How To Build A Sports Betting Bankroll

How To Build A Sports Betting Bankroll

Jack Andrews
The Process
March 6, 2024

The video requests I get most frequently are all bankroll related. How to build a sports betting bankroll, how much bankroll do I need, how much should I be betting? Well get ready, because I’m going to answer all of them.

Hi, I’m Jack from Unabated. I’ve been a professional gambler for over 20 years. In that time I’ve extracted millions from casinos and now sportsbooks. However, everyone starts out somewhere and for me, it was trying to count cards in Atlantic City in the late ’90s. I had just enough knowledge to be dangerous. Not to the casino’s bottom line, but to myself. 

I would save up a few hundred dollars and go take my shot at the six-deck games at  the AC Hilton. I was under-bankrolled and lacked enough discipline to realize it. Most of those trips ended with a dejected drive back home. The few times I won some money, those funds were quickly spent elsewhere. Just a couple years later, I was fortunate enough to build a sizable bankroll with internet casinos of the day, and I was off to the races. But more on that later.


Why Do You Need a Sports Betting Bankroll?

Let’s start with the basics, what is a bankroll and why do you need it? A bankroll is a cushion. It protects you against the natural swings and streaks of gambling. The less you feel the harsh edges of variance, the better off you’ll be. It’s also your nest egg. The pile of money you’re sitting on and nurturing into something greater that you can rely upon some day.

A bankroll is also a way to disassociate yourself from the money. If you’re betting a very small percentage of your bankroll it won’t feel like a lot of money to you.

In 1998, the New York Times called Bill Gates a low-roller because he was spotted playing $100 per hand blackjack at the Bellagio in Las Vegas shortly after they opened. To Bill Gates, that’s a trivial amount, but to me in 1998 when I was first starting, betting $100 would cause a lump in my throat. As my bankroll grew, that $100 dollars felt smaller and smaller.

That gets to another important point: you have your monetary bankroll, but you also have your emotional bankroll. You can build up a formative bankroll of money, but if you lack the emotional bankroll, you never really had the money to bet with. 

Stanford Wong once wrote that your bankroll is how much you’d be willing to lose before you’re out of the gambling business. Let’s say I size my bets for a $50,000 bankroll. However, if a $10,000 downswing would cause me to sour on the whole concept of betting with an edge, then my bankroll is really $10,000. Be sure your emotional bankroll matches your monetary bankroll. 

We’re going to figure out your bankroll and your bet size in a little bit here, but be thinking to yourself, at what point does your bet size become uncomfortable? This may be a mental hurdle you overcome gradually. As a result, having a large bankroll to start might not be the best path for you.


What a Bankroll Isn’t

Now that we’ve established what a bankroll is, let’s address what a bankroll isn’t, or specifically what sports betting bankroll management isn’t.

There are a lot of people who believe that the key to winning is how you size your bets or manage your sports betting bankroll. The internet is full of various systems of betting “this” and if it loses doubling up on “that.” And if that loses, quadrupling up on a subsequent game because they never lose three in a row. Just forget all that. 

The first thing you need is an edge. We’ve built Unabated to help bettors identify edges in the sports betting market. Everything I’m going to say from here on out is predicated on you having an edge in your betting. We have plenty of tools to identify edges in a variety of markets. You bring your willingness to work and we help you bet smarter.

Now, how you size your bets and how many “units” you wager won’t be the key to your success, but it could play a role in why you’d fail. Bankroll management isn’t a super secret formula to winning. It’s just a process you follow to make sure you’re not overbetting relative to your bankroll. I’ve talked about this concept before in our video on the step-by-step process of winning at sports betting


How to Choose a Bet Size

However, the choice comes down to whether you want to size your bets relative to the edge you have or choose a flat stake to bet with. The first method I mentioned is referred to as Kelly staking, named after John Kelly. It’s probably the best method for optimal sports betting bankroll growth. The downside is that it assumes you can correctly quantify your edge.

Of course, in sports betting, there’s a lot of variance involved in game outcome, so knowing your exact edge can be problematic sometimes. To get around this, most bettors use a fractional approach. Betting just a half or a quarter of the full Kelly stake.

The other method, flat staking, is as it sounds. You bet just a flat percentage of your bankroll with each bet, no matter your edge. This approach tends to work better for those who might be unsure of their edge. Typically 1 percent  is the norm.

It may lead to underbetting your bankroll, but the penalty for underbetting when you have an edge is just slower bankroll growth. Meanwhile the penalty for overbetting is higher risk of ruin. Which as the name implies is bad.


On Taking Money from You Sports Betting Bankroll

Before we get into how much money you’ll need to effectively win at sports betting, let me restate one the key maxims of advantage gambling. The best thing that you can buy with your winnings is a bigger bankroll. If you’re not pumping your winnings back into building a bankroll, you’re tossing away the compounding benefits of this entire pursuit.

As your skill grows and as your awareness increases you’ll want to be betting more. Having a bigger bankroll to do so creates a money multiplier effect. But you won’t reach that level if you’re constantly spending all your winnings. If you must draw out profits from your betting, I’d advise doing so after you’ve let them compound in your betting for a while.


How to Calculate Your Sports Betting Bankroll

So how much money do you need to get started in your betting career? The answer to that is a bit of an algebra formula where we fill in the variables you know and then solve for Y. We need to know how much you desire to make from betting on sports with an edge? How many bets with an edge you’ll be making? And what kind of edge you expect to get?

It’s all about the bankroll churn. If you’ve got a 4 percent edge on average, then each time your different wagers add up to your entire bankroll you can expect to have made a profit equal to about 4 percent of your bankroll. If you’re betting 1 percent of your bankroll on each bet, that’ll take 100 bets.

How long will it take you to make 100 bets with an edge in sports betting? If you can identify 10 bets a day where you have an edge, then every 10 days you’ll have churned through your bankroll one time. 

If we’re always buying a bigger bankroll with our winnings we’ll be compounding those results. We can use the Rule of 72 and divide 72 by our edge to determine how many bankroll churns it’ll take to double our bankroll.

In this case, it’s 18. So now we know it’ll take 10 days times 18 churns to double our bankroll. That works out to roughly 180 days, or half a year.


Do You Know Your Edge?

Of course, this again assumes we know our exact edge, which in sports betting is a bit more difficult, so your exact growth trajectory may be different than what the expected growth is. Just like we do with Kelly betting, it may be wise to take a fraction of these projections to actually bank on. 

You can do these calculations for yourself. Start with what your edge is, how many bets you can find in a day, then how many bets you’d need to make to have churned your bankroll one time. If you’re compounding you can divide 72 by your edge to determine how many bankroll churns it’ll take to double your bankroll. Then, if you’d like, you can adjust for uncertainty by doubling the projected time it’ll take.


Save up for a Bankroll, or Build from Scratch?

Everything so far has assumed you already have an edge or that you already have a starting sports betting bankroll. But how do you actually build that starting bankroll?

For some of you, you may have money saved or set aside from other ventures. Maybe you’re a casino card counter who has stumbled across these videos and you’re looking to get into sports betting. Maybe you’ve been betting stocks and want to try your hand at sports betting. If you’re starting with an amount less than $10,000 there’s a method of bankroll growth that will work well. I call it picking the low hanging fruit.

I’ve used the example before where sports betting is like a money tree. You’d be smart to grab the money hanging off of low branches if it’s there rather than struggling for money higher that’s out of reach.

For quite a few years when regulated sports betting started, there were very generous sign up offers for new bettors. You could easily profit $500 dollars or more per sportsbook with very little risk. With some states having upwards of 20 sportsbook brands, it made for quick bankroll building. A lot of those days have unfortunately passed us by.

However, sportsbooks still offer frequent bonuses and promotions. Not all of these promos have a high advantage to the players, but they do often offer a positive expectation to the bettor with low risk. A good way to grow your bankroll is to take advantage of all of these that you can determine give you an edge. At Unabated, we have a lively Discord server where members frequently post good promos they’ve seen. 


The Decline of Bonuses

Remember when I said I built my sports betting bankroll using internet casinos in the early 2000s? Well that was a lot promo and bonus hunting. Conditions were ripe back then with offshore casinos and rampant bonuses. It was a gold rush. I was able to build a six-figure bankroll within a couple years and I’ve never looked back.

The problem for those of you coming in with a pre-existing bankroll over $10,000 dollars is that many of the daily sportsbook promotions these days are capped at $25 or $50. They can still be useful for padding your bankroll, but that $5 to $10 of EV is less impactful to you. 


Look to Player Props

Beyond promotions and bonuses, there are bet types that are considered low hanging fruit. Namely player props. Player props are a less efficient market and it’s easier to find an edge either based on your own analysis or someone else’s projections. Not all player props are the same.

We’ve talked before about staying away from one-way prop markets where you can only bet on one side. And I’ve mentioned before how same game parlays are often a poorly priced proposition for bettors. However, if you’re willing to put in a little work, analysis, and line shopping, player props can be a cornerstone that’s viable for the small to medium sized bankroll to build upon.

We have a tier at Unabated just focused on things that a player prop bettor would be interested in. It’s a great way to get a leg up betting props.

Both of these approaches have decreasing viability as your bankroll increases. Sportsbooks know they are low-hanging fruit and they take measures to curtail people from just feeding at these levels. As I mentioned promotions are typically capped. Meanwhile a bettor who just focuses on props may eventually find their account limited as they become an unprofitable customer for the sportsbook.

Another thing to keep in mind if you’re starting out with an extremely small bankroll. There’s a good chance this may not be worth your time. If you’re betting small edges with a small bankroll, your expected bankroll growth is in the tens of dollars a day. You might be better off getting another side hustle like driving for Uber or picking up a part-time shift somewhere. Then save that money to explore betting.


The Pros and Cons of Starting Small

This is something that doesn’t get addressed enough, there are definite pros and cons to starting small and working your way up. 

On one hand, you can learn from your mistakes with a very low cost. 

On the other hand, there’s an increased chance of burning out accounts and getting limited well before you are betting meaningful amounts.

One benefit is that when you start small you’ll find it so much easier to find impactful value opportunities in the form of that low-hanging fruit.

But a disadvantage to that would be that you’ll be working very long hours finding all that stuff and your hourly wage could be less than a minimum wage job.

Another pro might be that when you start small, you’re always well within your emotional bankroll

But the con would be that it’s just not worth your time and you might lose interest before you start to see the real monetary gains that betting can bring.

You’ll need to weigh the pros and cons to decide for yourself if it’s worth it to you. To many of you, the idea of just being able to beat the house is enticing enough that you’re willing to put in the hard work and the grind to make it happen. 

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