When I was starting out betting on sports, I got frustrated because everybody talked about “finding value,” but never really explained what that meant. As it turns out, the answer was right there in front of me. Years later, as an experienced (if a little unlucky) bettor, I’m hard-pressed to find anything more meaningful in sports betting than this concept of value.
In sports betting, finding value is jargon that means finding a proposition that pays its winners better than it should. Making money betting on sports turns out to not be as much about backing winners as the betting public thinks. Instead, consistent profits betting on sports comes from identifying and acting on bets that offer bettors a bigger payoff than the wager would normally indicate.
In this post, I’ll introduce the concept of value in sports betting, give some examples to demonstrate the concept, then go over some markets and situations where bettors look for high value wagers.
What Is Value to Sports Bettors?
Let’s start our deeper dive into the concept of value with one of my favorite teaching methods – an analogy.
Let’s say you’re a recent college graduate and you’re looking for a job. You know that a worker with your skills in your industry should make about $25 an hour. You get a job offer for $200 a day, for an eight-hour workday. Does that job offer you any extra value above what you deserve? No, because $200 for 8 hours of work is $25 an hour, exactly the same as your value. Now imagine you get a similar offer, but this time you’ll earn the same $200 a day for a seven-hour workday. At $200 for seven hours, your hourly rate would be $28.57, or $3.57 more per hour than your going rate.
The second job in this analogy is the value job, the situation where you’re getting more money for the same amount of work. Those seven hours should only earn you $175 – you’re getting $25 more for the same amount of work. That’s the value of the second job offer – additional money for no additional labor.
Sports bettors find value by looking for those wagers where the oddsmaker has undervalued a particular team’s or athlete’s chances. Some of this comes from experience, some from that unknowable element that pro bettors call “touch,” and some comes from crunching numbers and analyzing stats and other data.
Some bettors are able to calculate their own set of probabilities, then by comparing their probability to that implied by the sportsbook’s numbers, they can find places where the book’s number is soft. Bettors who are successful at identifying these opportunities win money more often than they lose. Are there lots of these people? No – it’s a rarified collection of people for whom sports bets are their profession.
Examples of Value Sports Betting
Finding value is really just a matter of getting better than the true odds for a bet. If you think the underdog in an NFL game should only be getting 3.5 points and you find a book offering 6.5, you’ve found a value bet. In other words, you’d have been happy to take the dog at 3.5, but the book is making things even easier for you, nearly doubling your comfort line.
Coin Flip Value Example
Let’s look at a coin flip example to start with. Obviously, you won’t find a sportsbook willing to give you a line on you flipping a coin at home alone, but for the sake of the example, let’s pretend.
Imagine you find a bookmaker offering you +105 for a coin that you flip to land on tails. Is this a value bet? Let’s work through it. I popped +105 (American odds) into an odds converter and up popped the implied odds of 48.78%. That means the book’s line is implying that the coin will only turn up tails a little less than 49% of the time. We all know that the true odds are 50/50 – the 1.22% difference between the book’s implied odds and the actual odds is the value part.
Should you take a bet on a coin flip in this circumstance? Absolutely. Over time, betting on the coin flip will be profitable.
Baseball Value Bet Example
I’m going to imagine a baseball line and work out some calculations to explain hunting for value in further detail.
Let’s imagine the following MLB line:
New York Yankees -200
Los Angeles Angels +220
Determining if there’s value in this bet is a matter of working out the real odds of the wagers paying off and comparing them to the lines set by the sportsbook.
Remember that the first thing we should do is convert the book’s American line into decimal odds, to keep the math clean. According to the books, the Yankees are going to win 66.67% of the time, while the Angels will win about 31.25% of the time.
In order to consider this a value bet, I’d have to think that the Angels are more than 31.25% likely to win this game, then back up that position with a wager. If I think the Angels are more like 38% likely to win, I have to consider if the 6.75% difference in my odds and the book’s implied odds offers enough value to justify a wager. If I’d be happy to back LA at +180, I have to see that there’s value at +220.
How to Find Value at Sportsbooks
Here’s three tips to help people start finding value sports bets.
Tip #1 – Look for Heavy Favorites or Heavy Underdogs
There’s value in heavy favorites and heavy underdogs, even when your sports sense tells you otherwise. Converting American odds (the money line) to decimal odds and implied odds should help you ignore the emotion behind these wagers and stick to the math.
Some bettors ignore favorites altogether when hunting for value bets, and this is a mistake. Remember that we aren’t worried when the odds are super low – there is still positive betting value in those situations. Your focus now should constantly be on finding situations where the actual odds compare favorably to the odds on offer.
Tip #2 – Avoid Thin Value Margins
Value betting isn’t about indiscriminately placing bets on any situation where there’s even a tiny shred of positive expectation. You have to curate your value bets and consider them through a lens of common sense.
The bigger the difference between the game’s real odds and the book’s implied odds, the more value you’ve found. Unfortunately, thanks to changes in the modern bookmaking industry, you don’t find huge value gaps as often as you did in the past.
If you work out the odds of an underdog wining to be 33% and the book’s line is +212, technically you’ve found a value bet, but it’s not enough of a margin to be an actionable part of your overall betting strategy. The difference of a few decimal points in the money line is technically a profitable long-term strategy, but it isn’t going to make much of a difference from day to day.
Tip #3 – Assess Probability of Every Game You Can
You’re not going to get good at handicapping or finding value if you don’t put in the work. Handicapping as many games as you can is a bit easier in some markets – the NFL only hosts 14 contests a week. In other markets, you’re going to be a lot more stressed trying to analyze as many games as you can. I guess a word of wisdom here would be – handicap and analyze the odds of every game you can while still remaining sane.
Eventually, you’ll start to see patterns and learn the habits of the oddsmakers in your chosen market. Essentially, the more homework you do, the better you’ll be at identifying value and beating the book at their own game going forward.
Don’t be confused or overwhelmed by sports betting jargon. It’s not that complicated, and for the most part you are just a quick Google search away from the answer to your question. Figuring out what value is isn’t the tough part – identifying value opportunities and acting on them successfully is.
Learning to look for value is like leveling up your sports betting game. When you’re no longer as concerned with your straight-up Win Loss record, and more concerned with looking for, finding, and exploiting bad lines from your sportsbooks, you’ll find yourself operating at a higher success rate, simply by changing your perspective from a member of the betting public to someone working actively against the oddsmakers.