What is a Unit in Betting? – Unit Betting Explained

A betting unit is a measurement of your bet size at online sportsbooks and casinos. It helps you remain disciplined with your bankroll and avoiding risking too much on a single wager or gambling session.

The following guide covers how you can determine an optimal unit in betting. It also discusses how you can use units to improve your sports betting and offline and online casino gaming success—or at least minimize losses. Additionally, you’ll see the pros and cons to betting units and which systems they work best with.

How Does a Betting Unit Work?

A unit represents a specific dollar amount (or other currency) that you can use to measure bets. For example, you might choose a betting unit worth $10. If you were to bet 2 units in this case, you would be risking $20.

Betting units don’t have to be specific to one type of gambling. However, they are most common in sports betting and casino games. Casino gamblers often use units in association with betting systems, which we’ll discuss more later).

BetOnline betting page.

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How to Determine a Betting Unit Size?

No universal bet unit size exists because every gambler’s situation is different. Therefore, you should consider your bankroll management and risk tolerance before coming up with a unit.

You also have options for deciding what to base your betting unit on. One common route involves using a percentage of your bankroll to determine the unit size. Here’s an example:

  • Your bankroll is $1,000.
  • You want a betting unit worth 1% of your bankroll.
  • 1,000 x 0.01 = 10
  • Your unit size will be $10.

Another path includes using online sportsbooks‘ or casinos’ minimum wager as a unit. Here are the minimum bets at some top US betting sites:

  • BetOnline – $1
  • BetNow – $0.01
  • Bovada – $0.50

BetNow betting screen.

$0.10 and $0.50 unit sizes likely won’t satisfy your appetite for risk. Moreover, you’ll be dealing with lots of units when wagering $20 or more. That said, another option is to simply pick an amount that you’re comfortable with. For instance, you might be okay with a $10 or $20 unit.

Our Techopedia team recommends using your bankroll to determine a unit in betting. This method helps you find a size that perfectly fits your bankroll. But again, you have other options for deciding your betting unit size.

How Many Units Should You Use in a Bet?

The number of units you put into a bet is another area where there’s no universal answer. A good place to start is with making 1 unit your default wager. Assuming your unit is $20, you would flat bet $20 until feeling the need to change.

What would convince you to add more units? What about lowering the units after placing larger bets? Here are scenarios for changing wagers to consider:

  • You’re on a hot streak and want to capitalize (more units).
  • You’re on a cold streak and wish to scale down your wagers (less units).
  • You believe that you’ve got an edge with a sports bet or casino game (more).
  • You’re in the mood for lower stakes (less).
  • You simply feel like raising your bet (more).

When raising wagers, we don’t suggest risking more than 2-5% of your bankroll outside of extreme circumstances. If you normally bet 1 unit, raising your wager to 10 units on a whim is a bad idea.

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Relationship between Bankroll Management & Units

The primary purpose of units is to make bankroll management easier. After all, bankroll management becomes difficult when you don’t have a defined bet measurement. Units break your gambling funds down into easily manageable chunks.

Let’s say that you have a $1,500 bankroll. The wrong approach would be to randomly make bets based on your feelings and emotions. For instance, you wouldn’t want to consecutively place $50, $30, and $100 bets with no thought process. Your chances of losing everything increase with this mindset.

Combining units with a disciplined bankroll plan increases your chances of lasting longer in gambling. You’re also more likely to have fun when betting within your means. Here’s an example on dividing your bankroll into units:

  • $2,500 bankroll.
  • You want to break your bankroll into 100 units.
  • 2,500 / 100 = 25
  • Your unit size will be $25.
  • You normally plan to only risk 1 unit per bet.

Sports Betting Units

Sports bettors use units perhaps more than any other type of gambler. Winning bettors and those who aspire for success are especially conscious about units. Advantage bettors know that they have a long-term edge and can make money. They just need to survive volatile periods and losing streaks to eventually realize profits.

A tried-and-true sports betting bankroll plan is the previously discussed 1% unit plan. Let’s recap. This sports betting strategy involves making your unit 1% of your bankroll (eg, $500 x 0.01 = $5 unit). Under this strategy, you typically never risk more than 1-2% of your roll on a single wager. But you might deviate and wager 3-5% in favorable situations.

Parlay bet at BetOnline.

Units in Casino Games

Casino games differ from sports gambling because they involve negative-expectation bets. Unlike sports betting, you cannot overcome the casino’s house edge through skill alone. Yes, rare exceptions exist such as card counters and skilled video poker players. Largely speaking, though, you need a mixture of luck and strategy to beat online casinos.

Therefore, you must consider specific games and their house edges before choosing a betting unit. Blackjack has less than a 1% house edge when you use proper strategy and choose a table with favorable rules. You can be more liberal with blackjack unit sizes because you’re facing such a small house edge. Here’s an example on how far a larger unit can go in blackjack:

  • $400 bankroll.
  • Blackjack house edge is 1%.
  • Your unit size is $20.
  • 400 / 20 = 20 units
  • You bet 1 unit per hand.
  • You play 150 online hands per hour.
  • 150 units bet per hour x 0.01 = 1.5 units lost per hour
  • 20 / 1.5 = 13.33
  • Your bankroll will theoretically last for 13.33 hours.

Meanwhile, most online slots carry a 4-5% house advantage. They also feature a faster playing speed than many casino games. You might log 300-500 spins per hour when playing at a normal rate without excessive breaks. Therefore, you want to be more conservative with slots unit sizes. You can see an example below:

  • $400 bankroll.
  • Slots house edge is 4%.
  • Your unit size is $1.
  • 400 / 1 = 400 units
  • You bet 1 unit per spin.
  • You perform 400 online spins per hour.
  • 400 units bet per hour x 0.04 = 16 units lost per hour
  • 400 / 16 = 25
  • Your bankroll will theoretically last for 25 hours.

The second example shows your funds lasting almost twice as long in slots. But your slots unit size is only $1 versus $20 for blackjack.

Baccarat game

Using a Unit in Betting Systems

Betting systems require placing wagers in a specific pattern in hopes of winning more money. Positive-progression systems see you wager more during winning streaks, while negative-progression strategies involve betting more during losing streaks to recoup losses.

All gambling systems involve using betting units. Most begin with risking 1 unit, before you either raise or lower units based on the results. No betting system exists that can overcome the casino’s house edge. Likewise, no sports betting system will guarantee that you’ll be a long-term winner. But gambling strategies can help you win serious money in the short run.

Best Betting Systems when Using Units

You can see several popular betting strategies for sports gambling and casino games. Again, these systems won’t make you a guaranteed winner, but they could provide good short-term results. Sports betting’s Kelly Criterion can even help maximize profits when you’re a successful bettor.

  • 212 system (positive progression) | Start by betting 2 units, then 1 unit after a first win and 2 units after a second win (ie, 2-1-2). You increase your bet by 1 unit for every win thereafter (eg, 2-1-2-3-4…). Following a loss, you start over and move back to 2 units.
  • D’Alembert system (negative progression) | Begin with 1 unit and add a unit every time you lose. Meanwhile, you subtract a unit whenever you win. A sample D’Alembert run might look like this: 1, 2, 3, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, 1.
  • Kelly’s Criterion (mathematical formula) | Use the formula “f = (bp – q) / b” to determine sports bets. B is decimal odds -1, p is the probability of winning, q is the probability of losing (1 – p), and f is the bet size/unit. An example would be 3.50 odds (3.5 – 1 = 2.5), 45% probability of winning (0.45), and 55% probability of losing (1 – 0.45 = 0.55). The formula would be: 0.23 = (2.5 x 0.45 – 0.55) / 2.5. You should risk 23% of your bankroll on this bet.
  • Labouchere (negative progression) | Think of a desired profit goal (eg, 12 units) and come up with a sequence that meets this goal (2, 3, 4, 2, 1 = 12). Add the first and last numbers to determine your bet (2+1 = 3 units). Cross those numbers off if you win (sequence = 3, 4, 2) or add a losing bet to the end (2, 3, 4, 2, 1, 3). You keep going until completing the sequence and reaching your goal winnings.
  • Paroli system (positive progression) | Wager 1 unit and increase your bet by 1 following each win. Start over after three wins (1-2-3 = 6 units profit) or following any loss.
  • Reverse Martingale betting system (positive progression) | Begin with 1 unit and double your bet after every win. You should set a cap (eg, 3 wins) on when you’ll start over to book some winnings.

Tips for Using Units in Betting

The tips below will help you get the most of out using units in sports betting and casino games:

  • Set up your bankroll – Bankroll management begins with defining how much you can reasonably afford to lose in gambling.
  • Make each unit a small percentage of your bankroll – A unit worth 1-2% of your bankroll helps minimize risk in sports betting and casino games.
  • Consider house edges for casino game units – You should use smaller units for volatile games like slots. Meanwhile, you can have larger units with blackjack and European roulette, which have low house edges and even-money bets.
  • Use units with betting systems – Units go hand in hand with gambling systems like the D’Alembert and Paroli. Kelly’s Criterion even helps you determine optimal bet sizes in sports betting.

Pros & Cons of Betting Units

Pros:
  • Keeps you disciplined when placing bets.
  • Great addition to any bankroll management plan.
  • Helps you survive volatility in gambling.
  • The backbone of any betting system.
Cons:
  • Won’t transform you into a winning long-term gambler.
  • Can take the fun out of choosing wager sizes.
  • Limits your winnings during hot runs.
  • Leaves variables for consideration (eg, how to pick a unit).

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Jeremy Olson

Jeremy has been writing about gambling since 2004, when he began covering poker and casino games. He has since written and ghostwritten thousands of pieces involving casino games, poker, and sports betting. While he's covered strategy and news in the past, his key areas of focus today include how-to pieces, promotions, and reviews. Jeremy has also written for BasketballInsiders, Gambling.com, OnlineUnitedStatesCasinos, and Props.com.