I hadn’t heard of Billy Walters before I read this ESPN report last week. Billy has been a legend in the sports betting world on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. He is able to move betting odds and upset the whole betting market with his enormous bets, all from his home.
Why should we, as sports bettors, care in the first place? Here are two things you should learn from that report on ESPN.
1. How pro gamblers are moving the betting lines
You know me. I’m a big fan of odds movements. I have been since I traded sports odds at betting exchanges a decade ago! Although I rarely place a bet nowadays, I am always fascinated by big betting line declines.
Lately, I have been reconsidering my whole betting philosophy.
Until now, I believed that the betting market is efficient as we get closer to the kick off time. In other words, bookmakers start the ball rolling with their opening odds and then punters, gamblers, and smart money take over to push the line to true odds. Simply put, the market is inefficient on the open (as bookmakers’ odds reflect the expected betting volume on each side instead of their probability estimates) and efficient on the close.
While reports agree with this statement, late studies claim that the exact opposite might be the case! That is, late or closing odds may be inefficient compared to the opening ones.
Where does Billy Walters fit in market efficiency?
Here’s the juiciest paragraph of that long ESPN report:
Some of his bets were intentional losers, designed to manipulate the bookmakers’ odds. Walters might bet $50,000 on a team giving 3 points, then $75,000 more on the same team when the line reaches 3.5. The moment the line gets to 4, a runner is instructed to immediately place a larger bet — perhaps $250,000 — on the other team. The $125,000 on the initial lines will be lost, but if things go according to plan, the $250,000 on the other side will win enough to make up for it many times over.
What does that mean to the amateur bettor? Say, we bet on a coin flip. The opening line is 2.05 – 1.88 for heads or tails. Unless you like losing money, you are supposed to value bet on heads, given the chance of winning is 50%. Billy, on the other hand, would bet on tails, sacrificing a portion of his bankroll. Bookmakers would then change the line to something like 2.15 – 1.78 due to Billy’s bets.
Gamblers like myself would notice the line’s decline and convince themselves to follow the trend and bet on tails. That would further push the line to 2.25 – 1.70. Obviously, sports betting isn’t that easy as to avoid betting on shorter that even money odds on a coin flip!
Now, Billy would bet aggressively on heads, that now offers a gigantic edge! The new demand for betting on heads would reverse the trend and odds would go back to the opening line or even stop at true odds minus the vig (1.95 – 1.95).
As a result, the closing line does not offer any value to punters. In the meantime, bettors could value bet on heads, going against the trend. And that is how I’ve named my betting system based on this theory, well before I read the report on Billy Walters! Having read now that ESPN article, I am much more convinced that betting market isn’t as efficient as I first thought, after all.
You have to ask yourself: are bookmakers right when opening the betting line, or are punters right when moving that line?
Still, you can find betting lines that bookmakers are apparently wrong and Billy helps with that as well.
2. Sharp betting on unpopular or minor leagues
Have you watched the betting line of a Champions League football game? Or the line of the FA Cup final in England? Big, popular games seldom show a moving betting line. Odds charts are often a boring, straight line. That should give you a hint that the specific betting market is as efficient as it gets! It’s like a coin flip’s betting line opened at 1.95 – 1.95 and remained unchanged.
Billy suggests looking to unpopular or minor league games for betting opportunities. And that doesn’t come as a surprise. Sharp bettors often find their edge in league games, which are not in people’s radar.
Let’s read another part of that ESPN report:
One of Walters’ major advantages, Mastronardo says, is his focus on smaller college games, which don’t attract much action and thus often aren’t researched as deeply by bookmakers. “Where they used to make a lot of money was on what they used to consider write-in games, that small college game where I didn’t even know they had a line on it,” Mastronardo says. “You might have a 7-point favorite with two no-name teams and the underdog would win by 15. Billy’s art was to keep that game close to 7 and bet as much as you can without the world finding out about it.”
Because of the less action that games attract, Billy’s bets go unnoticed. Although I have hard time of believing that (try betting big on a unpopular game without moving the line or without bookmakers refusing to take your bet), it reveals where edge can be found in sports betting.
In short, avoid ultra-popular games where betting lines won’t offer value and information, reviews and reports are all over the place. Instead, go for that unattractive game of the smaller league. You’ll have a hard time finding a reliable report, but bookmakers would also have trouble pricing the market correctly.
Billy Walters rarely makes an appearance. Even the ESPN report doesn’t feature any of his own words! In 2011 though, BBC did manage to interview him.
Yet, I much prefer the latest report, due to the two lessons bettors can take from it and improve their skills.
Next time you bet, keep an eye on the betting line. You might spot Billy’s bets!