How Do Sharps Win At Sports Betting?

How Do Sharps Win At Sports Betting?

Jack Andrews
The Process
February 28, 2024


It’s a common misconception that the way you beat sports betting is to merely pick more winners than losers. What if I told you that most sharp sports bettors don’t work that way? Furthermore, I’ll tell you exactly how most sharp bettors do it using a method called top-down betting – and how you can potentially do the same.

I’ve been a professional gambler for over 20 years. Along the way I’ve earned a living beating casinos at table games, machines, promotions, and for the past decade I’ve focused on sports betting. Why sports betting? Because I believe it has the biggest potential upside of anything I’ve encountered in my years of gambling.


It’s Not (Just) About Picking Winners

To the general public, all winning sports bettors are alike. They have some mysterious computer program or crystal ball that helps them pick winners. That’s all they do. They just pick winners. Non-stop. Everyday. 

However, sports betting doesn’t quite work that way. There is not just one path to profiting at sports betting. In fact, sports betting is similar to financial markets. As you’re probably aware, there are many different ways to “bet” in financial markets.

You could buy and sell stocks, but you could also trade options or commodity futures, currency exchanges, or hunt for arbitrage situations. You can buy and hold or you can day trade. You can take positions on a team of stocks in an industry you believe will increase in time. So it makes sense that in sports betting you’d have many different approaches as well. 


Very Few Are Sharper Than the Market

Now some sharp bettors do win by merely picking winners, but it is actually a very slim minority. It’s also probably the most difficult approach to winning at sports betting these days. We call these guys “originators.”

Originators have their models or their sources of information and they just work with that. Originators are handicappers, whether it be sides, totals, or other markets. They often have an early opinion and work to find the optimal time to wager. 

There is a lot of work behind the scenes to be good enough to originate on a sport. And don’t expect to originate in more than one sport at a time. It requires an in-depth knowledge that takes astute focus. If you know someone who wins at sports betting and you’re not sure exactly what they do you probably think they’re an originator. 

However, more likely, they’re not an originator, they’re a top-down bettor.


Then There’s the Rest of the Us

A top-down bettor is someone who grinds out a profit in a less than glamorous way. What a top-down bettor does is look for a source of truth as to what the line and price should be and then filters down to see if there are any pricing inefficiencies in the market. Maybe all the sportsbooks have moved to -2.5 on a team, but you find the one sportsbook still dealing -1. Having to only lay -1 when everyone else is having to lay -2.5 points gives you a theoretical edge. Top-down bettors can spend all day looking for those situations. 

Sports betting has a vast surface area and you’d be surprised how many little edges pop up over the course of a day. A top-down bettor keeps their eye on as many different sports and utilizes as many different sportsbooks as they can.

The advantage of betting sports this way is it requires far less actual sports knowledge. One of the excuses I often hear as to why someone doesn’t bet sports is that they’re just not a big enough fan of that sport to bet on it. Trust me, being some kind of superfan can actually be a detriment to sports betting. You often need to be unbiased and bet purely based on numbers, not on narratives or your own fandom. 

Some of the sharpest sports bettors I know couldn’t name more than a handful of players in a given sport. They’re successful as sports bettors because they’re unemotional. Identifying a positive situation and then betting their edge. There are the same parallels in the stock market right? You have that friend that loves all things Apple, and they support Apple and buy Apple stock. Then you have someone who trades based on fundamentals and when they feel like Apple is undervalued, they buy. And when Apple is overbought, they sell. It’s just savvy investing to them.


How Do You Win Betting Top-Down?

But how do these winning sports bettors, these top-down bettors, actually do it? First they identify which sportsbooks lead the market when lines move. These sportsbooks are generally referred to as market makers. A market maker typically accepts higher limits and sharper action because they can shape their lines with that information. I talked about books like these in my earlier video about how sportsbooks limit winning bettors.

By watching what a sharp market maker does, they can bet a line before it moves at another, potentially slower, book. Of course, many of those slower books are also the same types of books that limit bettors. So it’s not easy. A top-down bettor has to continually adapt to changing climates.

Watching many lines at many different sportsbooks at once can be impossible. So most top-down bettors employ an odds screen. This screen, like the one we have at Unabated, allows them to monitor real-time lines at dozens of sportsbooks at once. The best odds screens even alert the bettor to where edges are and when lines are moving. Using tools like these, a bettor can identify good bets, quantify just how good they are, and then quickly swoop in and bet them.

Again, I go back to something I’ve mentioned before. There’s the Science of Sports Betting and the Art of Sports Betting. That’s no different here. While an odds screen may make top-down betting look very scientific, there’s still a lot of art to it as well.

You need to know why lines are moving in order to have confidence that the line movement isn’t just natural variance. You need to know how much each line movement is worth. You need to know which sportsbooks will take your action and which ones get angry with bettors who attempt to bet this way. 

A top-down bettor often has a lot of knowledge about the mechanics of the market they’re betting into. They know when lines typically move and they know what influences the market. 

The downside of being a top-down bettor is that it can be very time-intensive. You can spend a lot of time monitoring an odds screen and looking for that movement to happen. A financial trader has only set hours where their market is open. However, with a sports bettor, it can be from early morning to late night. It’s also not a very glamorous way to beat sports betting since you’re not making any bold predictions you can boast to your friends about. You’re just getting a better price on something than everyone else got. And then you’re repeating that process time and time again until those little edges add up to big profits.


What’s the First Step to Top-Down Betting?

How can you get started being a top-down bettor? The single sharpest thing you can do as a sports bettor is shop for the best price whenever you want to make a bet. Have access to as many different sportsbook apps or websites that you possibly can and then always look for the best price. This isn’t exactly top-down betting, but it’s the cornerstone that top-down betting is based on. You want to get the best price.

After you’re comfortable doing that, you want to begin to identify your source of truth. It can be somewhat frustrating to learn that there’s not one universally sharp sportsbook source of truth out there. Different books are sharper on different sports. They employ different trading teams that have different strengths and weaknesses. We try to help people identify their source of truth over on Unabated. From there you can start to learn when markets move and why they move. It can be a grind, but top-down betting is definitely effective. 

When done right, it’s probably the best path to sustainable bankroll growth as a sports bettor. However, there are still other ways to get an edge betting sports.

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