Making a wager on a sport you love adds a level of excitement that’s hard to match. It matters more when you place money, even if it’s just a few dollars. It’s about proving you’re right and your knowledge is better than the bookie.
But, cashing winning tickets isn’t always straightforward, and even the best bettors have to accept some losses to go with their wins. So, in this article, we’re going to look at the hardest sports to bet on, so you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into before making a bet.
Keep reading if you want to know where you stand the best chance of winning.
Knowledge Is Power
Before diving into how easy or difficult it is to bet on individual sports, it’s important to note that no matter how experienced you are as a bettor, the most important thing is research and knowledge. The more information you can get to inform your selection, the more chance you have of success.
There is a reason why Premier League star, Ivan Toney, was punished so severely for betting on his own team. Toney had inside information which gave him an advantage in predicting the outcome of matches. However, even without ‘insider knowledge’ the same theory applies. The more knowledge you have, the better your chance of knowing what will happen in a sporting event.
So, although some sports are easier to bet on than others, you should always bet on sports you understand and ideally that you love and follow closely.
The Easiest To Hardest Sports To Bet On (Ranked)
Here’s our list of the hardest sports to bet on, starting with some of the easiest:
The NBA tops our list as the easiest sport to bet on, for several reasons. Firstly, it is easy to get information on the NBA. It is one of the most watched sporting leagues in the world and has a huge number of games every season, so the amount of information available is incredible.
Also, because every NBA team plays a minimum of 82 games, there is a lot of data to inform selections, even after the first month of play. Unlike the NFL, where teams play a lot fewer games, the NBA provides a raft of statistics and patterns that are ready to be observed.
Another major reason that NBA basketball is easier to bet on than other sports is that it often has dynasties that dominate the league for several years. Since 2000, three clear dynasties were likely to win the NBA championship or at least make the conference finals every year. The LA Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, and Golden State Warriors all enjoyed sustained periods of success that made bettor’s jobs easier.
Finally, a basketball court is always the same, and games can’t be interrupted by gale-force winds or blizzards. This makes it easier to predict what a particular player will shoot from the free throw line, and means there are fewer variables when predicting a playoff series’s outcome.
2. College Football
The ‘dynasty’ argument is also strong in college football and is why this sport ranks at number 2 on our list. While college football playoff wins don’t quite translate in the same way as NBA Championship wins do, the same teams are often dominant every season.
Since the introduction of the playoffs in 2014, Alabama has had the most appearances, wins, and championships. Clemson and Georgia have also had dominant teams, including the 2022 Georgia Bulldogs who maintained a perfect record for the whole season and clinched back-to-back National Championships.
In theory, this makes college football one of the easier sports to bet on. The historical, established schools are rarely upset by divisional minnows. So, while there’s never a sure thing in sports betting, it would be a big shock if Georgia didn’t complete the three-peat this season.
MMA is by far the newest sport on our list. Most of the other sports covered in this article have been established and played internationally for decades or even centuries. The UFC is just 30 years old, and the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts were only developed in the 2000s.
This means the depth of talent and competitiveness is arguably thinner than in some other sports. In women’s MMA, there have been a raft of dominant champions in the past 10 years.
Ronda Rousey, Valentina Shevchenko, Cris Cyborg, and Amanda Nunes have all enjoyed spells as champions where many pundits called them unbeatable, and most challengers were written off before even entering the cage. Men’s MMA has also seen dominant champions, which many bettors have cashed in on, including Jon ‘Bones’ Jones and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Another element of MMA that helps bettors is that fighters often have a particular style that will inform how they will approach a fight. For example, current UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya competed in over 80 professional kickboxing or boxing bouts before starting his career in MMA.
Adesanya has never won via submission in his MMA career because his skill set favors striking. His opponents are also less likely to engage with him in striking because he is a specialist, so many opt to wrestle. This can help bettors predict the outcomes of fights, but also how many takedowns will be attempted, for example.
Proceed with caution, though, as the puncher’s (and kicker’s) chance is a real thing in MMA. Just ask Ronda Rousey, who was dethroned after a 10-fight winning streak by a brutal head kick from Holly Holm.
4. College Basketball
This is where things start to get a little more tricky. College Basketball is by no means an easy sport to bet on, but there are elements of the sport that can help you as a bettor. Like the NBA, college basketball has a certain level of predictability purely because outside influence is minimal. Every game is contested on the same court, and no one team can be hit by weather or condition changes like they can in many other sports.
There are also college programs that consistently have dominant records, and make final fours and elite eights. But, before you log in to your favorite sportsbook and back North Carolina, UCLA, Duke, or Kansas to make the final four this season, remember that the playoffs are called ‘March Madness’ for a reason.
Even the smallest schools with no historical precedent can beat the established names in college basketball, and it’s been happening more than ever in the past few seasons. No.16 seeds have beaten no.1 seeds twice in the past five seasons, something that didn’t happen once in the preceding three decades.
The NCAA transfer portal, which was introduced in 2018, undoubtedly shook things up, and bettors are still learning to cope with the instability caused by the tool.
The NFL undoubtedly has dominant teams and is currently being dominated by the latest dynasty – the Patrick Mahomes-led Kansas City Chiefs. So, if you want to make a wager that the Chiefs will win the Super Bowl in 2024, it wouldn’t be a bad bet. However, there are just too many variables in the NFL to call it an easy league to bet on.
Football is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world, and injuries to star players are much more common than in the NBA or Premier League. The NFL has taken measures to protect quarterbacks in recent years, but accidents can happen when a bunch of 3-400 pound linemen are wrestling just a yard or two away, with several of them trying to decapitate you.
The previously mentioned Patrick Mahomes is clear evidence of this. In the Chiefs’ 2023 divisional-round playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Mahomes suffered a serious ankle injury. Chiefs fans and NFL bettors alike had their heads in their hands as they waited for news, and luckily for them, he recovered just in time for the Super Bowl, where the Chiefs claimed victory.
The NFL season also runs from autumn through winter, so weather conditions can get pretty adverse and contribute to upsets. The weather is the same for both teams, but the unpredictable nature of the sport is amplified by particularly cold or wet conditions that make life tough as a bettor.
Image credit: Tequask | CC BY-SA 4.0
Number six on our list is baseball, which is one of the more difficult sports to bet on. Each team in the MLB plays 162 games, which is both good and bad news for bettors. It’s good because the more data you have to draw from, in theory, the more successful you can be.
However, there is probably a sweet spot for most bettors, (like the 82-game NBA seasons), and studying statistics for literally thousands of games can become tedious very quickly. Hence, it’s challenging to use all the available information correctly when betting.
Baseball teams also blow hot and cold. Within a season, teams take regular road trips or three or four games at a time, and even for the best teams, this can be tricky. In 2022, the LA Dodgers recorded one of the best regular seasons in MLB history, going 111-51, with a win percentage of .685.
This meant that despite delivering one of the most impressive records in the history of baseball, the Dodgers still lost over 30% of their games, and for most clubs, their records are around .500. This makes baseball a great sport to watch, but not amazing to bet on.
Soccer is a difficult sport to bet on because of the amount of variables. The game lasts for 90 minutes, plus stoppage time, and can even go to extra time (another 30 minutes), then to a penalty shootout. Penalties are often considered a coin flip, and there were five of them in the 2022 World Cup, which is not ideal if you’re predicting who will win the tie.
Weather, crowd hostility, injuries, discipline, and the fact that players or coaches can’t stop the game voluntarily means that anything can happen on a soccer pitch, and it often does. Soccer is also known as one of the most passionate sports, especially at a professional level. On an almost weekly basis, there are outrageous, headline-grabbing acts from players, managers, and fans that can contribute to unpredictability.
The difficulty of betting on soccer also depends on the type of wager you want to make and the league you’re betting on. For example, the Premier League is widely regarded as one of the most competitive leagues in Europe based on depth (a smaller team is more likely to beat a bigger team), and therefore more unpredictable but Manchester City has five of the last six league titles.
It was easy to predict that City would win the league but much harder to forecast that they would win just six times in 11 games between October and February before going on a 16-game unbeaten run to claim the title.
Image credit: Peter Woods on Flickr
Golf is a notoriously tough sport to play, and it’s also the hardest to bet on. The mental and physical demands of golf put even the world’s best through the wringer, especially in the majors.
Golf tournaments are played outdoors, usually over four days, so the amount of variables golfers will encounter is huge. In many major championships, the weather plays a significant role. Rain, and particularly wind, can derail an outstanding round or turn a good score into a bad one. Golf pros also have to deal with various terrains, and need lady luck on their side when the ball leaves the fairway.
Golf is also one of the most competitive sports in the world. At the highest level, the depth of talent is immense which means that even players ranked outside the top 100 in the world have a realistic chance of claiming the biggest prizes.
Between 1991 and 2011, eight golfers who were ranked outside the world’s top 100 won major titles, including Ben Curtis, who won the 2003 Open Championship whilst ranked at number 396 in the world! This proved that relative unknowns could win the biggest prizes in golf, even in the Tiger Woods era.