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Posted: 2005/08/06 by: Charles.
That misguided but seemingly irreproachable sports betting mantra has been repeated so often, it has become a major league cliché. But unlike most clichés, this one is grounded in fanciful flawed presumptuousness rather than in reality.

Aided by the off shore gaming phenomenon, wagering on sports has become a national obsession, particularly during football, and now extending into the college basketball season.

The intensity of trying to pick winners has reached epic proportions. We are bombarded with pitches from touts who claim amazing winning records, and who, for the cost of just a few pence, and out of the goodness of their hearts, will share their priceless information with us. Aiding and abetting this commercialism is the pressure today?s society brings to bear as ?losers? are sneered at and looked down upon with scorn. Against this backdrop, a bettor who wishes to place a few quid on his alma mater, which has a hapless record straight up and against the spread, is made to feel like a fool for such an indulgence. 

Enough already. The emphasis on winning a bet has gotten out of hand. Have we become so competitive and such bottom line worshippers, that the simple pleasure of backing a favorite team despite its slim chance of winning our bet puts a dunce cap on our heads? Mind you, we?re not advocating a steady diet of foolhardy or sucker plays. But we are suggesting that the highly disciplined approach to betting that a professional brings to the table is not a reasonable working model for most of us. We who do not pay our rent/mortgage with profits from betting action need to observe a different set of criteria, ones that reflect a more realistic attitude about where gambling fits in our lifestyle.

Betting on sports is fun? yes, we concede that winning is more fun than losing ? but the experience is just as important as the result. Believe it or not, for the vast majority of bettors who have a life, the penalties for losing are generally not catastrophic. For some reason, basketball brings out tendencies in bettors to back a team close to their heart. Jimmy Vaccaro, who ran race and sports book operations for the Mirage Hotel & Casino back in the ?80s and early ?90s, once observed that ?squares love to bet on baskets, especially their alma mater or home town team.?

He said it without malice or trying to put anyone down. Betting and watching a game has entertainment value, and assuming the amount wagered is consistent with a person?s finances, the cost of losing should be no more burdensome than buying another stamp for your collection, or adding a ski jacket to your wardrobe. Somewhere along the line, the wrong stuff has influenced bettors. Don?t feel guilty if the joy of your team winning supersedes the joy of winning money. A few years ago, during the height of March Madness, I was at the Stardust sports book.

A contingent of fans from Minnesota were there rooting on the heavily underdog Gophers. Only a few had bets on the game, and these were of the petty cash variety. When their team won on a last second basket, the group spontaneously erupted into an a cappella rendition of the Golden Gophers fight song. The wizened, jaded crowd throughout the book looked up in stunned silence. Jaws dropped as the denizens who frequent the ?Dust on a regular basis just sat and listened. Then, amazingly, at the conclusion of the song, the rest of the book?s patrons spontaneously broke into loud applause.

Even those who lost betting against Minnesota took part. So for all those who bet on alma maters with no chance, here are a few thoughts that should bring some comfort. * The best causes are lost causes. * Man?s reach should always exceed his grasp. *Don?t feel guilty betting with your heart instead of your head. There are no guarantees either way. * * * * * Even casual basketball bettors can improve their chances of winning by becoming more effective handicappers. This does not mean devoting long hours crunching numbers, or painstakingly creating and updating your own power ratings. It means realizing that the season is long, and teams are subject to cycles in which they can be terrific as well as mediocre. A variety of factors come into play such as injuries, academic ineligibles, transfers, or a personal crisis for a key player. These are just some of the mitigating factors that affect team performance. Winning bettors know what to look for.

The small extra effort they make is not labor intensive and the payoff is worth it .The following contains five relatively easy handicapping approaches designed to help recreational players reduce the house edge. * Look for team chemistry. You can see it when you watch a game. Does a team routinely execute the give-and-go or the ally-oop? Does a player come back to help the man inbounding the ball when he gets pressure? Talent alone does not translate into a winning record. Most successful squads have at least one player who sacrifices his game for the good of the team. Zero in on a few squads that have this chemistry, and start cashing some tickets. * Intensity in playing defense. Great teams all have a common denominator, the ability to play defense. Offense sometimes doesn?t travel well, but defense does.

You can easily spot these teams. When you watch a game on TV or in person, pay attention to a team trying to shut down a high scoring player. Do they stop him without giving up easy points to the rest of the squad? Can they play defense without committing fouls. The answers to these questions can be found in a quick scan of box scores. Most importantly, defense can pull out a win when shooters take a night off. * Tough non-conference schedule. Unlike football with its 11- or 12-game season, basketball teams play a grueling schedule climaxing with a conference slate as the season comes to a close. Winners are battle-tested and possess the stamina to compete and prevail.

The best teams toughen up by playing a formidable non-conference schedule. Playing on the road, dealing with hostile fans and other distractions give a team the seasoning needed to shine during the conference schedule, playoffs, and ideally the NCAA Tournament. * Great coaching. Today?s successful coaches are a well-known group. They represent top programs whose players trust them and believe in their ability to lead their team to greatness. You?ll find them at Duke, North Carolina, UNLV, Arizona, Michigan, to name a few. The best way to track coaches whose teams offer preferred betting options is to monitor their ATS (against the spread) records. Top coaches consistently do better than expected.

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