The 2016-2017 NBA regular season ended on Wednesday and the playoffs will start on Saturday. This was the season I put my 30+ year old basketball prediction program to the test of real betting. I spent last summer entering in four seasons worth of scores from basketball-reference.com and betting lines from freeplays.com. Then I used my program to retroactively measure over a thousand formulas against the data. I found a formula that produced a winning margin over the magic break even betting winning percentage of 52.4% (11 wins for every 10 losses) for each year and opened a $500 account on bovada.lv on October 5th. I signed up for a $250 welcome bonus that was paid out in increments between a dollar or two every time I hit one of the bovada milestones towards the $3750 I needed to wager to get the full $250. The season started on October 25th but the program didn’t have enough data for predictions until November 5th. When the betting started my program was a wonder to behold as I won my first five bets and was $50.53 up by November 12th. After that the program tread water and on November 17th was 9-3 and $56 to the plus side. And then things went south. The program went 2-8 over the next week to put me at 11-10 with $1.59 in losses on November 21st Another week of treading water left me at 16-16 on November 26th but a 4 game losing streak left me at 16-20 and $61 in losses at the end of November. December and January weren’t much better and on January 17th I hit my low point of $146.63 in losses and 9 games under .500 at 46-55.
Then I got an unintended vacation. When I made my $500 deposit to Bovada in October my credit card statement had a charge of $539.95. When I signed up the customer service people at Bovada told me there was no service charge for the initial deposit. I wrote to Bovada asking what the $39.95 charge was for. Bovada said they only received $500 and I would have to ask my credit card company. I asked my credit card company and they immediately credited my account for $39.95. On January 18th I went to log into my Bovada account and was greeted with a screen telling me my account had been suspended for having a credit card chargeback. My email inbox had a note from Bovada telling me my account was suspended and that I should call the customer service number because “any and all uncollected negative balances are subject to a 3rd party collection agency, which we are trying to help you avoid.”
I called the customer service department who insisted I deposit another $500 using a credit card immediately. No matter how many times I explained that the only chargeback on my credit card account was the $39.95 that Bovada insisted was not their charge the only solution the Bovada customer service department had was for me to give them another $500. This sounded like a scam to me so I stopped calling customer service and kept logging my basketball picks to see if I needed to change my program or if the disastrous record over the past two months were an anomaly. The program went on a winning streak which made me happy to think the program was working but enraged that I was not erasing my losses at Bovada.
I was resigned to the loss of my balance at Bovada when I got another Bovada email on February 1st asking me to call the customer service line to avoid any collection agency issues. I called and got a different customer service rep who also wanted me to deposit $500 in the account that still had the initial $500 deposit (less my losses). The rep started talking about a collection agency and I mentioned that if I heard about a collection agency again I would call my credit card company and dispute the initial $500 deposit. This changed the tone of the conversation and the rep asked me to send him the credit card transactions from my last three statements. I sent them and my account was restored on February 3rd.
During my 16-day hiatus my program was 11 games over .500 and the improvement proved to be real as I slowly and steadily chipped away at my losses to even my record at 70-70 on March 9th with a $73 loss.
After another dip in late March, the program caught fire and went 18-5 from March 24th to April 2nd to trim my losses to $24 with a 98-91 record. The program has always been a proponent of picking road underdogs and I noticed that many of the losses were from very bad teams getting points against very good teams. I decided to reduce the bets on games involving losing teams at winning teams to half the normal $11 wager. I also doubled the wager when the program picked a top level team like the Warriors and Spurs at home. The strategy was reasonable but ultimately pointless as my half bets went 19-17 for a profit of $1.58 and my doubled bets went 2-1 for a profit of $9. I do know I would have been over $50 in the black if I hadn’t had my account suspended by Bovada during one of my program’s hot streaks and possibly over $150 in the black if the suspension had come 2 weeks earlier. In the end the computer and I finished 113-106 with a loss of $27.73 on the bets I did make.
Going through the season betting real money was very different than picking a game with a mythical bet. I followed the games a lot closer and woke up in the middle of the night a few times when I had a bet on a west coast game that finished well after midnight. I would follow games I had a wager on using the CBS or ESPN apps on my iPod over the last few minutes to see if I had won or lost. I had some terrifically lucky results like the Oklahoma City Thunder at Orlando Magic game on March 29th. I had the Thunder giving 6 points to the Magic. The Thunder were trailing by double digits for most of the game until the amazing Russell Westbrook took over and scored 13 points in the last three minutes including a 3 point shot with eight seconds left to tie the game. The only way I could win the bet was to have the game go to overtime AND have the Thunder cover. I had to sweat out last second missed shots by both teams and the Magic getting the first 3 points of overtime before the Thunder took an eight point lead with 30 seconds left. The game was decided but my bet wasn’t won until the Magic missed a 3 point shot that would have covered the spread and the Thunder ran out the clock, leaving me a winner on a $10 bet.
Of course, it seemed for every lucky result there were two bad beats like on April 7th. I had 4 computer selected bets. The Hawks beat the defending champion Cavaliers in Cleveland as a double digit underdog for the first game to finish. Then the Knicks were trailing the Grizzlies by 10 points with time running out. I had the Knicks and 13 points and had mentally put the game in the win column when the CBS app flashed the final score as 101-88 Grizzlies. It seems Wade Baldwin IV made his third three-point basket of the season (out of 21 attempts) as time expired to make the game a 13 point spread and a push (no money won or lost). My third game was a winner as the Timberwolves held on for a 7 point loss in Utah against the Jazz (I was getting 11 points). The fourth game of the night was the Kings getting 2.5 points in Los Angeles against the woeful Lakers. The game ended well after midnight and was close throughout. With one second left the and the Kings trailing by four Buddy Hield made a basket to bring the Kings to 2 points and make me a winner except Hield then fouled Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell, who made 2 free throws with less than a second left to turn my victory into a loss! There was not much sleep that night as a 4-0 night ended up as 2 wins and a loss and felt more like 0-4!
Lucky wins and bad beats are all part of the game and I’m looking forward to the playoffs where I’ll be on my own with no computer program to assist me. I learned a lot about my risk tolerance and the difference between betting in theory and betting in practice this year. My biggest problem with Bovada (aside from having my account suspended) was the many times the betting lines came out late in the afternoon., which left me little time to get my bets in when I had an evening appointment or activity. A big difference between betting for real and betting in theory is the point spreads are ever changing on Bovada as opposed to getting point spreads years later from freeplays.com. A late scratch can move a spread by 5 points or more which is something I’ll never know happened in previous years without more research than I’m prepared to do. Something I loved about Bovada was that they gave me $130.39 as a welcome bonus (a prorated portion of the amount I wagered over the first six months I used the site) and a $5 bonus to celebrate their 5th anniversary. In addition, I received $70 in PayPal donations to provide my picks in advance at the rate of $10 a month. This gave my regular season a profit of $172.66 and anyone who made the exact same bets on Bovada that I did would have realized a profit of $102.66 if they took the welcome bonus. When the playoffs are over I will attempt to withdraw my money from the Bovada account and if I can do so successfully I will use them for another year. In either case I will report the result of my attempts as well as my playoff results after the season is over in June.