The Fallacy of a 52.4 Break Even Rate

All over the internet I see people, even professional sports bettors, claim that a 52.4% win rate is required to break even betting on sports. The idea being brought forth is that in order to profit you must win more than half of your games.

That is a very dangerous idea. It leads people to take bad odds trying to achieve that rate. It also leads them away from better odds that make it easier to profit. The fact is, the win rate required to break even or profit is not set. It is totally dependent on the lines you play, and can range from 40 to 60 percent, or even more.

If you asked most sports bettors, the believe they will be able to quickly retire if they could only find a way to win 60% of their bets. That may be true if you bet exclusively on point spreads. But if you do that on money lines of -200 the only thing that will happen quickly is that you go bankrupt.

Win rates and profitability are relative to the lines you play. One player may win 55% of their bets and lose money, while another may win 45% at a good profit. The truth is, win rate has little to do with profiting on betting on sports.

The player who bets only at +150 will break even at a 40% win rate, while the player who bets only at -150 will break even at 60%. The big question you should ask yourself is this. Is it easier to win 40% at +150, or 60% at -150?

The answer is that it is easier to win 40% at +150. The reason is that the books have to shade toward the dogs because most people tend to bet on favorites. That’s the inevitable result of the popular notion that you must win more than half of your bets to profit.

It easy enough to see in the lines. When a dog is +150, the favorite is usually close to -170. This example below is from Vegas Insider.

11/11 1:05 PM

51 Tampa Bay Boston

+150 -170

+150 -170

In order to break even on the favorite at -170, you must win 63% of the time. To break even on the dog at +150, you must win 40% of the time. In this case, a bet on the favorite is being charged an extra 20 because most bets will be on them, while the dog is going at the books estimation of the actual probabilities of the outcome.

When it comes to point spreads, you do in fact need 52.4% to break even at -110, and all players share the vig. But on money lines, the vig always gets paid by those who bet on the favorites. And you will find almost every line reflects a 3% differential (63+40=103%). Not coincidentally, that pretty much reflects the break even percentage of your average spread bet.

The best advice is to forget about the winning percentage, and focus on the lines. The books put the money in the lines for those who bet on dogs. You don’t have to win 52.4% of your bets to break even. You just have to go where the money is.