Academic Research Sports Betting (MLB, the NHL & the Racetrack)

SportsInsights has published articles on sports investing that range from our research on “Betting Against the Public” in major sports – to tips on sports investing (such as money management, getting the best prices, etc.). We also keep an eye on academic papers and research published by professors and researchers. Happily, the academic research agrees with SportsInsights’ results.

In this article, we summarize academic research results for MLB, the NHL and even the Racetrack for horses. In future articles, we’ll take a look at what the “brainiacs” say about college and professional football. Academic research typically focuses on market efficiency and sometimes makes comparisons to the financial and investment marketplaces.

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Horse Racetrack

There is a decent body of work done on horses. Most of this academic research focuses on US racetracks. It may surprise some people that the evidence and research shows that there is an edge for betting on the favorites. That is, the public over-bets on longshots, so that there is some value to betting on racetrack favorites. This has been shown by several academics, most recently by Ziemba and Hausch (1987). This tendency is sometimes referred to as the “Favorite-Longshot Bias.”

There are various explanations for this bias. Some researchers say that the vast majority of bettors at the track are recreational bettors. Others point to the “bragging rights” mentality. That is, people remember – and love to talk about – that huge longshot that they hit at the races. In either case, the data shows – and academic researchers agree – that you can obtain value by “Betting Against the Public,” which for the horses, means leaning towards the favorites.

Major League Baseball

Several academic articles have been published on the MLB betting marketplace. The research consistently shows that betting on underdogs is the way to go in baseball (Woodland and Woodland, 1994). Some researchers were surprised that the results differed from the horses (where there is value in leaning towards the favorite). Researchers rationalized the results based on some of the following:

  • Vigorish is smaller in MLB than for the racetrack. Thus, a higher percentage of “sports investors” are attracted to the MLB marketplace than at the relatively costly (high-vig) racetrack.
  • MLB attracts a relatively “sharp” betting audience. This “hypothesis” is repeated in several publications – and even by Michael “Roxy” Roxborough (one of the “fathers” of the sports betting industry).
  • Researchers also note that large longshots in baseball are relatively rare. Most moneylines in bases are under +200, with occasional games in the +300 or slightly higher range. Horses, on the other hand, often have longshots that pay out 4-1, 10-1 and higher.
  • Baseball is a moneyline (odds) sport so that some people will not have a good understanding of odds. That is, some bettors will be happy to win “most of the time,” regardless of the odds, payout, and “value.”

National Hockey League

The NHL, similar to MLB, is a moneyline sport. Happily, the results for the NHL and MLB agree. Readers of our series of articles know that our researchers and authors love when results agree: it increases the “robust-ness” of results, making them more “significant” – with increased potential for adding information going forward.

Researchers have shown that the public likes betting on favorites in the NHL (Woodland and Woodland, 2001). Thus, “Betting Against the Public” and taking NHL “ice dogs” has some value.


Woodland, Linda M. and Bill M. Woodland, 1994, Market Efficiency and the Favorite-Longshot Bias: The Baseball Betting Market, The Journal of Finance (March 1994), 49(1), 269-279

Woodland, Linda M. and Bill M. Woodland, 2001, Market Efficiency and Profitable Wagering in the National Hockey League: Can Bettors Score on Longshots?, Southern Economic Journal (January 2001), 67(4), 983-995

Ziemba, William T. and Donald B. Hausch, 1987, Dr. Z’s Beat the Racetrack (William Morrow, New York)


We do not guarantee that the trends and biases we’ve found will continue to exist.  It is impossible to predict the future.  Any serious academic research in the field of “market efficiencies” recognizes that inefficiencies may disappear over time.  Once inefficiencies are discovered, it is only a matter of time before the market corrects itself.