March Madness Can Drive Bettors Mad


For one reason or another, we all love March Madness. Whether the NCAA Tournament is nothing more than an excuse to play hooky for a couple of days, get together with friends, throw around some friendly wagers on brackets, head to Vegas with the boys or the girls, or get some serious action down on the games, it is the most wonderful time of the sports betting year.

For some, it is also the worst. Case in point, the Florida State Seminoles did not foul down by four points with 10 seconds left in the Elite Eight. As a result, Michigan backers were stunned to not see their -4.5 tickets cash. Teams have dominated opponents, but haven’t been able to get covers. Bettors that had Arizona State, TCU, or Michigan State had to be happy with the draw of a Syracuse team that “didn’t deserve to be there”. Well, the Orange won all three games before falling to Duke in the Sweet 16, in a game where the Orange covered the number easily.

Everybody has a totals story at this time of the year. Foul fests determine bets on the over/under, but also the absence of fouling can do that. Inconsistent officiating has been one of the biggest storylines of this tournament and the referees have dictated a lot of totals based on how they have called the games. Don’t forget the “meaningless” three-pointers that always seem to fall on the wrong side.

We know that the lines are tight at this time of the year, but the bad beats of the Big Dance can be particularly hard on the mind, body, and soul, assuming any of us degenerate gamblers still have a soul. We all probably sold it a long time ago to get that miracle backdoor NFL cover. But, one of the reasons why March Madness bad beats are so particularly crushing is that we feel like time is running out to get that money back.

A lot of people don’t bet baseball. They can’t handle the 162-game marathon of a season or don’t have the bankroll capacity to hope for those +170 underdogs or those -200 favorites. So, the natural reaction from gamblers is to chase down those losses while the gettin’ is still good for college hoops.

In our heart of hearts and somewhere in the backs of our minds, we know this is a bad idea. We know this is a bad strategy. And, yet, a lot of us do it anyway. March Madness is undoubtedly a great time of the year, but it is unquestionably the most dangerous time of the year from a bankroll standpoint. If you’ve fallen into these traps this year, vow not to do it next year. The ability to show restraint is one of a handicapper’s most powerful weapons against the sportsbooks. They have to put up a line on every game. We don’t have to bet every game. If the value isn’t there, the value isn’t there. Don’t force it.

While single-game betting is what gets a lot of bettors in trouble, the futures market seems to be really challenging this year as well. A lot of BangTheBook Radio listeners got some very good numbers based on suggestions from our guests and myself, your beloved host. Unfortunately, the true value of a futures ticket is predicated on the draw. Upsets are good, and we’ve had a lot of them this year, but upsets can also be bad. Teams that went into the tournament playing with house money or a sense of accomplishment from making it that far are now slapped with expectations. Kansas State played one of the worst games we’ve seen from a winning team in the victory over UMBC. The Wildcats were supposed to see Virginia. They were supposed to be a double-digit dog. Instead, they were a double-digit favorite and never threatened to cover the number. They won and advanced, and somehow beat Kentucky, but then played another poor game against Loyola-Chicago and got bounced.

If you think single-game betting is a real PITA, just think about futures hedging. We’ve talked a lot this year about investing in futures and having a diverse portfolio. The old adage about having to spend money to make money is true of futures. Sure, you can hold a Kansas State 500/1 position, but what are the chances Kansas State actually wins the tournament? Very slim. Holding a Purdue or Texas Tech future? Awesome! Then Isaac Haas goes down and the Boilermakers and Red Raiders get stuck with the best team in the country in Villanova.

Hedging is maddening. To use an example, a Kansas State 500/1 future became an 80/1 future with one hedge against Kentucky. Hedging against Loyola-Chicago netted a small profit, but getting a 500/1 future into the Elite Eight should mean more than that. But, you have to pick and choose your hedging spots because every additional investment cuts into the equity and profit margin for your first bet.

This is why the draw means so much. A Texas Tech 125/1 future is guaranteed to make money at this point, but the Red Raiders drew Villanova in the Elite Eight. Had they been in the South Region, they would have been a sizable favorite over Loyola-Chicago. Now, bettors with a Tech future have to hedge into a -300 money line on Villanova. It takes a lot of careful calculation and consideration to hedge futures.

Do you hedge pregame? Do you wait to hedge live? Loyola-Chicago ran up a double-digit lead very early in the first half. Kansas State got it down to 5, but the best price on the Ramblers was pregame. Those that risked hedging live may have gotten nothing for the Kansas State future ticket or may have had to lay an enormous live price to get something out of it. Most people aren’t rolling bankrolls capable of making four units on a live money line of -300 or more. That, in and of itself, cuts down on futures equity by not having a bankroll big enough to take a respectable position. Getting one unit or two units out of a 500/1 team that makes the Elite Eight almost feels like a loss. Some people likely fell into that category.

Ultimately, March Madness is fun and exciting and awesome. It also has the potential to be a money pit for bettors that can’t keep the proper perspective or can really be frustrating from a futures standpoint.

For some of you, it may be too late, but the best handicappers never stop learning. They never settle. They never get complacent. Maybe 2018 wasn’t the best NCAA Tournament for your bottom line, but take these thoughts with you into the future and you can have long-term success and drive yourself a little less mad during the Month of Madness.