As the sports betting industry continues to grow, so to do the dreams of new gamblers. While many are content to earn some extra spending cash or to simply enjoy the games which they have action on, there are also plenty of dreamers out there who fall into another group.
For those who aspire to make a proverbial killing at the sportsbooks, the dream is to essentially become what is known as a sharp sports bettor. Those who reach that level are the guys and gals who have achieved profitability over a sustained period of time by beating the lines consistently.
At the top tier of sharp bettors are those who can actually move the lines based on their wagers and the amount of money they place. Naturally, it takes a ton of work to get to this level, not to mention a massive bankroll.
While those two obstacles are tough enough to overcome themselves, sharp bettors can find difficulty staying at that level. We’re not just talking about staying on top of their game either.
Do Some Sportsbooks Really Ban Sharp Bettors?
Yes, some sportsbooks do ban or severely limit sharp bettors.
For years, there has been chatter across the gambling community about certain books which actually refuse to take action from sharp players. As sports betting continues to go mainstream, discussion on the topic has only increased.
A report from ABC News took a look at the topic in depth last year. Earlier this year, a panel discussion at the Sloan Analytics Conference at Sloan was devoted to discussing the issue. Just a few weeks ago, The Ringer put together an excellent piece which looked at the difficulties sharp bettors can have in simply placing wagers due to their success.
While fingers have been pointed at a number of different books from time to time, a common theme is developing. Many have named William Hill as one of the biggest culprits. Some have gone so far as to warn that the rise of the UK bookmaker and its European counterparts here in the United States will have unforeseen consequences.
The Bookmaker Responds
In response to the claims laid out in the article for The Ringer, William Hill shared the following statement.
“It is completely false to say that we ban people simply for winning. There are literally tens of thousands of customers in Nevada that are winners at William Hill. That’s one of the great things about sports betting—a lot of customers do win.
“In the rare situation where we do prohibit someone from wagering with us, there are a variety of reasons why. They include the sharing of accounts (usually tied to someone who previously has been banned), betting on behalf of third parties, screen scraping and other efforts to “game” the system, as well as compliance reasons or being offensive to staff and/or other customers.
“If someone tells you that the reason that they are prohibited from wagering with William Hill is because they are winning, they are not telling you the whole story.”
Naturally, many critics have taken that response with a grain of salt. The other side of the coin says that there may be other legitimate reasons why some aggrieved bettors have been encouraged to take their business elsewhere. William Hill has taken the time to lay out some of those reasons in its statement.
As with all disputes, there are always two sides to the story. The middle ground may not be the absolute truth, while both sides may have valid points that help to paint a complete picture. We can’t say for certain who is right or who is wrong in this situation, but we can all take a step back and appreciate both perspectives before making a call on which way the wind blows.
Not All Sportsbooks Operate in the Exact Same Fashion
In a competitive industry such as online sports betting, no two sportsbook operators are exactly alike. All have their strengths and weaknesses. Some bring more to the table than others in certain areas, while others excel in areas in which their competitors do not.
That’s the nature of the beast, and it also applies in the various approaches to dealing with sharp sports bettors. It would be irresponsible to suggest that all books will boot players that find success.
Quite simply, that would be a false statement. In fact, there are a number of books which claim to be fans of sharp action.
Here’s what another sportsbook operator had to say on the topic.
“It sounds somewhat counterintuitive, but sharp customers are actually providing valuable information that feeds back into our pricing model to tighten our odds.”
Joe Lupo, president of the Hard Rock in Atlantic City, shared similar sentiments.
“We actually welcome the sharp bettors,” Lupo said. “I believe if you hang a line anyone should be able to bet it.”
Not to be outdone, PointsBet.com CEO Johnny Aitken notes that there’s valuable information to glean by taking sharp action.
“We’re not naive enough to think every time we put up a price it’s 100 percent correct, and we very much respect the sharp bettor’s information,” said Aitken. “We more often than not maybe change our price to respect that money.”
The books that are most likely to ban customers are those that do minimal price discovery and instead base their lines off the market makers (first books to post the lines). These are the recreational books that use advertising and big bonuses to lure in new customers. The effort and financial resources at recreational books are geared towards attracting and keeping recreational customers rather than managing throngs of highly-skilled sharps.
The market makers are the least likely to ban skilled bettors because a) those customers aid in price discovery and b) a policy of accepting any and all customers is free marketing. Words gets around. Lower betting limits may be enforced the first day a new line is posted, but generally market makers accept action from just about anyone. These books spend less on advertising and more on dealing with sharp customers.
What Should Sports Bettors Do?
This is a tricky issue which will gain more attention as the sports betting industry continues to grow. For now, the discussion mainly centers on the claims from some sharp bettors which have been made against certain bookmakers.
But what happens if the issue becomes even more widespread and some of the doom and gloom scenarios come to pass? A group known as SportsFans.org has taken the time to put together a “bill of rights” for players.
Among the five basic rights they seek are the right to integrity and transparency, and the right to recourse. There’s a petition available to signed for enactment of the rights, with the ultimate goal appearing to be becoming an advocacy group for sports bettors.
It’s safe to assume that similar initiatives are in the works or will appear before too long as the industry continues to grow. While a bill of rights could certainly be beneficial for sports bettors, there are also steps they can take themselves.
Users can always shop around to find the best fit for their sports betting needs. If you’re unhappy with the service you are receiving or come across some other issue, there are plenty of other books out there that will be happy to take a crack at earning your business.
Along those lines, stay in tune with the industry and developments. If something either doesn’t sound right or seems too good to be true, investigate it for yourself. Staying informed is often the best defense when it comes to making the best possible decisions.
Side note: If you have any interest in improving or even just being a frequent casual bettor, you should strongly consider buying The Logic of Sports Betting by Ed Miller and Matthew Davidow. The book is fairly new (published May 2019) and addresses the concepts discussed above in great detail. The book will almost certainly pay for itself many times over even if you don’t end up taking sports betting super seriously.
If there are sportsbooks out there which legitimately discourage or ban winning players, that will become common knowledge before too long. As always, customers will have the right to respond by taking their business elsewhere.
If enough folks do just that, we would imagine perspectives may change on the value of sharp betting action.