Rookie bettors camp: Ultimate bankroll survival guide

There's a lot more to betting than just picking winners and losers. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

When Paul Stone's late father Richard first discovered his son's interest in sports betting, he cut to the chase:

"Son, there's no easy money to make betting sports," Stone's father told him.

Decades into his sports betting career, Stone knows his old man was wise.

"Sports betting is a long-term investment, a grind," Stone said. "It's not some get rich quick scheme."

Less than 5% of established sports betting accounts are believed to be profitable, and since you did just click on an article titled "Rookie bettors camp," odds are you're not a seasoned, successful sports bettor.

I'm not, either, for what it's worth, but I know a few. In preparing to create the ultimate bankroll survival guide, I spoke to bettors, bookmakers and counselors for advice on keeping us in the game (for once) this football season.

(Part 1 of a 2-part "Guide to Betting Football" series)

Mind on our money

Establish a bankroll

In order for your bankroll to survive, you first have to establish one. How much can you afford? Only you -- or your significant other -- know for sure.

It must be disposable cash income; an amount so meaningless that unforeseen circumstances could cause you to accidentally dispose of it down the toilet and then be able to chuckle about it. This shouldn't be money on your credit card or funds that may cause you to pay a bill or two late. This is an amount of money you are giving to the bookmaker for football season, knowing that you likely won't get all -- or any -- of it back, and still be just fine financially.

Don't be "Billy Big Bet." Use your brain, not your ego, to decide how much you can afford to lose.

How big should my bets be?

You should only risk 2-5% of your bankroll per wager. If you're starting the football season with a $500 bankroll, your biggest bet should be $25. Your bet size decreases as your bankroll does, by the way, not the other way around, and you shouldn't go "all-in" until you're down to the minimum size of bet the sportsbook will take. Some books will take bets of less than a dollar, by the way.

Remember, the name of the game is bankroll survival.

But what if it's a lock?

There are no locks -- and certainly no free money -- in sports betting. End of story.

But I have more questions, like should I bet the same amount on every game?

There is no definitive right answer here. Some people "flat bet" the same amount each game; others believe the stronger their perceived edge or information is, the bigger the bet should be. Keeping your bets within 2-5% of your bankroll is likely more important than whether you bet the same amount every time.

Divide your bankroll up among multiple sportsbook accounts

This has multiple benefits. First, it allows you to shop for the best odds, something all professional bettors emphasize as important. You don't want to be laying -7 with the Cowboys if they're available at -6 at another book.

Second, have you seen some of the first-time deposit bonuses these books have been handing out? Some sportsbooks are offering to match deposits for thousands of dollars, with stipulations of course.

Take advantage of them.

"That's what I'd be focusing on with a small bankroll, whether it's 500 bucks or 5,000 bucks, is the deposit bonuses," said Shane Sigsbee, who heads a Las Vegas-based high-volume betting syndicate known as Imawhale Sports. "You can do that, whether you're betting in New Jersey, Illinois or Iowa. All the new states, they're all offering very friendly sign-up bonuses.

"Honestly, your edge is going to come from taking advantage of the bonuses, not actually what you're betting."

Tips for Joes from pros

When to bet

There are two schools of thought on when is the most advantageous time to place your bets: right when the lines hit the board or right before the games kick off.

1. Openers: The opening lines for the following week's college and NFL games start showing up late afternoon to early evening on Sundays. These lines are as close as you can get to being you versus the oddsmakers, but it doesn't last long. Bookmakers quickly learn which teams the bettors they know are successful are backing and move their opening numbers accordingly. You can tell opening lines are more vulnerable because the betting limits are lower, compared to what they'll be closer to kickoff. Lower limits should not impact most new bettors who responsibly follow the 2-5% bankroll management strategy, by the way.

2. Closers: Point spreads, totals and prop odds are as sharp as they'll get in the hours before kickoff. Bettors can use this to their advantage by monitoring what the numbers are at sportsbooks known to cater to sophisticated sports bettors, i.e., Circa Sports in Las Vegas and offshore sportsbooks like Betcris and Pinnacle. Compare the numbers at those books to what your sportsbooks are offering and pinpoint key differences.

For example, if the Cowboys are 7-point favorites at Circa or Pinnacle, but only 6.5-point favorites at your sportsbook, you'd want to bet the Cowboys.

"If Pinnacle is sitting there at 7 on a game, when they're 6.5s at DraftKings, you can guarantee Pinnacle doesn't want to take any money on that favorite," Bill Krackomberger, a veteran professional bettor, said. "They only want dog money. Take your 15 bucks on the favorite. Don't try to middle or scalp; just root for your game and try to build your bankroll."

What to bet

Trying to pick full-game point-spread winners in the NFL is as difficult as it gets in sports betting. Approach with caution, and instead, check out the player props and totals, both of which feature lower betting limits, a glaring indication of a vulnerable market. For example, sportsbooks may limit some customers to betting $5,000 on a college football over/under total, while they may take $20,000 on the point spread of the same game. It's not a coincidence that the markets with the smaller limits also are the ones that attract the highest percentage of sharp bettors. Preseason NFL is another example.

"I may bet three or four NFL sides the whole season," Krackomberger said in early August. "I'll bet more preseason football games in the next four weeks than I'll bet in the next five years in the NFL [regular season]."

College football, Krackomberger emphasized, is another story. Stone agrees and believes he has an edge based primarily on his handicapping of personnel entering the college football season. His edge, he notes, decreases as the season progresses, and he recommends becoming more selective in your bets in November and December, when the betting market is at its most mature.

What to avoid

1. Parlays: The ol' three-teamer has caused the demise of more than its fair share of bankrolls. They're so tempting, though: Bet $20, pick a trio of winners and win $120. What could go wrong?

Unfortunately, the payout on a three-teamer is typically 6-1, while the true odds of correctly picking three winners on presumably 50/50 propositions is 7-1. Never forget, bookmakers like money, too.

2. Futures: These are your odds to win the Super Bowl, league MVP or division championship. They're fun to bet, but beware, they also have some of the largest built-in house advantages in the entire sports betting market and therefore are dangerous to the survival of your bankroll.

"Futures pools," Stone said, "have tremendously high theoretical hold percentages. They can be 40% to 50% at some places."

Sports betting myths to debunk

• Myth: Bookmakers want even action on both sides

What bookmakers really want is to manage their action in a way that leaves them rooting for the same side as the bettors they most respect. They want to gamble against the public.

• Myth: Fading the public is a guaranteed long-term winner

There are no guarantees in sports betting -- other than the odds are stacked against you.

• Myth: The really big bets are placed by professional bettors

Bookmakers do not make a habit of giving their most successful bettors the highest limits. Most of the time, the six- and seven-figure bets you see reported on social media are placed by VIP casino customers who aren't necessarily serious sports bettors but are given extended betting limits for how much they spend in the pits.

• Myth: I know a lot about football, so I will be able to pick winners

You may know a lot about football, but so do the oddsmakers, bookmakers and other bettors who are shaping the market -- and they often have the information before you. Respect the market, and realize that most of the information you learn is already factored into the odds. Now, you may give more credence to an injury or weather conditions than what the betting market reflects, but don't ever forget that while you may think you're the only one who picked out a killer stat or angle, odds are, you're not.

Be responsible

This may be one of the last sections of the Ultimate Bankroll Survival Guide, but it's arguably the most important.

Like so many things in life, discipline is critical to betting success. If you let the inevitable game-to-game emotional swings impact your discipline, your bankroll is destined for destruction.

Do not chase: Chasing occurs when you go on tilt, lose your discipline and risk more than you should on a game, primarily because you're upset about losing your previous bet. Get out of your feelings. You are not due because you lost the last game to a horrific officiating call. Your previous bet has no bearing on the odds of your next one. Stick to the 2-5% strategy.

Do not bet bad numbers: If you love the Cowboys (gulp), but your book has them at -7 while the other sportsbooks mentioned above have -6.5, resist your urge to bet and shop for a better number. If you lose your discipline, you're not only going to destroy your bankroll, but also potentially your life. Gambling is a vice and comes with risk of addiction that can ruin your -- and your family's -- life. It is not something that should be taken lightly.

Here are some tips from Keith Whyte, executive director for the National Council on Problem Gambling, for new bettors entering their first football season:

• Know the legal age to gamble: You need to be at least 21 to bet on sports in nearly every jurisdiction. The legal age to bet in the District of Columbia is 18.

• Know how to gamble responsibly. Do not bet above your means, and stick to a plan. Do not gamble while intoxicated, depressed or stressed.

• Know the consequences of a gambling addiction, which may lead to financial ruin and, sometimes, suicide.

• Know the warning signs of a gambling problem. People in danger of developing a gambling disorder might obsessively relive their most recent bad beat or big win. They often lie or try to hide their gambling from others. Other warning signs include irritability, depression, anxiety, restlessness and expressing guilt after gambling.

• Know where to get help for a gambling problem. Here is a link to state-by-state resources that are available when you notice the warning signs: https://www.ncpgambling.org/help-treatment/help-by-state/

Final thoughts

In the end, it's all about bankroll survival, which Stone succinctly sums it up like this: "The key, especially to start, is to stay in the game."

So, establish a bankroll consisting entirely of disposable income, sign up for a few sportsbooks with the best deposit matches (read the fine print!), and then go bet the minimum, not the max.

Long live your football betting bankroll!