Most bettors have a pet theory for beating the house, such as "Bet only on underdogs at home," or "Bet against a team that has won two in a row but on a team that has won three in a row."
Gary Austin wins more than he loses because he doesn't try to substitute an easy system for hard work.
"When you've been in this business awhile, you learn never to say 'never' or 'always,' " he says. Nonetheless, at the risk of sounding contradictory, Austin does acknowledge that there are certain patterns and situations a bettor should take into account when handicapping.
Home and Away
"You must separate home and away performances. It's like handicapping two different teams. At one point this season, the L.A. Lakers were 16-9 against the spread at home but only 13-13 on the road. On the other hand, Milwaukee was 10-7 against the spread at home and 15-13 on the road. Often a team that has done poorly on the road is under-priced when it returns home, while a team that has done well at home is overpriced on the road. There's an opportunity for a good play in these situations."
Betting the Home Team
"Don't bet on a team just because you're rooting for it. Much as you might hate to do it, if you're a Yankee fan betting in New York, you should probably bet against them, because if the Vegas line is $1.60 to win $1, in New York you'd have to lay maybe $1.80 to win $1. In general, if you bet against the home team in the team's home city, you'll get the best of the line and probably end up a winner during the season."
Betting on a TV Game
"You're taking a shot in the dark when you bet a game just because you're going to watch it on television. If you have no opinion, pass. If you must bet, make it small, and don't double up on the second TV game to make up for losing the first. That's poor money management."
"You're clearly in a strong position when you pick up something early in a season that the linemakers have overlooked. For example, the University of Kentucky went from a very good football team in '77 to an average team in '78. Handicappers can jump on something like that real quick, while the guys making the line don't like to make gigantic early adjustments. You might be able to beat their brains out while they gradually bring their line in step with the trend."
"Big-name teams are nearly always overrated by a point or two because the novice will so often bet them just because of their name. UCLA is a good example in college basketball, and a startling example is Montreal in the NHL. The Canadiens have been a losing play against the spread at home for the past two years, and this year, if you can believe it, they're 9-14 at home against the spread and 7-17 on the road. In other words, the Canadiens lose two out of every three times against the spread because everybody thinks they are the greatest team in hockey, and the bookmakers always make the price on them too high."
"In this situation the bookmaker knows in advance where most of the money is going—namely on the team that must win to reach the playoffs. If you bet that team, you're obviously getting the worst of the line. So the play is not as good as many think."
"A team that wins one game has a strong tendency to win the next. Players get a more positive attitude and try harder. The opposite is true when a team is losing. You should respect streaks, especially in baseball and basketball, where teams play often and establish momentum. A good way to lose money is to bet that a streak will end."