – Defined by authors and researchers as, “A memory error that favors recent events over historic ones,” recency bias is perhaps the No. 1 bias you’d hear discussed as a fly on the wall in a room full of sportsbook employees setting a point spread. Public bettors have a strong tendency to consider recent performances by players and teams when compared to past results. Recent nationally televised games especially hold a lot of weight in the mind of public bettors.

For instance, if an NFL team starts off 6-0 and loses their 7th and 8th games on national television, recreational bettors will tend to undervalue this team, when compared to a professional who will consider recency bias and look more objectively at the entire picture. Sharp bettors often take advantage of the public’s recency bias when fading the public. To read more about recency bias, click here: Taking Advantage of Psychological Principles in Sports Betting – Prediction Machine

Confirmation bias – This bias explains the tendency to lean into information that supports our previously held beliefs. In a way, a bettors are researchers or detectives gathering evidence. If during the process of gathering evidence, you lock in on a conclusion, you may subconsciously start to seek and overvalue information that supports the conclusion. Law enforcement officials are often accused of behaving this way while determining suspects in crime documentaries. As a bettor, it’s important to be aware of confirmation bias and seek and analyze “devil’s advocate” arguments to try and poke holes in your own position.

I consider confirmation bias and attempt to poke holes in my own analysis as if I was on a debate stage. I usually won’t place a bet unless I struggle to create a logical and convincing counterargument.

Consensus bias – When you think (whether true or not) that your beliefs are held by a large majority of people, then we tend to become more confident in that decision. For instance a Miami Heat fan who is only around other Heat fans may think, “Everyone I know thinks Miami is going to win this series.” Or if you hear that 80% of the public is betting one team over another, it might give you more confidence to place the bet. However, professionals understand how to read betting splits (betting % vs. money %) and often conclude that the large public betting percentage is actually an argument for betting the the other side of the game. If consensus always led to winning sports bets, then sportsbooks would have a hard time keeping the doors open.