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All bettors want the quick, easy win, but any long-term success can be attributed to only one thing - hours of research and study. This poses a problem for weekend warriors who don't have the time to dedicate 40+ hours per week analyzing lines and shopping for value.
A potential solution to this predicament for recreational bettors, that offers a realistic chance for finding winners without quitting their day jobs, can be found at online sports betting forums.
One of the quickest ways to learn, without the time-consuming study, is to watch and converse with proven winning handicappers in these gambling discussion areas. There are many talented sports bettors who freely give away plays and encourage discussion on open forums.
But how do you know when a handicapper has a long enough track record to justify following their plays?
Handicapping the handicappers can be as difficult as analyzing sports games themselves. Time and again you'll see a poster start hot, only to crash and burn later. There's a real risk that you might start following a new "expert's" plays when he's actually just a 50% (or worse) handicapper.
When new players start posting their selections, they'll often quit after many losing plays or even if they're winning 50% of the time. At the same time, players with winning records keep posting. This causes "survival bias" - a fair number of handicappers will look like winners even if they are just coin-flippers.
One way to avoid this (and have a better chance of following a winner) is to look for 'cappers' with at least 100 selections.
When evaluating a player, it's useful to know how likely a handicapper's results are to occur if all of his selections were random (e.g. a 50% handicapper). A simple rule is to take the square root of the total number of selections and add that number to one half of the total plays made.
For example, if he has 400 plays, the square root would be 20, which added to one half of 400, gives a total of 220 theoretical wins.
If a player is 20 selections above 200 in this case, he is two standard deviations above average. There's about a 1 in 40 chance of a 50% handicapper doing that. So a player with 400 selections would need to go 220-180, or 60-40 with 100 selections to be this rare.
Without being a master statistician, you can quickly see that the more selections you can view, the easier it is to evaluate a player. In many cases, it's safer to follow someone with a lower winning percentage if they have a lot more plays.
Another question players frequently ask is if they should pay for someone's selections? Players should first analyze the economics of this - How much do you expect to win following these tips? And how much is it costing relative to what's being bet?
If you're betting $100 per game while paying a consultant $25 per play for advice, there's no chance to win at season's end. The handicapper does not share the risk, even if he only charges for winning plays. Consequently, it's hard to justify spending more than 1-2% of each bet on consulting.
Making 100 plays of $100 each on an NFL season, it might be reasonable to pay a few hundred dollars for professional advice, but in that same situation you'd need to win 56% of your plays just to break even if you paid a 10% fee of $1,000.
There are very few people that can hit 56% in the long-term without betting into overnight lines and the more obscure sports.
The gambling forums can also assist you in getting other gambler's opinions on various professional tout services, before paying for their handicapping. While there are reputable tout services out there, 'caveat emptor' applies as the buyer should always beware before spending money for picks.
Don't simply take a listed record for fact, ask around and find out if they're grading themselves fairly. Is the handicapper giving plays that only their followers can get?
Try not getting caught up in promotions of short-term results, instead focus on long-term performance using the same analysis you'd use on forum posters. Also find out the touts win rate for the last 100 plays.
If you have trouble finding a play history, many of the professional services will provide them on request. Other services may list their plays after the game begins, which allows you to independently track them. Should you choose to select a service, don't cheat yourself, put in the research to ensure you get your money's worth.