Do you think it is cheating if you analyze the data from sporting teams and events before placing a bet? Of course not – you are doing it already. Just by reading on the stats, and considering factors like injuries and bad seasons, your brain is already calculating the odds of winning the bet.
With data science, it is just bringing a calculator to a complex math problem. Let us see how data science can influence sports betting. By the way – betting is just a way for people to unwind and have a little fun. It is not, nor will it ever be, a job. Remember that.
The Three Math-sketeers
Three mathematicians, at least one of whom is a data scientist, tried coming up with a system that would result in making a profit when placing bets online. They developed an online tool that comes up with possible outcomes to matches based on the public statistical data from 2005 to 2015.
The team came up with a formula to earn the most money in the long run. The simulation before the actual experiment gave them a little bit of an edge – 3.5% return as opposed to 3.32% they would get if they placed their bets randomly. When they started making bets, they were pleasantly surprised that the model worked better than expected – after five months, they have made a profit of almost $1,000. The way they did it may seem simple – they used the odds the bookmakers provided against them/
However, all good things must come to an end, so Lisandro Kaunitz, and his two colleagues and co-authors of the paper, Shenjun Zhong and Javier Kreiner discovered that online bookies have restricted how much money they can bet. From $50 bets, they came down to as little as $1.25.
The house always wins, even if they have to limit the players’ game time to do so. The response by some of the bookies was that they were trying to trap bots that respond to unbelievably favorable odds. After trapping AI accounts, they limit or ban them.
Can You Use It?
The fact of the matter is that yes, you can use data science to come up with a plan to win a few bets. The problem is that it doesn’t last long before you are caught and your account gets suspended. You can compare this to card counting – it is not technically illegal, but it is not allowed either.
Secondly, the amount of data that needs to be considered for the project to be successful is staggering. The team that wrote the paper used ten years of statistics. After that, they needed to calculate the odds and how to bet. All of that is a lot of work for something that offers no guarantees.
Long story short – you can do it, but it’s not worth it. The work, the risk, getting banned, and the lack of entertainment will all get to you eventually. However, it is an interesting experiment from the theoretical point of view.