Beginner's Guide to Sports Betting: The Do's and Don'ts of Punting

In our beginner’s guide to sports betting, we’ll take a look at some of the most common errors made by new bettors, as well as offering ...

Dominic Field
August 3, 2021
August 3, 2021

Some people begin their sports betting journey with the goal of becoming a professional punter. Others simply want to place a few bets for fun. Whatever your motivation, you’ll need help to get started. In our beginner’s guide to sports betting, we’ll take a look at some of the most common errors made by new bettors, as well as offering advice on how you can take your game to the next level.

Most Common Sports Betting Mistakes

There is a wealth of information on the internet that covers basic topics for new punters. Many sites review sportsbooks or talk about the most common betting markets, for instance. But people are much more reluctant to talk about negative subjects, such as the errors that newbies often make. Let’s address that in our beginner’s guide to sports betting, by kicking off with a list of common rookie mistakes.

Failing To Find The Best Odds

A lot of people get into sports betting via one particular company. They have their favourite bookmaker and become comfortable with the layout of its website, or the process of placing bets in their local retail outlet. They might be scared to sign up with new accounts or visit new shops, since they’re still figuring out the basics. Perhaps they just can’t be bothered. If they already have a betting account, why do they need another?

But here’s the thing. Different bookmakers offer different prices. Each odds compiler takes a different view regarding the probability of the outcomes. High-staking customers move markets with their big bets. Sometimes a price boost, or some other sports betting promotion increases the odds. If you only have one account and fail to shop around for the best prices, you’re flushing money down the toilet.

Bankroll Management

Most beginners disregard this element of sports betting, since they usually regard punting as a bit of fun. But even if you don’t wish to become a professional gambler, bringing a strategic, analytical approach to the table can help to minimise losses and prolong your bankroll.

To begin with, set some money aside to use for your sports betting. Don’t ever mix money that should be used to pay bills or buy groceries. Only use funds which you can afford to do without. Then work out what is an acceptable percentage of that bankroll to lose in any one bet. Whatever you do, never risk large chunks of your bankroll, or even all of it, in one single bet.

The idea of a bankroll is to give yourself a chance of surviving the inevitable runs of bad fortune that will come along. A conservative strategy would be to place bets in units of 1%. For example, a single unit stake would be £10 if your bankroll is £1,000. A more aggressive staking plan might be betting in units of 5%. Whatever you choose, betting in consistent units will also help you to keep efficient records of your progress.


In addition to sensible bankroll management, many sports betting beginners also lack discipline in other areas. The most common example is betting with your heart, rather than your head. Never succumb to a “gut feeling” or a ridiculous superstition. Try to avoid betting on your own team. These wagers are not sustainable long term. Stick to the strategy.

Other things to look out for and avoid, include: betting when tired; gambling when drunk; placing bets just because you haven’t wagered for a while and feel the urge to play; or that most dangerous of pursuits, chasing losses.

Accumulators / Multiples / Parlays

Accumulator bets, sometimes known as parlays or multiples, are when you combine several different selections into a single bet. Since more things need to happen in order for the bet to win, the odds are generally much greater. But that’s also because they are less likely to win.

While an accumulator bet can sometimes be justified, all that you are usually doing is multiplying up the bookmaker’s edge. Sports betting beginners don’t understand the mathematics of bookmaking and fail to see that the bookies want you to do this. Until you have more sportsbook experience, it is almost always a good idea to avoid accumulators, multiples and parlays.

Not Understanding Value

The concept of value in sports betting can be a difficult one for beginners to understand. What it boils down to is easy enough: if the odds being offered on something happening are greater than the true probability of that event occurring, then we have a value proposition. In the long run, we’ll make a profit.

Think about a coin toss. We all know that’s a 50-50, even money bet, right? And if you offered to pay me 2/1 every time I win the coin flip, I would snatch your hand off. It wouldn’t be a bad bet just because I lost a single coin toss, either. In the long term, I’d turn a profit. 

Putting value into practice though, requires a lot of effort, research and experience. You must learn how to make your own book, creating your own version of the odds and comparing it against the bookmakers. When you find a discrepancy, and your own probability suggests that the bookies are out of line, that is the right time to place your sports bets.

Sports Betting Tips For Beginners

Now that we fully understand what not to do when punting, our beginner's guide to sports betting will explain exactly what we should do. Here are some top sports betting tips to help you build your bankroll.

Manage Your Expectations

It’s important for beginners to understand that sports betting can be profitable, if taken seriously. So don’t waste money on silly bets for fun, that will eat into your bankroll. But at the same time, it’s also crucial to acknowledge that it requires an awful lot of effort in order to become a professional punter, or even just a profitable amateur, and that not everyone will make the cut. 

Set realistic expectations, over a long period of time. Know that short to mid-term losing streaks are going to happen. Longer term targets mean that you will be affected less when short term negative patterns inevitably emerge. Setting smaller, more easily achievable targets will help you to keep a positive frame of mind, as you successfully reach your goals. Put whatever you can in place to help you keep your discipline. 

Exploit Sports Betting Bonuses and Promotions

Much like how many sports betting beginners don’t shop around for the best odds, lots of newcomers also fail to take advantage of the plethora of free bets and bonuses that can be found. There are many bookmaker comparison tools available, that take a lot of the manual labour out of the research. But however you approach it, you simply must take advantage of promotions and special offers.

Register new accounts with multiple bookmakers and gobble up the welcome bonuses. Sometimes they can stretch to hundreds of pounds. Taking these offers can really help to increase your bankroll. But once you’ve used up the welcome bonus, it doesn’t end there. Many sports betting sites offer their existing customers ongoing offers, whether they are reload bonuses, price boosts or other benefits. Take advantage, and factor these in when placing your sports bets.

Block Out The Noise

Many so-called “experts” talk a lot of nonsense. Just because someone is an ex-professional sports star, for instance, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have any more insight into the game than you or I. Perhaps if they really did, they might be scouts, coaches or have some more influential role in the game besides being paid to give an opinion that nobody will remember a week from now.

They may be entertainers on the television or internet, who intentionally court controversy and say things they don’t necessarily believe. They may not be particularly smart, failing to understand more advanced analytical concepts. It’s possible that they may have to offer some opinion whether they want to or not, simply because it’s a big fixture and their employer just has to have some content, and anything at all will do. 

Just don’t listen to anyone else when it comes to sports betting. Block out the noise.

Learn About Arbitrage Betting

Arbitrage betting, sometimes called matched betting or arbing, can take a lot of effort to research, but when you find such opportunities, they literally guarantee a profit. This can be a great way for beginners to increase their sports betting bankrolls. 

By shopping around for the best odds and playing off the many different bookmakers against each other, you can find instances where placing a bet on every side of the market ensures a small profit, no matter how the game ends. You can find calculators online to help you work out your arbs, but with a small amount of effort, you can easily build your own spreadsheet. 

The best markets for arbitrage are events with just two selections, such as an Over/Under bet in football. But be careful, as the bookmakers are not stupid. Too much of this type of activity will end with your sports betting accounts being closed, so use arbs sparingly and spread them around different sportsbooks.

Put In The Work

Sometimes, there’s just no substitute for hard work. This is particularly true of successful sports bettors. Sadly, there are no “get rich quick” schemes, you just need to do the hard yards and learn the game.

A horse racing punter is going to have more success if they put effort into learning how to study form. Which horses are better suited to left-handed tracks than right-handed? Which racecourses have a draw bias? What difference does softer or faster ground make? You just have to do the work, unfortunately. The more effort you put in, the greater your returns are likely to be.

On a similar note, it’s usually a good idea to specialise. To continue the racing analogy, it’s much easier to become an expert on All Weather horses in the UK, than trying to learn all about every single aspect of flat and National Hunt racing, in every country around the globe. Picking out a small segment of a sport gives you a greater chance of successfully mastering your chosen niche.

Beginner's Guide to Sports Betting: Final Thoughts

So there you have it. Our list of punting do’s and don’ts has revealed the most common sports betting mistakes, as well as offering tips on what you can do to improve. Hopefully you took something away from this beginner's guide to sports betting, which might help you to boost your bankroll. Now all that’s left to do is dive in and find some value bets. Good luck!


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