The Martingale System and Sports Betting
The Martingale Strategy is a common one in sports betting. Some sports bettors even do it subconsciously, unaware of the fact that their wagering system is extremely familiar.
Almost every successful sports or casino bettor has a strategy or system of some kind. Some are simple and easy to employ, others are incredibly nuanced and take years of tweaking. But opening a sportsbook account and throwing money around with no betting strategy will almost always fail in the long term.
Here we’ll discuss the Martingale Strategy, explain how it works and explore what makes this seemingly can’t-lose strategy such a popular one for bettors.
What is the Martingale System?
The Martingale betting system has been around since at least the 18th century. Legend has it the Martingale system is named after John Henry Martindale, a London casino owner who allegedly used the strategy in the 1700s. Accurate spelling of his last name was apparently lost in translation over the years as Martindale became Martingale.
One of the reasons the Martingale betting strategy is so popular is that it seems like a sure-fire win. Using basic logic, the system would be successful almost 100% of the time in a vacuum. But sports betting sites and casinos don’t operate in a vacuum. Nor do the bank accounts of sports bettors. Things like wager limits, limited bankrolls, casino regulations and the gambler’s fallacy all have a significant impact that can deter long-term success from the Martingale system.
It’s such a simple betting system that nearly every gambler has probably come up with the idea on their own at some point. In theory, the execution is extremely simple.
The Martingale betting system means doubling your losing bets until you win. That’s essentially it. So, if you bet $10 on your first bet and win, you set that $10 aside and bet another $10. If you lose that $10 first bet, you would wager $20 on the next bet. If that’s a loser, you’d bet $40 on the next bet, and so on and so forth until you theoretically recoup all your losses while keeping the initial $10 profit.
Then you start over with another $10 original bet and repeat the process, keeping all $10 bet wins and only doubling after losses.
Sounds great, right? If you lose the first three bets, the thinking goes, it’s unlikely you’d lose a fourth straight. This is what’s known as the “gambler's fallacy.” It’s a failure to recognize each wager as an individual event separate from the one proceeding it. If you bet on black at the roulette wheel and lose three times in a row, nothing changes when you bet on black for a fourth time. The odds the ball will land on black – 47.4% in standard American roulette – are exactly the same as the ball landing on red for a fourth time in a row.
This is just one of the reasons the Martingale system – while certainly a winning strategy in some cases for those with a seemingly infinite bankroll – is not always applicable in the real world for consistent profit.
How the Martingale Betting Strategy Works
Let’s break down some numbers for the Martingale Strategy, including what the risk/reward actually looks like in practice. Let’s use NFL betting for this example, showing how one would actually apply the Martingale Strategy at a sportsbook.
Let’s say your standard bet is $100 on NFL games. Here’s how the betting pattern would go in order to apply the Martingale Strategy, and to make the math easier we will assume an initial bet size of $100 and even money odds.
- Risk: $100
- Result: Loss
- Risk: $200
- Result: Loss
- Risk: $400
- Result: Loss
- Risk: $800
- Result: Loss
- Risk: $1,600
- Result: Loss
- Risk: $3,200
- Result: Win
Total Profit: $100
Let’s add up those figures. We’ll pretend these are all +100 even money moneyline bets with no vig for the purposes of this exercise. The Martingale Strategy works here because the player did end up with a profit of $100. But the player had to risk $3200 in Game 7 just to win the initial bet unit of $100.
Advantages and Disadvantages to the Martingale Betting Strategy
The first advantage is that the strategy is so simple, anyone can use it. It’s not like counting cards at the blackjack table and you don’t need an MIT degree to figure out how to double basic numbers.
Additionally, the strategy should always work in perfect conditions. If the player has an infinite bankroll and the casino or sportsbook doesn’t have wager limits, the Martingale Strategy will prove consistently profitable. Theoretically they could lose every spin or bet for the rest of their life, squandering countless fortunes in the process, but that’s almost mathematically impossible.
As long as you’re good for the money and someone is there to take it, the Martingale Strategy as a betting strategy is a winner.
The biggest disadvantage is these perfect conditions hardly ever exist. Most bettors can’t afford to bankroll the strategy when the potential losses get into the thousands, especially since you’re generally chasing relatively modest profits.
And while losing five or six games in a row might sound unlikely, seasoned sports bettors know it happens all the time. Losing streaks are inevitable. But in order to make a serious profit using the Martingale Strategy, you need to be prepared with a big bankroll to ride out those losing streaks.
We haven’t even mentioned vig or juice for the purposes of this exercise, but that’s important for the Martingale Strategy with a standard -110 line for NFL point spread bets. You’d have to double the vig on each bet as well, otherwise you never recoup those losses.
Plus, many casinos and sportsbooks have wager limits – this cuts off the Martingale Strategy at a certain point and leaves the bettor chasing losses with even riskier plays and additional strategies.
Is it Legal to Use the Martingale Strategy?
Yes, the Martingale Strategy is legal. It’s not like counting cards or trying to rig a slot machine. Most casinos and sportsbooks aren’t even opposed to the strategy. You certainly won’t get hauled off and slapped around in a dark casino dungeon for doubling $20 NBA bets.
Casino limits, however, often make the strategy worthless after a certain point. As we explained, this strategy only works consistently with a huge bankroll and no betting limits. Big sportsbooks and casinos with stakes limits actually welcome the practice, because once a bettor has lost enough to reach the wager limit they’ll gladly take all your money.
Martingale System Variations
Mini Martingale System
The Mini Martingale system is a variation of its namesake which limits the amount of double-down bets in order to avoid the huge losses. It’s harder to lose your entire bankroll this way and will spread out the process, but the profits are smaller and long-term success rate about the same.
Reverse Martingale System
Rather than doubling after losses, the Reverse Martingale system calls for doubling down after wins. This also prevents the big loss and can be successful, but the key is knowing when to stop – any loss means you lose all those profits accumulated through doubling down on wins. If you’re employing this strategy for three or four games in a row, it would probably make more sense to parlay those games and lower the risk while increasing the reward. You can immediately calculate the risk/reward there using our free parlay calculator.
The twist here is that while you’re employing the same principles of the Martingale Strategy, you add an additional bet unit after every loss. This means if you lose four hands in a row, winning the fifth will bring more profits than the original Martingale betting strategy. You’ll recoup all the bets you lost and add an extra unit on the winning wager.
The problem here is the same as the standard Martingale Strategy – you’re risking big losses and need to stay under the wager limit while increasing bets at an even faster rate than the original system.
Can the Martingale System Help Me Win?
Yes, the Martingale system can help bettors win – especially with lower stakes. It’s difficult to get rich on the Martingale system for all the reasons listed above, but under the right circumstances it’s an effective strategy.
It can certainly pay off on a limited basis – players who get on a hot streak using the Martingale Strategy will steadily build their bankroll all night long while avoiding any risk. But it must be done exactly within those structures and players cannot lose track of their bankroll should the losses pile up.
Give it a shot the next time you’re at a casino or sportsbook and see if it works for you. It might not be the win-win proposition one imagines, but it can definitely be useful and profitable in certain situations.