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Moneylines, WNBA, and Long-Term vs. Short-Term Expected Value

Moneylines, WNBA, and Long-Term vs. Short-Term Expected Value article feature image

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Diana Taurasi

The Highlights

  • One of the best things you can do in life is take the long game as much as possible.
  • The most profitable Bet Labs WNBA system is a moneyline one that has an ROI of 41% but loses more often than it wins.
  • In the betting world, it’s important to have self-awareness and follow systems in line with your personality and goals.

Especially in the United States, we live in a world of instant gratification. Want to talk to friends? Text them or send them a message on social media. Want a reservation at a restaurant? Get it online right away. Want to watch a TV show that’s not live? Go on Netflix, Hulu or wherever you prefer to stream. Want to purchase a book or really anything? Amazon can have it at your doorstep within 24 hours.

And there’s nothing wrong with that: Living in 2018 is beautiful (politics and world crises aside). But as mentioned on the great Invest Like the Best podcast with guest and former 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie this past week . . .

. . . one of the most underrated virtues in life is patience. Or put another way: One of the best things you can do in life is take the long game as much as possible.

We do this naturally, of course. Most of us clean our house, work out, see doctors, and eat as healthfully as we can. If we were true carpe diem enthusiasts none of those things would matter unless they simply provided happiness to us. As Jonathan Bales mentioned on the Three Donkeys podcast, if you were solely maximizing the day in front of you, you wouldn’t do anything with a long-term focus. You would eat whatever you wanted, not work out and so forth.


How to Apply These Principles to Betting

And this idea of long-term and short-term expected value applies to some of our PRO systems at Bet Labs. One of our most profitable WNBA PRO systems is called “WNBA Moneyline Line Moves.” It looks at regular-season games in which the spread has moved between 0.5 and 4.5 points after opening -3 to +9.5. It also adds in filters to look specifically at underdogs and teams coming off a road game. This system has historically gone 121-145-0 (45.5%) but generated a return on investment (ROI) of 41% and won $10,918 (assuming $100 bets) since we started tracking data in 2005. It’s a highly profitable system.

But sometimes bettors miss a very important part of the trend: The 121-145-0 win rate. The trend has a long-term profitable record because of the plus odds you get on the moneyline, but it loses more often than it wins. It’s important to remember that ROIs are not short term.

Phoenix Mercury at Los Angeles Sparks

For example, this past Sunday the Phoenix Mercury matched the aforementioned trend as +310 dogs against the Los Angeles Sparks. If you bet $100 on the Mercury, your ROI expectation wasn’t actually 41%. Rather, you had an expectation of either 1) losing $100 or 2) profiting $310. There’s no middle ground: On that single day, you had an ROI of 0.0% or 310%.

Only when you bet with volume can you expect your individual ROI to sync up with your system’s ROI. The small sample of a single day’s bet is important to remember when you’re utilizing moneyline systems, especially when they target underdogs.

Another PRO system we have looks at big visiting dogs getting public support. Since 2005, matching teams have gone 98-52-3 (65.3%) against the spread (ATS), good for an ROI of 26.8%. This is a profitable system as well, and it hits more often than the underdog moneyline system. Of course, over the long term it has also been less profitable. There’s always a trade-off.

The Key Is to Know Yourself as a Bettor

I’m not saying you should bet more spreads than moneylines. Some of our most profitable historical systems are for moneyline bets, as the public often overvalues favorites. I think as humans we have trouble with measuring probability and variance. That’s why many people slammed places such as FiveThirtyEight when Donald Trump won the presidency, even though they handicapped Trump with a non-zero chance of winning. Sometimes, the improbable and unexpected happen.

In the betting world, it’s important to have self-awareness and follow systems in line with your personality and goals. Do you want to bet every once in a while and see lots of green dots in our app? Perhaps you should look for an ATS system such as the one above, which has historically cashed about 65% of the time.

If, though, you are a volume bettor with the Hinkie-like patience to ride the ups and downs of a system throughout the season, your most profitable move is probably to take advantage of the underdog moneylines.

Both paths can be enriching, but the long road tends to be more rewarding.

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