It’s been an amazing few days at the Euros, so I thought I’d circle back around and finish my thoughts on football betting. Previously I took a merry sledgehammer to accumulators, so I’ll pick up where I left off with some overdue balance.
Overall, I stand by my previous assassination, because most people state their primary motivation for gambling is to win money, and from the perspective of profitability, accumulators are a disaster. Showing a long-term profit is hard in any form of betting, but almost impossible when you are betting only multipliers.
But the main message I’m trying to get across with this blog, is that gambling should be about entertainment (utility), whilst minimising harm, and from that standpoint accumulators are not all that bad. Psychology says so.
I’ve talked a lot about loss aversion here without scratching the surface of it too deeply. The hard-wired human need to preserve our assets (e.g. cash, belongings, relationships) is very pervasive, but there are conditions under which it goes missing like a German defence in the last 15 minutes of a knockout game.
For example, in my MSc research, the participants showed no hesitancy over gambling away their reward money, because they never considered it to be their own. Similarly, loss aversion is bypassed is when the amounts involved are small. People are less likely to suffer regret if they’re not materially impacted by the loss.
With accumulators, people are generally betting inconsequential sums to win an amount that is personally meaningful. The psychological downside is therefore minimal. Conversely, the financial upside is big enough to justify some what-would-I-spend-my-winnings-on happy daydreaming, so you get some ante-post entertainment value out of the bet.
You can extend the limitations of loss aversion to any winnings. It’s easier to spend £500 of profit on something frivolous than it is to spend money that you can quantify in the number of hours it took you to earn. The same £500 is more fun when it’s won. That’s why Vegas casinos are surrounded by steakhouses and jewellers, and not savings banks.
You could also argue that betting on unlikely outcomes makes it much sweeter when the results finally fall your way. A win feels more special when you’ve had to endure a run of defeats. I feel certain that my hangover today would not be as bad if England had a long and boring track record of beating the Germans. Rare wins are worthy of special celebrations.
Okay, that’s it, the full case for accas. And superficially it’s pretty good. But when you consider there were two single results this week that were 90-1 or longer (the two 3-3 draws), then piling up bets to get long odds looks like a very laborious way to skin a cat. Both of those results were clearly unlikely, but neither were inconceivable (like Germany 7 – Brazil 1 at the 2014 World Cup). Four people clearly agreed, because they had money on both of those results.
What I really like about betting on a 3-3 draw is that your bet is rarely dead. Only when one of the teams scores their fourth goal of the game is your money prematurely lost. In the meantime, you get to cheer for every ball that hits the back of the net. You get lot of in-play utility that accumulators don’t offer.
That in-play utility is my guiding principle when I make a sports bet. I want the feeling of possible victory to last as long as possible, because I believe that’s where most of the entertainment value of betting comes from.
If I ever pull the trigger on a psychology PhD, then that’s what I would like to investigate. At the moment though, with the exception of some research into the role of suspense in gambling, it is not widely known or understood.
However, when you think about the annual Grand National lasagnefest, you probably have happier memories of the races when your horse stayed in the running for longer. Even if you ultimately lost your bet, having something to cheer for longer greatly improved the experience. Losing doesn’t feel the same in all cases, and the longer you haven’t lost the better.
For that reason, in football markets, I prefer to bet a winning margin result rather than an exact score. If you’ve bet England to beat Ukraine by a goal (currently ~ 5/2) then there’s a good chance that bet is going to be live for the whole game and you’ll get maximum in-play entertainment value.
I like any time goalscorer bets for the same reason. Pick a player that’s likely to be on the pitch for the whole game and get excited whenever they’re within 30 yards of the goal. Centre-halves are fun for this because they’re usually not subbed and you’ll normally get a good price. That makes corners much more exciting.
Arguably betting on a player to get a yellow card offers the same experience, but I don’t like it on humanistic grounds. I think it’s a better and more coherent experience to cheer for things that you should be cheering, and a nasty or cynical foul doesn’t fit in that category. I realise there is little correlation between a footballer writhing in agony and an actual injury, but it’s still not a good look to be fist-pump celebrating a dirty studs-up lunge.
My final football betting suggestion is a format of my own design. Or maybe it was a co-creation. It was invented at the pub so the origin story is fuzzy. For this one, you’ll need a friend to bet against. That’s good because it ticks two of my good-gambling checkboxes. Firstly, it’s sociable, and secondly, the gambling industry doesn’t get any of your money.
All you have to do is set the stakes-per-goal and decide who gets ‘odds’ and who gets ‘evens’. For every goal scored, the prize pool increases by the agreed amount. If the game finishes with an odd number of goals, then the winner is the player who got ‘odds’.
For example, we play for £2 a goal; I’m evens and you’re odds. When the first goal goes in, you’re £2 up. When the second is scored it flips to me for £4. The third sends it back to you for £6. You only settle up at the end when the final whistle blows. Constant escalating jeopardy can make even a dreary game palatable. Hopefully I’ll find a taker for England Vs Ukraine this Saturday.
I had a few bets on the go for England Vs Germany, mostly to hedge my over-investment in Deutschland from the Calcutta. None of my goalscorers came good, but I got the correct score and finished about £40 up. That doesn’t begin to offset my losses for Germany’s early exit, but I’m still delighted with the result.
Thankfully I still have several interests thanks to Switzerland beating France, and Spain clawing out a win against Croatia. I also have England in a £10 sweepstake, but I dare not count that chicken until it’s hatched.