The Unwritten Rules of Soccer Gambling

by Eric Italiano


Unwritten rules of gambling are common in all sports around the globe, not just soccer.

In basketball, you’re always supposed to bet against the team on the second night of a back-to-back on the road. It’s just how things are done. In baseball, you’re taught to look at pitching matchups rather than looking at a team as a whole.

In football -- the American kind -- you’re told to bet against a west coast team traveling east, as the time-zone difference supposedly has an almost mythically negative effect on teams that reside west of the Rocky Mountains.

In soccer, however, the unwritten rules are not as clear, as the differences in competitions, line-ups, and potential outcomes, makes betting soccer all the more complicated.

For example, of the five major sports in the world — soccer, football, basketball, baseball, and hockey — soccer is the only sport where you can bet on the draw. If I’m betting on the New York Giants in an American football game, I’m betting on one of two possible outcomes: they win or they lose. But if I’m betting on Liverpool, however, I’m betting against the opponent and the draw, therefore bloating the potential outcomes of the game to three: a win, a loss, and a tie.

So, the fact that the ability to bet on the tie exists makes the unwritten rules of betting soccer inherently more difficult to pin down. The second factor that makes these unwritten rules of soccer betting more difficult to define is the variety of competitions.

Let’s say, for example, the New York Yankees have a game on a Wednesday night. I know, that on that particular Wednesday night, the Yankees will be fielding their strongest possible starting lineup as they are competing in the MLB and therefore have every incentive to win the game.

But the same logic can’t be applied to, let’s say, Manchester United playing on a Wednesday night, as they could be competing in either an ultra-important Champions League knockout game or resting their starters in a virtually meaningless Carabao Cup game.

Point being, the lack of consistency in modern soccer strips the game of the predictability, routine, and repetitiveness that makes other sports easier to define, and therefore easier to bet on.

Nevertheless, some unwritten rules to live by have been hammered out by the battle-tested veterans of the soccer gambling game.

1. Never Bet The Under In An Arsenal Game

The typical over/under line in a Premier League game in 2.5 goals. Want to know why? Because the average number of goals scored in the average Premier League match is 2.87.

The way I look at over/unders in soccer is relatively simple: will this team do something to either score or give up that key third goal? Yes, 1-0’s and 0-0’s still exist in modern soccer, but more times than not, at least two goals are going to be scored in any given Premier League match. So the key then becomes finding those teams that figure out ways to contribute that third goal, whether it be on the offensive or defensive end.  And Arsenal, more times than not, is that team, as they’ve conceded over an average of one goal per game in four of the last five seasons (they only season they did not, 2014-2015, they still shipped .95 goals per game.)

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For the better part of the last — I don’t know — five, six, or seven years, Arsenal has been known for their supreme attacking quality and generally shambolic defending. More importantly than finding ways to score, they find ways to give up easy goals (PKs, mistakes, set piece defending, etc), which is a key when it comes to over/unders.

Are there plenty of Arsenal games where less than 2.5 goals have been scored? Sure. But nothing feels worse than being that idiot to bet the under in an Arsenal game knowing damn well that their eventual 3-1 victory over a relegation-bound club was always the most likely outcome.


2. Bet On Good Teams In Big Games At Home

While the draw makes soccer gambling more complicated, it also makes it more profitable, as the third potential outcome (a draw) makes the odds of the other two outcomes much more favorable. In layman’s terms, the possibility of a soccer game ending in a draw makes all potential payouts valuable. This notion is only amplified when two good teams are playing each other.

Let’s say, for example, Manchester City is playing Newcastle at the Etihad. In a game like that, City’s odds to win could be anywhere from -500 to -700 (-500 means you would have to bet $500 to win $100). Is this type of wager more of a guarantee? Yes, clearly, but you have to stake a stupid amount of money in order to play.

Now, let’s say Manchester City is playing Liverpool at the Etihad. Conversely, in a game like that, City’s odds are slashed to something around +150 (meaning a $100 wager would win you $150). Not only that, but a draw would clock in around anywhere from +200 to +250, which allows you to hedge your bets.

So what does all of this gambling mumbo jumbo mean? It means that in big games, good teams have higher payouts. If you’re a Manchester City fan, betting their games against squads like Burnley doesn’t make economic sense as you have to wager large amounts of money for relatively small payouts.

However, when City are playing fellow big dogs (especially at home), you have the opportunity to bet on both the win and the draw and still come away with a profit. Plus, betting on the big games makes them all the more exciting.


3. You Will Lose Money Betting Against Messi and Ronaldo

A common trope in American football is that over the long-term, you will only lose money betting against the New England Patriots. They may slip and fall here and there, but as a general rule, one is always taught to side with the Evil New England Empire when it comes to sports wagering.

The same sentiment can be applied to Messi and Ronaldo.

Now, this is not to be taken literally, as there are times when it can be considered reasonable to bet against these two gods among men. But if you want to be a gambler who wins consistently, the smart money should always be placed on greatness, not against it.


4. A Push Is A Win

More of a general gambling trope than one specific to soccer, the phrase “a push is a win” becomes a pseudo-credo for the tried and test gambler.

Let’s say you want to put a little money on the Liverpool game but the moneyline is too expensive — naturally, you turn your attention to the spread. But when you notice the spread is -3, you begin to worry that Liverpool may not score that crucial fourth goal and decide not to place the bet.

We’re here to tell you that if you genuinely believe that a team has the ability to push, but are unconvinced of the full-fledged victory, you should always place that bet, because not only do you not lose any money, you still get the thrill of gambling on a game all the same.

So, when you find yourself staring at your sportsbook, worried about your wager ending a push, go ahead and hammer it, because a push is always a win.


5. Stay Away From The FA Cup

The English football equivalent of March Madness, the FA Cup — especially the middle rounds — is littered with upsets and ridiculous scorelines.

A trainwreck of conflicting goals and motivations, the FA Cup is a quagmire of lower league teams playing their absolute hearts out against Premier League teams who just want to get out of the everpresent sideways-rain and go home. And the result is pure, unadulterated chaos.

Premier League giants cruise to 4-0 victories seemingly as often as they crumble in 2-1 upsets. Line-ups are rotated and the pitches can be destitute. Hell, some of these games aren’t even televised.

Which is why the FA Cup needs to simply be avoided. Yes, while it does provide some midweek action that helps you power through the monotonous daily grind, the competition is simply too unpredictable to wager any meaningful capital on.

You may think Manchester City will always be a lock … then the next thing you know, the high-flying Centurions are shut out at Wigan.

Got an itch to hop in on the action? Tweet us your picks @ATPradio—any time, any place—and we’ll be sure to wallow in misery or celebrate in blind exuberance with you.