Will Scientific Sports-Betting Models Make Intuition Wagers Obsolete?

August 28, 2023
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The house always wins and technological advances have given sportsbooks even more of an advantage in the digital era, but a college professor in New York is trying to tilt the playing field more toward overmatched gamblers.

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The house always wins and technological advances have given sportsbooks even more of an advantage in the digital era, but a college professor in New York is trying to tilt the playing field more toward overmatched gamblers.

“What I saw in the literature is that there was quite a bit of work done on how sportsbooks operate and optimize their profits, but there was much less in the way of … principles which should be followed (by gamblers) to maximize their outcome,” said Jacek Dmochowski, an associate professor in the Grove School of Engineering at The City College of New York.

Fueled in part by the rising popularity of same-game parlay offerings, U.S. sportsbooks have been yielding a higher margin from bettors than in the first few months of the post-PASPA era of legal sports wagering.

Sports-betting operators held an average 8.1 percent in 2022 versus 6.7 percent in 2018 and a historic average of around 5 percent when sports wagering was confined to Nevada. In the year-to-date, the average margin reported by state-licensed sportsbooks stands at around 9.3 percent, according to VIXIO GamblingCompliance data.

A scientific approach to sports betting does not guarantee winning wagers but at least it gives gamblers a better chance than relying on intuition, Dmochowski said.

In his study entitled, “A statistical theory of optimal decision-making in sports betting,” Dmochowski concludes gamblers should estimate the median instead of the average outcome of games.

For example, if the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Philadelphia Eagles in three games by 3, 7 and 35 points, the average outcome would be 15 points because of the total margin of victory of 45.

If the point spread is 10 points, then the gambler should bet on the Chiefs based on the average of the three results.

However, the median margin of victory would be 7 points because it is the number separating 3 and 35 into two groups.

So on the basis of median outcome, the gambler should bet not on the Chiefs but the Eagles because the point spread is three points higher than the median result of seven.

“You have to be very careful not to let outliers (like the Chiefs’ 35-point win over the Eagles) distort your assessment of a proposition,” Dmochowski told VIXIO.

A recreational bettor himself, Dmochowski said he often feels uncomfortable using the median model because more than 50 percent of the time it conflicts with his intuition.

“When the model aligns with my intuition, that’s my favorite situation to be in,” he said.

Whenever there is a conflict, however, Dmochowski said he is “a firm believer that you should never let your intuition override what the model says … because the model doesn’t have emotions.”

Gamblers who do not feel capable of developing betting models on their own can still use models from online and other sources and are likely to see better results, according to Dmochowski.

Born in Gdansk, Poland, the 43-year-old Dmochowski has been fascinated by numbers almost from the time he was being babysat by a daughter of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former President of Poland, Lech Walesa.

While he was in grade school, Dmochowski’s family moved to Canada where he would eventually earn degrees in electrical engineering before doing post-doctoral research at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

With the blizzard of data generated in the digital age, a scientific approach to sports betting is becoming increasingly necessary, Dmochowski said.

That might be beyond the more recreational bettor, however.

“Nothing in this is easy,” said Dmochowski. “It all requires labor. It all requires research and historical analysis.”

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