What are Units in Sports Betting? How to Calculate Units in Betting

<p>AP Photos</p>

AP Photos

author favicon
OddsJam StaffJune 1, 2022, 10:00 AM

What is a Unit in Sports Betting?

A unit in sports betting is the dollar amount that a bettor uses to standardize the stake they place on each bet (ex. 1 unit = $25). This way, bettors can compare their wins and losses via units instead of the amount of currency. Not everyone has the same bankroll, so the unit structure evens the playing field when comparing bettors.

Bankroll refers to the total amount a bettor is willing to lose, or has in their account. At OddsJam, we encourage having multiple sportsbook accounts to best utilize the arbitrage and positive expected value features. If for example the money across all your accounts add up to $5,000 then your bankroll is $5,000. 

How do I Calculate my Unit Size?

For the most basic bettors, it’s advisable to make your units about 1% of your bankroll, and certainly not more than 2%. So a bettor with a $5,000 bankroll should have units of about $50. That doesn’t mean every bet has to be $50, but it’s the starting point to base your bet sizes off of.

There are many strategies for managing your bankroll but if you are simply betting for some entertainment or have the tiniest of edges, you may place a half a unit on a bet, or $25. A base bet would be $50, and then for plays you love and see a bigger edge in you might go to two or three percent of your bankroll, which would be two or three units.

A good way to calculate how many units to put on a bet is to use the Kelly Criterion. The Kelly Criterion is a system that bases the amount of your bankroll to put on each bet based on the odds given, and the fair win probability of the bet. You can use OddsJam’s Kelly Criterion Calculator to find your ideal bet size using this method.

Using this calculator, say there’s a bet with a 55% chance of winning and you’re able to get -110 odds. With the Kelly Multiplier set at one, it tells you to risk 5.5% of your bankroll on that one bet. Most bettors aren’t comfortable risking that much of their bankroll at a time, so feel free to set the Kelly multiplier at a fraction of one that you are more comfortable with. When using the Kelly Criterion calculator, whatever you decide on just remember to always keep the Kelly multiplier consistent across all your bets.

What do To Risk and To Win mean in Sports Betting?

Once you have decided your unit size, there are two options for how to use the units when you place your bets. 

  1. Do you want to risk one unit?
  2. Do you want to win one unit?

This difference is marginal when wagering on point spreads but can make a big difference for moneyline bets. Sticking with the $50 unit example, if you choose to risk one unit at -110 odds it would be risking $50 to win $45.45. Meanwhile, if you choose to win one unit at -110 odds it would be risking $55 to win $50. Definitely a difference, but not a massive change. 

However, say you want to place a moneyline bet on a -200 favorite. Here the difference becomes risking a $50 unit to win $25, or risking $100 to win a $50 unit. The same goes with an underdog at +200. Risk $25 to win a $50 unit, or risk a $50 unit to win $100.

Why do People use Units in Sports Betting?

People use units in sports betting to level the playing field and simplify successes and failures across all sizes of bankrolls. If you ever wanted to pay for picks or a handicapping service, the bets would almost always be listed in units. Sending out bets to subscribers in terms of units and not dollar amounts lets the subscriber follow the same structure at a customizable amount based on their bankroll.

Units also help the bettor stay disciplined, which is crucial in sports betting. Instead of placing bets without much thought on the amount or even worse basing amounts on a target profit size or loss minimization, sticking to a unit structure can prevent chasing losses which can end up depleting a bankroll.

What does it Mean When Handicappers put +/- Units Next to Their Record?

When handicappers put +/- units next to their record, it tells you how much money they have made or lost during the given time frame. Handicappers will often give their +/- units in terms of all time, for the month, week, or even day. This is a far better representation of a handicapper’s success than their win/loss record. 

Take an example where a handicapper places four bets at -500 odds risking five units to win one on each. If three of the four bets win, the handicapper’s record will be 3-1. However, the three wins add up to +3 units while the loss was -5 units, making the handicapper’s net total -2 units. The reverse can be said if four bets are placed at +500 odds when a 1-3 record risking one unit to win five would result in +2 units. 3-1 looks good, and certainly better than 1-3, but in reality units matter the most. So when judging a handicapper, disregard the win/loss record and instead pay attention to the unit total. If a unit total isn’t listed, that can be a red flag.