When states across the US started legalising sports gambling in 2018, Jimmy, a New York-based sportsbettor in his 30s, was ready.
Jimmy and his cousin already made money betting on daily fantasy-sports leagues, relying in part on an algorithm they developed that helped them turn mountains of data into predictions, he said. They decided to jump in with a whole new world of sports betting at their fingertips.
Since January 2022, Jimmy and his cousin have bet nearly $1 million through FanDuel and netted roughly $35,000 in winnings, according to a document viewed by Business Insider. Jimmy said FanDuel is one of several betting platforms he and his cousin use, and they each make over six figures a year as sports bettors.
While Jimmy hasn’t spent most of his winnings, he said they’ve significantly impacted his finances.
“The cushion it gives you, the sense of security, and the potential for where this money can put my family and my cousin’s family in 10 years — it’s great for your mental health,” Jimmy, whose identity is known to BI but spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear of professional repercussions, said.
In recent years, the widespread legalisation of sports betting has led many people to get in on the action: 20% of surveyed Americans wagered on sports over the past 12 months, according to an American Gaming Association survey of over 2,000 US adults conducted last August. Sports betting is now legal in 38 states, up from only eight in 2019.
Young people, in particular, have taken to sports gambling. An NCAA survey of over 3,500 US-based 18-to-22-year-olds conducted last April found that 58% of survey respondents had participated in at least one sports-betting activity.
For many individuals, sports betting provides harmless entertainment. But, for some, gambling can develop into an addiction that can result in the loss of substantial sums of money.
Of the respondents in the NCAA survey, 16% of those who’d bet on sports said they’d engaged in at least one “risky” gambling behaviour, which the survey defined as betting a few times a week or daily, betting $50 or more on a typical wager, or losing over $500 in a single day.
Jimmy shared his top advice for new sports bettors, including what traps to avoid with BI.
1. Don’t bet more than you’re willing to lose.
Jimmy said establishing a bankroll and unit size are important steps for new bettors.
The bankroll is how much money someone plans to bet over a specified period, whether it be a day, a week, or a month. The unit size is the percent of the bankroll—Jimmy said ideally it’s 1%—that gamblers dedicate to the typical bet.
It’s crucial to make sure one’s bankroll isn’t too high, Jimmy said.
“Whatever your bankroll is, it should be in your mind that you may lose it,” Jimmy said. “You shouldn’t bet what you can’t afford. So if you’re betting with your house or your car payment or your kids’ college fund, you already lost.”
2. Don’t just bet on the most popular sports and games.
While betting on big games such as the Super Bowl might be fun, Jimmy said these games are often less profitable.
That’s because as a game receives more wagers, the sportsbooks have more data to make the odds as accurate as possible.
“The more people that bet in a sportsbook, they’re taking that information and turning it into their algorithm and that’s how they create the market price,” Jimmy said.
And given high-profile games tend to have the most money on the line for sportsbooks, Jimmy said they tend to dedicate more of their resources to getting their betting odds right.
This is why Jimmy recommends new bettors focus more on sports and bets that receive less attention. He said that rather than betting on the NBA, look at the WNBA. And rather than simply betting on who will win a game, he said it’s better to dig into prop bets, which allow bettors to wager on a wide range of outcomes, such as whether a player will get more or less than 10.5 rebounds.
“The more of a rare market that you go in, the more potential profit you can find,” he said. “Because fewer people are betting, and that’s where these sportsbooks get their information from.”
Jimmy said strategies such as these have helped him and his cousin hit roughly 60% of their bets — he said the average professional bettor has a win percentage of about 55%.
3. Avoid parlays.
Jimmy said he sees a lot of new gamblers wager on parlays — combinations of individual bets that only pay out if each individual bet is successful. Given the long odds, these bets can be very profitable when they hit, but Jimmy said they tend to be a bad investment.
“They’re trying to bet five-, six-leg parlays to win $50,000 because that’s what you see on TikTok and Instagram,” he said of new gamblers. “The better way to make money is actually the opposite, where you do strictly individual bets.”
4. Don’t mistake early success for expertise.
Some bettors get off to hot starts when they begin gambling, but Jimmy said these people shouldn’t get too confident.
That’s because some bettors just get lucky. If they start increasing their bet amounts before they have a proven strategy, this could come back to bite them.
“For somebody who does five bets a day, it may take them a month to really have enough data of bets to see how they really did,” he said. “Don’t judge something based on one day.”
Jimmy said he makes as many as 700 bets a week, which provides him a solid sample size by the end of the month — but he doesn’t recommend new bettors gamble this frequently.
5. Don’t chase your losses.
When a hot streak turns cold, Jimmy said it’s important for bettors not to increase the size and frequency of their bets to make up for the money they lost.
“You have to have the self-control to not chase your losses,” he said. “When you’re losing, that’s the time you should actually lower your bankroll.”
6. Don’t value winning over your mental health.
Jimmy has seen some people struggle with sports-betting addiction, something he said can “ruin families and lives.”
“Here’s a product that we know is addictive,” Timothy Fong, a codirector of the UCLA Gambling Studies Program, previously told BI regarding sports betting. “Here’s an American appetite for that product. And then you combine the forces of a very powerful and effective industry combined with technology. This is where potentially it could go really bad.”
Online sportsbooks such as FanDuel and DraftKings make responsible-gaming resources and tools, including information on where they could seek help in their state, available. Many platforms allow bettors to place restrictions on their deposits, wages, and time spent on the platform.
Jimmy said one way he manages the mental toll of gambling is by not looking at the outcomes of his bets until the following day.
“I’ll go to sleep, I’ll wake up, I’ll have my coffee, then I won’t look at them until 9 a.m.,” he said. “If I look at it before I go to bed, I can’t sleep.”
7. Don’t quit your day job.
While new bettors can make money, Jimmy said most people lack the necessary expertise and discipline to turn it into a living.
Jimmy said he and his cousin both have part-time jobs despite his success with sports betting. While they do this largely for medical benefits, Jimmy said he’s also aware there’s no guarantee his gambling success will last forever.
“Until we have enough money in the bank that we can maybe get some property and have some kind of retirement plan, we’ll probably keep our day jobs,” he said.