March Madness: Sports Betting Based on Luck Not Knowledge

soccer kicker

Novices, take heart! Amateurs placing bets in their March Madness office pool may have just as good a shot at winning as sports fanatics who know all the minutia, new research suggests.

"Sports gamblers seem to believe themselves the cleverest of all gamblers. They think that with experience and knowledge — such as player's statistics, manager's habits, weather conditions and stadium capacity — they can predict the outcome of a game better than the average person," study co-author Pinhas Dannon, a psychiatrist at Tel Aviv University in Israel, said in a statement.

But in reality, people with no prior knowledge of a sport like perform just as well as sports buffs when placing bets on soccer games, according to a study published this month in the journal Psychopathology.

Strategic gambling

Most people know that casino games like slot machines are all about luck (and that the house always wins). But sports gamblers often believe their success comes down to skill or knowledge of the sport itself.

To see whether that was the case, Dannon asked 165 people to guess the final score in 16 soccer matches in the Champion's League, which is organized by the Union of European Football Associations. Of those, 53 were professional sports gamblers, 34 were soccer fans that didn't gamble, and 78 knew little about soccer and had never gambled.

Soccer knowledge had little bearing on the outcome of the bets. Whereas inexperience didn't necessarily help, knowing the ins and outs of the game didn't improve the odds of winning either.

In fact, the two players who performed the best, correctly guessing seven out of the 16 scores, had never been fans of the game.

The findings suggest that in addition to perhaps holding back on smugness during the office pool for the March Madness basketball tournament, savvy sports gamblers may not do well in standard therapy for gambling addiction.

"Casino gamblers Casino gamblers are more appropriately characterized as obsessives, because they have less belief in themselves, and know that they will lose sooner or later. But they gamble anyway because they feel they need to," Dannon said in a statement.

By contrast, sports gamblers may need tailored cognitive therapy that rids them of the belief that they have more control over the outcome than they really do.

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Tia Ghose
Managing Editor

Tia is the managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.