Is There a Favourite-Longshot Bias in AFL Wagering?

The other night I was chatting with a few MAFL Investors and the topic of the Favourite-Longshot bias - and whether or not it exists in TAB AFL betting - came up. Such a bias is said to exist if punters tend to do better wagering on favourites than they do wagering on longshots.

The bias has been found in a number of wagering markets, among them Major League Baseball, horse racing in the US and the UK, and even greyhound racing. In its most extreme form, so mispriced do favourites tend to be that punters can actually make money over the long haul by wagering on them. I suspect that what prevents most punters from exploiting this situation - if they're aware of it - is the glacial rate at which profits accrue unless large amounts are wagered. Wagering $1,000 on a contest with the prospect of losing it all in the event of an upset or, instead, of winning just $100 if the contest finishes as expected seems, for most punters, like a lousy way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Anyway, I thought I'd analyse the data that I've collected over the previous 3 seasons to see if I can find any evidence of the bias. The analysis is summarised in the table below.


Clearly such a bias does exist based on my data and on my analysis, in which I've treated teams priced at $1.90 or less as favourites and those priced at $5.01 or more as longshots. Regrettably, the bias is not so pronounced that level-stake wagering on favourites becomes profitable, but it is sufficient to make such wagering far less unprofitable than wagering on longshots.

In fact, wagering on favourites - and narrow underdogs too - would be profitable but for the bookie's margin that's built into team prices, which we can see has averaged 7.65% across the last three seasons. Adjusting for that, assuming that the 7.65% margin is applied to favourites and underdogs in equal measure, wagering on teams priced under $2.50 would produce a profit of around 1-1.5%.

In the table above I've had to make some fairly arbitrary decisions about the price ranges to use, which inevitably smooths out some of the bumps that exist in the returns for certain, narrower price ranges. For example, level-stake wagering on teams priced in the range $3.41 to $3.75 would have been profitable over the last three years. Had you the prescience to follow this strategy you'd have made 32 bets and netted a profit of 9 units, which is just over 28%.

A more active though less profitable strategy would have been to level-stake wager on all teams priced in the $2.41 to $3.20 price range, which would have led you to make 148 wagers and pocket a 3.2 unit or 2.2% profit.

Alternatively, had you hired a less well-credentialled clairvoyant and as a consequence instead level-stake wagered on all the teams priced in the $1.81 to $2.30 range - a strategy that suffers in part from requiring you to bet on both teams in some games and so guarantee a loss - you'd have made 222 bets and lost 29.6 units, which is a little over a 13% loss.

Regardless, if there is a Favourite-Longshot bias, what does it mean for MAFL?

In practical terms all it means is that a strategy of wagering on every longshot would be painfully unprofitable, as last year's Heritage Fund Investors can attest. That’s not to say that there's never value in underdog wagering, just that there isn’t consistent value in doing so. What MAFL aims to do is detect and exploit any value – whether it resides in favourites or in longshots.

What MAFL also seeks to do is match the size of its bet to the magnitude of its assessed advantage. That, though, is a topic for another day.