Why Sports Handicappers Lie to You

Let’s do an experiment.

Consider that sports handicappers Steve and Stan make the following predictions in a 4-game series between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox that happened last week:

Steve's picks:

Game 1: 90% sure Yankees win (Result: WON!)

Game 2: 90% sure Yankees win (Result: WON!)

Game 3: 90% sure Yankees win (Result: WON!)

Game 4: 90% sure Yankees win (Result: Lost)

Stan’s picks:

Game 1: 75% sure Yankees win (Result: WON!)

Game 2: 75% sure Yankees win (Result: WON!)

Game 3: 75% sure Yankees win (Result: WON!)

Game 4: 75% sure Yankees win (Result: Lost)

As it turned out, the New York Yankees won the series by beating the Red Sox on 3 out of the 4 games. You’re quite happy with the results.

Let's say that tonight, there’s a game played between the Chicago Cubs and the LA Dodgers. Handicappers Steve and Stan have made the following predictions:

Steve is 90% sure that the Chicago Cubs will win.

Stan is 75% sure that the LA Dodgers will win.

Now, let me ask you an honest question: If you have to bet along with one sports handicapper for tonight’s game, who would you listen to: Steve or Stan?

If you’re like the vast majority of people, you’d probably listen to Steve and bet on the Cubs.

When deciding to listen to Steve or Stan, you’ll be balancing your preference on accuracy against your preference on confidence. Most sports bettors, when given the information above, answer that they believe Steve is the better sports handicapper, and therefore are more likely to buy Steve’s picks and follow Steve’s predictions.

But is Steve really the more trustworthy expert?

Mathematically, Stan believed that the Yankees would win 75% of the time, and what happened? The Yankees won exactly 75% of the time.

Steve, on the other hand, believed that the Yankees would win 90% of the time, and his prediction turned out to be off by a margin of 15%!

So in terms of who is the more accurate sports handicapper, Stan is by far and away the better one. Stan was completely correct in predicting that the Yankees would win 75% of the time. In fact, even if Stan were to say that he was only 65% sure that the Yankees would win each game, he would still be a more accurate sports handicapper than Steve. That's because the Yankees ended up winning 75% of the time, which means that Stan’s confidence level was off by just 10%, compared to the 15% miss in Steve’s prediction.

The problem is, sports bettors don’t perceive things that way.


"In the real world, bettors prefer to listen to the sports handicapper who states 90% certainty over the more reasonable handicapper who displays conservatism in his selections."


In the example above, more people would rate Steve as the better handicapper, even though math says that Stan is the one who's far more accurate. Essentially, bettors care more about sports handicappers who can express confidence than handicappers who are accurate.

What this shows is that even though we have all the transparency and data we need to determine which handicapper recognizes the limits of his prediction, we still tend to prefer the person who displays overconfidence. This is the reason why sports handicappers tend to always overexaggerate their sense of confidence in their selections.

The "lock of the year" and "pick of the century" and "100* Star selections" happen because sports bettors place excessive value and emphasis on the confidence level of the handicapper. I always advise sports handicappers to be reasonable with their display of confidence, for that it is unethical for them to exaggerate their beliefs, when those beliefs may end up costing people fortunes.

However, the culture of exaggeration in confidence will be very difficult to change, perpetuated by the fact that sports bettors place so much value in a handicapper's confidence level, rather than the actual accuracy of his selections. My advice to all sports bettors is to hold handicappers more accountable for their overconfidence in their predictions. The truth is that confidence has little to do with accuracy in the sports betting world. If sports handicappers can sense that bettors are no longer rewarding them for being overconfident in their selections, they will adjust their language accordingly to how they really feel about their picks.

So if you find that various sports handicappers advertise their picks as "locks of the year" or "pick of the century." Do not be fooled into believing the magnitude of those claims. In this business, sports handicappers who can express overconfidence in their selections tend to gain the most trust from their clients. Therefore, many handicappers will intentionally put up a false display of overconfidence just to win over new customers.

A similar effect can also be found in other fields. For example, experts who expressed overconfidence in their beliefs were the ones who were routinely invited to talk on television, giving them greater exposure than their other comrades who may not sound as confident in their beliefs.

Similar findings are also apparent in the field of medicine. This was demonstrated in a study by Eta Berner and Mark Graber named "Overconfidence as a Cause of Diagnostic Error in Medicine" published in the American Journal of Medicine. The study found that many patients who died in the care of a doctor were from a result of overconfidence in the doctor's intuition about the patient's condition without formal testing.

However, doctors are encouraged to sound confident because patients always prefer doctors who can express great confidence in their diagnosis, for that displaying any signs of uncertainty about a diagnosis is a sign of weakness. A doctor who needs to open up a medical book in front of a patient before making a diagnosis is perceived by the patient as a doctor who is uncertain. This can lead to the patient seeking treatment elsewhere by another doctor who can demonstrate overconfidence in his or her beliefs. The problem is, when doctors put up a false display of confidence because they are aware that patients put so much value in confidence, it results in deaths for many patients.

This same rings true in the world of sports handicapping. A handicapper who claims that he has the "lock of the century" sounds excessively confident in his belief that a certain bet will win. This sense of overconfidence is what can bring him the trust of new clients, the same way how patients are more drawn to a doctor who can display overconfidence in his diagnosis. The problem is that such outward displays of overconfidence by sports handicappers are nothing more than false illusions. No pick in the world can be considered a "lock," even if there is collusion in the part of both teams to rig the game.

Handicappers who display such false sense of overconfidence are also the ones who enjoy taking great credit for their successful picks, while taking little to no blame when their selections fail. This is the same mentality of door-to-door salesmen who tend to shift the blame to the consumer rather than themselves when they fail to close a sale. For example, the mindset of "that woman just simply doesn't know the value of an item even if it bit her in the face" is far more encouraging for a salesman to think than "I'm terrible at selling."

Not all sports handicappers lie and exaggerate about their confidence level in their predictions. It takes only a few rotten apples to spoil the basket for all. The problem is that you can never stop all handicappers from exaggerating about their confidence.


“Even for honest sports handicappers, to avoid all exaggerations would be to put oneself at a sizable disadvantage against the competition.”


Let me put forth to you a very practical scenario: Put yourself into the shoes of a sports handicapper. Let's say that you are a very honest and truthful person, and you hate to exaggerate any claims...

But you know for a fact that many other sports handicappers exaggerate about how good their picks really are. If they have a pick that they’re 60% sure it would win, they may likely exaggerate and say that they’re 80% sure about the selection.

So what happens if you are a sports handicapper who is promoting a pick that you genuinely believe has a 65% of winning? As an honest sports handicapper, you want to make a claim that reflects what you truly believe, which is that the average person betting along on that pick will likely win 65% of the time.

But the problem is that by being honest, you position your pick as being worse off than the other guy who is exaggerating…


“The problem here is that even though you have a superior pick than the other guy, you realize that by being honest and say that you are 65% sure of your prediction, you will, in effect, put yourself at a sizable disadvantage and get penalized for your honesty!”


In fact, you are doubly penalized:

·  Penalty #1 - By saying that you believe your pick has a 65% chance of winning, you position your pick as an inferior pick to the other guy who is exaggerating.

·  Penalty #2 - You know that generally, people already make assumptions that sports handicappers tend to exaggerate at least a little bit about their claims. Therefore, if you are to be sincere and make an honest claim that you’re 65% sure about your pick, then people will automatically assume that the actual figure of how sure you really are about your pick is probably 55%-60%.

Given these huge penalties, what would you personally do in this case?

Even as a truthful and honest sports handicapper, you know that by refusing to exaggerate even just a little bit, you'll put yourself at a tremendous disadvantage to your less honest competitors who unfairly will have an edge over you because they choose to exaggerate about their confidence level. As a result, by being honest means that you would shrink your own market value, and allow other less honest sports handicappers to unfairly gain a leg up on you.

So put yourself into this situation, and ask yourself what you would do. 

I’ll tell you what many honest sports handicappers do in this case. What the average honest sports handicapper is likely to do at this point is to scratch his hair, shake his head, let off a big sigh, suck it up, and exaggerate further by claiming that he is 85% sure about his pick. That’s because it feels unacceptable to be honest, only to intentionally penalize yourself and reward other dishonest sports handicappers for their dishonesty.


“But exaggerating claims isn’t something that only sports handicappers do. Everyone is guilty of exaggeration, including you!


Need evidence? Sure! Let’s take a look at your resume.

If you were a mediocre employee at your last company, you're likely to have put in your resume that you were decent at your job.

If you were a good employee at your last job, you're likely to exaggerate a bit and write that you were an excellent employee.

And if you were terrible at communications, would you be honest and put in your resume that you are awful at communicating with other people? Not a chance!


“You are likely to exaggerate about certain subjective claims on your job resume for the same exact reason why many sports handicappers exaggerate about their claims on how sure they are about their selections. That's because by being 100% honest about your capabilities on your job resume, you know you’ll put yourself at a sizable disadvantage against everyone else who probably exaggerate at least a little bit about theirs.”


So would you purposely penalize yourself by being 100% honest about all of your strengths and shortcomings on your job resume? Knowing that other job applicants are likely to exaggerate at least a little bit about their strengths and shortcomings, you know that if you don’t follow suit and exaggerate at least slightly about your strengths and weaknesses, you’d intentionally position yourself at a significant disadvantage to others who may be selected for the job over you.

Or perhaps put yourself in a situation where you're creating an online dating profile. Would you dare be honest and tell your potential matches upfront all of your characteristics, including your flaws? In fact, one study named "Little White Lies" cited in the Huffington Post shows that the majority of online dating profiles contain deceitful information. That's because if you're completely 100% honest in your dating profile, you'd effectively penalize yourself by putting your profile at a disadvantage against others are exaggerating or lying.

This is the reason why many sports handicappers, including the honest ones, have fallen into the trap of exaggerating their claims. The problem comes in when customers feel that the picks they purchased haven’t lived up to expectations. When this happens, all sports handicappers get hurt because people become less trusting of the industry as a whole.


“My advice to all sports handicappers: Do not exaggerate.”


It may not give you immediate dividends by being completely honest about all of your claims. But what you do gain is the long-term advantage of credibility, integrity, and trustworthiness to your customers. The reason why I have such a massive following of raving subscribers who trust me is because I do not abuse their trust. I don’t exaggerate about my claims, and I don’t steer my subscribers toward anything which I am not convinced of myself.

It is more important for sports handicappers to aim for the goal of gaining people’s trust than to gain their immediate attention. Gaining trust gives lasting dividends. Gaining attention is only a temporary reward.

If you’re in the business for the long haul, work on gaining people’s trust. In an arena littered with sports handicappers who are striving for the temporary payoff, it’s even more important for you to stand out from the crowd by focusing your strategy on growing trust, integrity, and credibility to your members.