The Future of Sports Betting and Big Data


Up until recently, sports betting was traditionally a mixture of putting money on your favourite team and listening to the advice of pundits. Now, in an age of big data, we’re starting to realise the unreliability of those methods. Big data pours in huge amounts of information from a wide variety of sources for better levels of insight across all levels of the game. But does access to the statistics actually help fans make more accurate bets? And is data alone enough?

Michael Beuoy of Inpredictable & FiveThirtyEight shares his thoughts.

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Data alone isn’t enough. You need understanding and discipline to be successful.

I think it takes discipline combined with a solid understanding of the sport you’re trying to analyse. If you don’t understand the context behind your numbers, no amount of advanced analysis and complicated algorithms is going to help you make sense of them. You need discipline because it is very easy to lock in on a particular theory and only pay attention to the data points that confirm that theory. A good practice is to always set aside a portion of your data before you start analysing. Once you’ve built what you think is your “best” model or theory, you can then test it against this alternative dataset.

Sports data yields random results, and the market is no more accurate than it was 16 years ago.

I’d say the most surprising phenomena in sports data sets is the inherent randomness in most sports outcomes and the lack of repeatability. For example, in the NFL, the occasions when a team wins possession of the ball through a defensive action appear to be largely random, with little correlation from week to week. This fact can lead to potential betting opportunities as the market appears to give more weight to defensive turnovers than what the data indicate.

What’s more, despite all the extra data we now have access to today, the market does not appear to be getting more accurate, at least when it comes to the NFL. From 1989 to 2000, the bookies’ favourite won 66.7% of the time. Between 2001 and 2012, the bookies’ favourite won 66.9% of the time.


“Despite all the extra data we now have access to today, the market does not appear to be getting more accurate, at least when it comes to the NFL. From 1989 to 2000, the bookies’ favourite won 66.7% of the time. Between 2001 and 2012, the bookies’ favourite won 66.9% of the time.”

Statistics don’t always take the bigger picture into account.

Some sports statistics that are traditionally considered to be useful are in fact very misleading. One example of this is clean-sheets for goalkeepers. These football stats are usually from a small sample size and bear no considerations for the rest of the team or the strength of the opponent.

Another example is stats that aren’t volume adjusted. For instance, the total passes completed or total goals scored, but without knowing how many attempted passes or shots it took to accumulate those figures.

Make the experience more social with more things to bet on. Then watch it all take off.

I think the industry is still looking for the right user experience that can really draw in a large, casual audience. Apps like Pivit and companies like Instamrkt are on the right track, I believe. I think it will take the right kind of interface combined with a well-integrated social element for things to really take off. I also see the universe of what we can bet on expanding significantly. So, instead of just betting on whether a team will win, you have a buffet of micro-transactions you can bet on: will Manchester City score the next goal, will Zlatan Ibrahimovic take three shots before the half ends, and so on.


“It will take the right kind of interface combined with a well-integrated social element for things to really take off.”

Modern sports betting will get more popular. It just needs to lose its stigma.

I think Daily Fantasy (fantasy football games with cash wagers) will continue to grow in popularity. The platform is already gaining a lot of traction in the US, but has faced recent legal trouble surrounding its focus on sports betting.
From a US perspective, I think it could go one of two ways:

  1. Daily Fantasy survives its current round of legal challenges, its popularity continues to grow and eventually leads to legalization of sports betting in general.
  2. Daily Fantasy is ruled to be gambling and is shut down. Sports betting continues to be illegal and maintains its current level of popularity within the States.

I think the first outcome is more likely than the second. I think the economic and tax opportunities are going to be too great to turn down. If so, I see Daily Fantasy increasing in popularity in all territories as sports betting loses the stigma it currently has, and becomes more mainstream.

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About the Author: Michael Beuoy is a sports data expert and creator of www.inpredictable.com.

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