One of the most common myths about sports betting involves betting against public opinion, also known as “fading the public” in wagering parlance. Fading the public is often the only betting strategy that amateurs know about in the world of sports betting. Does betting against public opinion produce consistent results?
Thankfully, that question is easily dealt with. As a sports bettor (and as a human being), you should always be suspicious about anything that sounds too good to be true.
The idea that simply placing wagers on the opposite side of public opinion will make you a sports betting pro is so over-simplified it’s not even funny. If this were true, anyone could be a millionaire, placing high-dollar fades and cashing checks left and right.
That’s simply not how things work in the real world. Estimates of just how often professional bettors place successful wagers fall within a very limited range, fifty-one or fifty-two percent usually.
Pro gamblers earn their bread and butter in those slim percentages between breaking even and winning. If gamblers who dedicate their entire lives to the practice are only right JUST BARELY above half the time, how can simply betting against the public produce consistent wins? It doesn’t.
Listening to LOGIC
The logic behind the “fade the public” concept makes sense if you don’t examine it very deeply, a touchstone of bad betting strategies across the spectrum. The supposed logic goes like this – if you always bet against the masses, you’ll be more likely to take advantage of in-game aberrations, bad points spreads, and over-analysis by oddsmakers and punters alike.
There is a jaded aspect of this strategy, as well, that should give bettors pause. Proponents will tell you: “Sportsbooks make money against the public all the time – why can’t I?” This world-weary stance on the business of gambling is all too common. Sure, on its face it makes sense to avoid teams, athletes, or props that the hoi palloi are doubling down on, simply because the sportsbooks must know something the customers don’t.
This approach fails to take into account just how good oddsmakers are at their job. The whole “fading the public” strategy is (believe it or not) INCORPORATED into the handicapping done by the sportsbooks, so they’re still a step ahead of you. One reason why sportsbooks make as much cash as they do (and believe me, many of them make boatloads of it) is that they stay at least a step ahead of Joe Public, even when Joe Public decides to take a wrong turn at Albuquerque and bet against the herd.
Does it REALLY work?
Let’s imagine a world in which a simple fade the public strategy would work. In this world, the vast majority (if not all) of the money wagered on games would have to come from the kind of amateur bettors that follow the talking heads on ESPN or (worse) their own emotions. If we lived in that kind of world, it would make perfect sense to fade every bet.
Of course, we don’t live in that kind of world. In our world, the sports betting market is almost totally controlled by sharp bettors and smart money. The changes in sports betting since the explosion of online gambling have actually reduced the likelihood of the success of public-fading.
After online sportsbooks started raising their limits (to attract pro bettors and their fat wallets), the success of sportsbooks (and the odds of the games involved) became way more reasonable. Do you think this was an accident? Big bets placed by guys with more sports knowledge than anyone in history started to outweigh the tiny recreational bets that were once sports wagering’s bread and butter.
True, some advantage gambling is still possible because of shading, but that’s almost exclusively for recreational bettors with very small bankrolls. It was these very arb opportunities that led to the creation of free-to-read odds papers (Oddsportal and the like) and the explosion of this kind of strategy around the world. What happened? Even the small-money recreation-only books got smart, the arbitrage market died, and even small-time bettors started losing by fading the public.
Pitfalls of “fading the public”
There is a further danger for bettors seeking to use “fade the public” as an arbitrage opportunity – you might get kicked out of your book, you might even have your winnings rescinded. That’s because those few books that still list prices off the standard market (to attract recreational bettors) are built to recognize patterns of opposite side wagering.
The fine print in any decently-written Terms of Service contract will give the book a way to ensure that your money is no longer good with their service, and shut you out entirely. They do this by taking a LONG time to pay (months, in some cases), or even (anecdotally) by blatantly ripping off public-faders’ accounts.
Sites that still offer the kind of lines that make public-fading a good tactic exist ONLY to make money on people wagering along with the masses. Any customer who wagers like a sharp will soon get treated like a sharp, and shown the door. Truly, trying to run a public-fading system at a recreational sportsbook could lead to huge financial troubles.
I’ve read that sharps account for as much as 60 times the amount of cash that recreational bettors lay down. No wonder, then, that online (and land-based) books cater to their needs, and restrict any possible arbitrage due to public opinion.
In case we haven’t made the case strongly enough, the notion that always fading the public leads to big winnings is wrong. It’s wrong because it’s based on bad philosophy and even worse math, and because sharps control the market after the emergence of online (worldwide and anonymous) wagering.
Does this mean that it never makes sense to bet against the grain? Of course not. What it does mean, however, is that bettors should use actual strategy and handicapping tactics to place smart wagers rather than depend on a gimmick like public-fading. When that handicapping and research shows an opportunity to win against the general betting public, go ahead and fade to your heart’s content. Just don’t do it because it is a “can’t-lose” strategy.