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Sports Betting: Barrera's Guideline for Beginners

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Michigan just legalized sports betting, and it’s right in time for the Super Bowl. This got me many first time bettors will be joining in on one of the busiest gambling days of the year? I remember when I first started placing bets. All of the choices and the constantly changing lines was overwhelming. I always followed sports closely, but knowing what to look for when placing an educated bet was a skill I had not yet developed. I’m not going to sit here and pretend it came naturally. Not only did I lose bets, but I lost money I worked hard to earn. Thankfully, I learned from my mistakes, improved my techniques, and have found some success in sports betting.

The point of this article is simple. Give beginners, or people who want to start betting more seriously, a few tips I learned along the way.


Let me get the adult part of things out of the way. Never bet or deposit more than you’re willing to lose. Enough said, let’s move on.


First, focus on a sport you not only enjoy, but that you're knowledgeable about. Above everything else, I love basketball, but I mainly bet on college. My examples will be based off my experiences betting college ball, but they’re transferable to other sports.

Obviously, you should be watching games with regularity. It’s impossible to watch every game, but keeping yourself visually involved is important. Next, review box scores every night. Especially in the NFL, it’s easy to run through a handful of games in no time. You will never be able to place a logical bet without first knowing each team's history. Who have they played? Are they on a road trip? Why did they lose to particular teams? Etc.

Like I said, I focus on CBB, and on Saturdays there are over 100 games. When going through box scores, I focus on teams I’m tracking, conferences I typically bet, or trends I’m searching for. Additionally, I look for sources to guide me. There are TONS of podcasts, articles, websites, and pages that break down games. Not only do these sources discuss the sport, but professionals will dissect things in a simple way. I have my favorite CBB shows that I listen to daily. Even if I don’t always agree with their picks, I can use their analysis to make my own educated wagers.

Understanding Your Sportsbook

There are three main lines to bet. Point Spread, Moneyline, or Over/Under. Point spread is determining how much a team will win or lose by. You’ll often see lines like UNC -3.5, Texas +10 etc. If a team is favored to win, they will have the - symbol, while underdogs are the +.

Next, Moneyline. This is simply picking the winner of the game. Straight up.

Finally, over/under. This is determining how many points will be scored between BOTH teams. In CBB, you’ll often see lines like o/u 128.5. This is stating that both teams will either score above or below 128 points combined. Very simple, and honestly, I never do over/under. Just not really my thing, but others love It.

Great, so you have the gist of the three ways to bet, but what the hell does it mean when the favorite is at -110 and the underdog is at +110? Well, glad you asked! This is the way to determine the payout amount. If a line is -110, then I have to bet 110 dollars to win 100. If the line is +110, then you win 110 off a 100 dollar wager. This equation is the same regardless if the number is -300, +1000, or -8000. Same idea.

There is more to know about your sportsbook, but I’ll continue with that in a bit.

Spending Wisely

Anyone can throw 100 bucks on a game, but sporadic betting is not a sustainable way to make money. There has to be a system in place. For myself, I use the following method. First, I only wager 1%-5% of my bankroll each day. Let’s say I have $1000 in my account. If I’m only making 1 bet, I’ll wager anywhere from 10-50 dollars on that game. If I’m playing multiple games, I’ll make sure the collective amount spent falls in that range. For example, 5 games, 10 bucks each. I will admit, on Saturdays I usually bet 10 or more games, so sometimes I slightly go over that total. Regardless, I do my best to always keep to that system.

Next, I use a flat betting system. This is a way for me to control my spending. Just because I like a game, doesn’t mean I should bet more on it than another one. Flat betting is simple. Place the same dollar amount on each bet. If one bet is $10, then all are $10.

Accepting Defeat

This falls in line with spending wisely, but I’ll make it a separate category. Fact is, you will lose money! There are days where I have won 80% of my bets, and other days where I’ve lost them all. You cannot get discouraged, and you cannot break from your system. The biggest mistake you can make is chasing your losses. It sucks when you lose a game and you watch that bankroll drop, but betting 100 bucks on a game to recover those lost funds is going to hurt your more often than not. Take a breath, do your homework, and come back the next day ready for more. Professional gamblers don’t win every bet, so don’t beat yourself up about a few losses.

Be Creative

There are some times when the three basic lines in a game just aren’t drawing me in. For example, Ohio St. may be favored -7.5 vs Maryland, but I’m not so sure I’m feeling It. Don't worry, there are ways to find a more comfortable bet! In most instances, they have first half lines. You’ll usually see the overall point spread cut in half. Using the same example, Ohio St 1st half spread would be around -3.5 or -4.5. That smaller number might draw me in, and the same can usually be said for the Moneyline and over/under. In some games, you’ll even find Alternate spreads. Let’s say Creighton is -10.5 at -110. Maybe I think that number is too high, so an alternate spread allows me to pick -9.5, -8.5, etc. Just be warned...the more favorable you make a line, the less money you will see in your return.

There are also different avenues like player props, or player performance doubles. For example, NFL has choices like Any Time Touchdown Scorer, where a player just has to score for you to win. They also give you over/under bets for receiver receptions, QB total yards, rushing attempts, etc. There are dozens of different ways you can bet on a team, as well as players. One in particular I liked early on was a Joel Embiid player performance double. In this situation, Joel had to get a double double AND the Sixers had to win the game.

One of the common ways to make betting enjoyable is by playing parlays. Parlays are when you wager one amount on multiple games. In these scenarios, each bet has to win for you to win money. One wrong choice, and you’re done. People like to do this to win big, especially because the harder the parlay, the greater the profit. For example, I placed a .50 cent bet on a 13 team parlay which would have paid over $350 bucks. The odds of you hitting on these are slimmer, but it certainly makes it exciting!

Live Betting

This goes along with being creative, but I wanted to separate It. Live betting is when you bet a game that is currently in progress. You will see the lines fluctuate throughout the match, but some games will not offer the live betting feature. I have a few rules I follow when live betting. Let’s say I’m not thrilled by the pregame line. I will then make sure I closely monitor this game if it allows me to live bet. My rule of thumb not live bet on a game unless you’re either A) Watching the game or B)Watching the box score. Sometimes the score doesn’t truly reflect the flow of the game, or the sports book scores won’t show that a player has been injured. Having firsthand knowledge of a game is critical when making a live bet. A perfect example is the West Virginia 19 point comeback win vs Oklahoma State this past January. I was watching the game, and even though OK State was winning, I liked how aggressive WV was playing. I took a live bet at +9.5, and the Mountaineers stormed back to win the game. If I had not been watching, I would not have been able to see the flow of the game. That was the main reason I won that one!

Nothing is Ever a Lock

There is no such thing as a lock in sports, or a “guaranteed win”. Even if it seems impossible for your pick to lose, you better believe I’ve seen plenty of locks fail. Additionally, people place tons of money on their “can’t lose teams”, and then they’re distraught when they fall short. You’ll hear “experts” say they have locks, but don’t buy into it 100%. Do your own research and trust your gut. There have been times where I’ve gone against my sources and won, simply because I trusted my knowledge.

Overall, sports betting and gambling can be fun, but can also be very addicting. Play responsibly and enjoy yourself! This upcoming Super Bowl will have a ton of appeal, and hopefully this leads some beginners into becoming regular bettors.

- Mike Barrera...and special thanks to my fellow writer Jason Sullivan for giving me the idea to write this piece.

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