No, That’s Not A ‘Bad Beat’: Setting The Record Straight On Sports Betting Losses

bad beats scott van pelt

The term “Bad Beat” has long been a common utterance among sports bettors. Now with sports betting conversations becoming more open, and less stigmatized around water coolers and in the media, the term has reached a larger audience. But what exactly is a sports betting bad beat?

Although gut-wrenching losses take an emotional toll, recapping gambling bad beats is becoming wildly popular. Brought to the mainstream media by ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt in his weekly “Bad Beats” segment on SportsCenter, people tune in to re-live the last second touchdown or three-point basket costing some gamblers money. Misery loves company. Even non-gamblers are drawn to Van Pelt’s gambling laments, making it one of his most popular segments.

Bad beats reach far beyond Van Pelt, though. Today, there are multiple websites that recap bad beats, while Sports Betting Twitter calls out purported “bad beats” nightly.

With that background, we find it necessary to define the limits of a “bad beat” — to preserve the sanctity of the label.

All beats are not created equal

It seems like every time a college basketball team erases a 10-point deficit or a major league baseball team walks off with a three-run homer, folks will tab it as a bad beat. A majority of the time… it’s just gambling.

The epitome of a bad beat is what happened in a 2017 Monday Night Football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins. The Redskins went off as 6.5 or 7-point underdogs at most sportsboks.

With four second remaining in the game, Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker nailed a 43-yard field goal to put the Chiefs up 23-20, leaving just four seconds on the clock. Redskins backers looked like they were in good shape, unless something crazy happened. Then, something crazy happened.

After a touchback following the field goal, Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins took a shotgun snap and threw a wide receiver screen to Jamison Crowder, who had blockers set up for a few yards but no space to run. Crowder tossed the ball backwards to Cousins, who couldn’t field the lateral. That’s when things got dicey.

Tight end Jordan Reed picked up the ball but some players thought the game was over. It wasn’t. The play continued with Reed handing the ball off to running back Chris Thompson, who got hit and fumbled at the 15-yard line. Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston picked up the ball and ran 12 yards for the score, giving Kansas City bettors an unthinkable win and delivering a crushing loss to Redskins backers. That’s a bad beat.

It’s something completely unexpected, somewhat rare and fluky with a small chance of happening, and downright unfair. That’s our definition.

​Granted, there are different degrees of bad beats. Not every loss is a historic bad beat. However, not every loss should be classified as a bad beat either. Some are just losses, maybe unfortnante losses.

Here are some instances in different sports where the term Bad Beat is being overused:

College Basketball

There are over 330 college basketball teams, so you can classify numerous games a night as bad beats if you so choose. If you are a big college basketball bettor, you know it’s common for a team to be up double-digits in the second half, only to go cold from the field and lose outright.

Most of these losses don’t fall under the bad beat category. They fall under the category of betting college basketball. These types of beats happen all time in college hoops and a majority of gamblers just shake their heads and move on with their lives. We really don’t need a 300-word article written on it.

Also, most of the time, losing a bet by foul shots at the end of the game isn’t a bad beat. The last two minutes of a college basketball game takes an eternity with all the fouling, replays and timeouts. For some unknown reason, teams foul down 10 with seven seconds left. It’s maddening but again, the scenario plays out almost every night, so we know that going in. If it happens all the time, it’s not really a bad beat. Again, it’s called gambling.


No sport has more perceived bad beats than MLB. Question: How many good bullpens are there in baseball? Five? Six? Listen, if you bet the Marlins and they blow a 7-3 lead in the eighth inning, that’s not really a bad beat. That’s betting the Marlins.

Now, if the Yankees blow a three-run lead in the ninth, it’s a different story because we expect an elite bullpen to close the deal. If you classify every late blown lead in baseball as a bad beat, it’s going to be a stressful summer. Betting bad baseball teams is a roller coaster of emotions. Grab the Tums and prepare yourself.


Football is the easiest sport to decipher a bad beat because it’s only once a week, so people are less likely to exaggerate losses. Although, there’s one situation in football that can be misconstrued as a bad beat.

Sometimes a team isn’t covering for the entire game then scores late to give bettors a potential win. If they succeed, that’s a backdoor cover. However, sometimes the opposing team responds with a score to take back the cover. That’s not a bad beat. It would have been a worse beat the other way if the team covering the entire time lost at the end. If your team is only covering for two minutes and losses, it’s not a bad beat. It would have been a fortunate win.

The worst beats in football are often the scenario when you bet a team that is the right side but a crazy play beats you at the end. A classic example is Colorado-Michigan when Kordell Stewart’s Hail Mary won the game. That play also beat the spread. I know, because I had Michigan -4 and remember crumbling to the ground in disbelief when the pass was completed. I’ll never forget the feeling that day and it returns every time I see a replay. That’s a bad beat.

Some losses in a class all alone

We wrote about an awful beat in the NFC Championship Game between the Rams and Saints. Running Back C.J. Anderson’s total rushing yards was set between 44.5 and 46.5, depending on the sportsbook. (Never mind that the supposed “sharp” position was the under.)

Late in the fourth quarter, Anderson got to 47 rushing yards, giving over bettors the win…momentarily. The game went into overtime thanks to a missed pass interference call on the Rams. Anderson got one carry in the extra session resulting in a three-yard loss, putting his total yards at 44. That is a crushing beat for over bettors and a play they won’t likely forget any time soon.

You can argue we’re being sticklers when it comes to bad beats and maybe that’s true. However, if every random gambling loss becomes a bad beat, doesn’t it take away from the truly devastating defeats bettors remember forever? Maybe, maybe not.

In our opinion though, bad beats deserve to be in a class of their own, reserved for the truly disgusting losses that make us sick every time we see them. Remember that the next time you mention “Bahamas Bowl” to someone and they get violently ill.

What’s your all-time worst gambling beat? Let us know on Twitter @RGSportsBetting.