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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Tuesday, February 27, 2018 at 3:00 PM

With the start of conference championship tournaments on the horizon, many Las Vegas sportsbooks have begun posting their odds to win each league tournament. Those are now on the board alongside odds to win the National Championship in the Big Dance. Seeing all of these numbers reminded me of one thing. Most bettors are horrible at math!

Here in my College of Advanced Sports Betting, I want to make sure you have the fundamentals necessary to be a winning gambler. A big key is a recognition of how math fits in the handicapping process…both in terms of projecting game results and understanding the challenges of beating the market.

Today, I’m going to use National Championship odds as an example. At many stores right now, Villanova is 4/1 to win the title. What does that mean? Basically, the market is telling you that Villanova is going to win the tournament one time out of five. Four-to-one means four failures for every one success. In percentage terms, that’s 20%. A price of 4/1 means Villanova is expected to win the Big Dance 20% of the time.

That might seem a little high to you. As great as Villanova is, you just watched lose to Creighton this past Saturday. Are they going to go 6-0 about 20% of the time against this year’s very deep field? If you just planted the four best teams in the nation in the Final Four, each would only be at 25% to win considering how even they all are. Are the “true odds” for Villanova to win the whole tournament really just 4/1?

Michigan State is also 4/1.

Wait a second…Villanova and Michigan State are expected to win the championship a combined 40% of the time against this year’s competition? Sure, those are excellent teams. There are other excellent teams out there as well. Plus several others who are good enough to go deep if they get hot.

Teams like Duke (5/1), Virginia (7/1), and Purdue (8/1). The market is expecting those teams to cut down the yet about 17%, 13%, and 11% of the time respectively. We’re already up to more than 80% with just five teams. 

Kansas, North Carolina, and Arizona are all around 10/1 right now. That’s 9% for each of the three…and suddenly we’re way over 100% for the top eight teams in the country. Nobody else from the loaded Big 12 besides Kansas. No mention of Xavier or other Big East threats, or Cincinnati and Wichita State from the American Athletic Conference. Nobody from the SEC. How can a market add up to more than 150% of possibilities when we’re only 100% certain somebody’s going to win the tournament?

That happens because Las Vegas sportsbooks (and many offshore) offer HORRIBLE odds on futures! And, they can do that because bettors are horrible at math. Duke fans want to bet Duke, they don’t care if they’re getting a poor return for their dollar. Big 10 country sends a lot of square bettors our way during the Dance. They’ll bet Michigan State or Purdue without much thought. Arizona gets support here even in disappointing seasons.

You see…too many bettors see futures as a way to “support” their favorite team. YOU need to bet like a pro bettor. That means largely passing futures prices because of the bad math so you can focus on game-to-game handicapping.

Your homework this week is to build a quick scale showing the percentage equivalent of each odds price. I just showed you a few of them. Do it for all the way up to 33/1. What’s the formula? Simply the lower number divided by the sum of the two numbers. If you’re looking at 4/1 odds…that’s 1 divided by 5 for 20%. If you’re looking at 15/1 odds, that’s 1 divided by 16 for 6%.

This exercise will force you to think about the real percentages involved. You’ll realize that sportsbooks aren’t your friend. They’re going to see what they can get away with, just like their cohorts in casinos that now only pay 6/5 on blackjack instead of 3/2, while spinning roulette wheels that have two or three green zeroes instead of one. This should fire you up to beat the books!

Once you’ve fully understood the scale, see if you can apply “true” odds to some of the upcoming conference tournaments. Your numbers should add up to 100% since you’re not trying to gouge customers. Look at the Big 12. What percentage would you give Kansas? What about West Virginia or Texas Tech? Can a sleeper like TCU, Baylor, Texas, or fading Oklahoma get hot for a few days? Do the same for the wide-open SEC. Is anybody really over 15% in that league since previously hot Auburn has cooled off after some injuries?

I believe we’re about to embark on one of the wildest postseasons ever. Nobody is head and shoulders above the field. And, it’s a VERY deep field. You won’t believe how many very tight point spreads we’re going to see in neutral court basketball. Today’s coursework will help give you an open mind for the handicapping challenges ahead.

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