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Sports betting: Luck versus skill 

Sports betting has always been subject to debate in the eyes on the many with plenty of punters arguing the bets are a game of skill rather than luck. 

To the unassuming, it sounds like the early stages of madness to assume the act of wagering on sports teams be a skill rather than luck. After all, with bookmakers requiring to make a profit just to keep the lights on, if it was skill – surely everybody would be doing it? 

It’s a fair point, but one that’s argued with the methods surrounding sports betting rather than the outcomes. Although odds supplied by bookmakers may provide an insight into the likelihood of a team or individual winning, at the end of the day, it simply is statistics and anything can happen on the night. 

The knowledge surrounding the teams, the players, the history, rivalry, personal lives all come into play when a serious sports bettor gets to work. At what level of detail are wagers considered a skill and what is considered just luck – a question that’s difficult to answer. 

A history of sports betting

Sports betting isn’t exactly anything new, in fact, the very first record of sports betting dates back more than 2,000 years ago with the betting on athletic competitions by the Greeks. 

Cut to recent history and you’ll see a rich and somewhat shady reputation with sports betting and bookmaking alike. It was made legitimate in the fifties in Las Vegas with sports betting occurring in many of the brick-and-mortar casinos and most recently in Chicago with the opening of Horseshoe Casino. But that doesn’t mean all bets received are through legitimate sources. 

For years, sports bets in the US have been placed with the illegally operating local bookies and although are ignored by law enforcement, for the most part, do not constitute legal betting. The same is true for just about anywhere in the world – no matter where you may find yourself, chances are that you’ll be able to wager a sports bet with a little bit of searching around. 

Although many countries have ruled this as illegal, it’s barely slowing any bookies down due to location in jurisdictions making it hard or impossible to prosecute. Something that has only snowballed thanks to online betting.

Sports betting – luck or skill? 

It may have some questionable legal issues surrounding, but that doesn’t answer the original question of whether sports betting is based on luck or skill. 

To build an argument, we look to the former U.S. Attorney, General Lynch, who states: “Sports betting … involves ‘substantial [not slight] skill.’ Sports bettors can employ superior knowledge of the games, teams, and players in order to exploit odds that do not reflect the true likelihoods of the possible outcomes.” 

Lynch continued, stating: “While a sports bettor cannot [legally] influence the outcome of a game, sports bettors can and do influence the ‘betting line’ or ‘point spread’ in order to improve their odds of making a successful bet. Specifically, a gambler intending to make a large bet on one team may first place one or more smaller, strategic bets on the other team to move the betting line and make it more favorable for the ultimate intended bet.”

When compared to traditional casino games, sports betting would likely slot into the same category as poker. Yes, there is an element of chance, but by reading the other players around the table, or in this case, on the field, bettors can maximize the chance of a successful wager. Adrian Sireca, of OnlineCasinoGems, says it best: “At times a bad bet will be made, losing money, as with all games that include chance, but the difference between a good bettor and a poor bettor is the ratio of good to bad.” 

Similarly, professor Alan Dershowitz argues in favor of sports betting forming a skill-based wager, discussing the lengths that sports bettors go-to when conducting research and keeping an ear to the ground: “Every major sports figure prognosticates on the outcome of games by looking at starting lineups, postseason experience, success without the designated hitter and so forth. The best prognosticators win while others lose and that is skill.” 

Dershowitz continued in his argument, comparing sports betting to the trades made on the stock market: “Goldman Sacks makes billions by trying to get a leg up on other prognosticators. The only difference is they are speculating on stocks rather than sports teams.” 

The stock market isn’t a sure thing, just like sports betting, and the very best traders are those with skin in the game, knowledge of the business and a knack for predicting the outcomes. The two are surprisingly similar, but very few are brave enough to call out the stock market as being a game of luck. 

The bottomline 

Ultimately, sports betting cannot fit into one category of luck or skill, just like the traditional game of poker or the moves made on the stock market, but maybe should rather use a sliding scale from one to the other. 

If an individual with no sports betting history places a wager without the consideration of odds or any interest or information surrounding the sport and individuals – it must be considered luck. However, when an individual spends considerable time processing and making the judgment on the teams and players, alongside a variety of other factors, the bet must be considered skill – especially in situations where individuals often win. 

It’s this quality that it shares with the aforementioned likened games. Poker, a game of predominantly skill, still contains a tinge of chance, but it’s always the famous and well-known players reaching the final tables in the big tournaments. Trading in the stock market, a profession of skill, although there may be chance involved, it’s the Warren Buffet’s of the world that continues to make successful predictions. 

Luck will still come into play, regardless of the amount of research, data analysis and feeling involved, and although an informed wager can be made – it’s never a ‘sure thing’. 

But that’s the beauty of the sports bet. 

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