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Sports Betting 101: A beginner’s guide to getting in on the action


Football is by far the most popular sport and many will be heading online or to the sportsbook when the action kicks off this fall. Whether you’re looking for a nice parlay just for fun or taking your handicapping very seriously, here are some concepts to consider when making those bets.





  1. Bet on a Budget – Sports betting is fun, but as with any gambling, play responsibly. Set a certain amount you can afford to lose and play within that budget.
  2. Study Up – Those looking to be successful should study the teams and take it seriously. Look at some key factors such as injuries, matchups, quarterbacks, and offensive and defensive lines.
  3. Avoid Emotion – Betting on your favorite team isn’t always the best decision. Study those lines and take a non-biased approach.
  4. Be Selective – Building on No. 2 and 3, try not to be an “action junkie.” Find some key matchups where you seem to have a clear opportunity to win. Betting on every game possible is usually a recipe for losing.


Sports Betting Glossary

Here’s a look at some common terms someone new to sports wagering might need to place those bets, as well as a guide on how to place some of the differing bets at a sportsbook.


Action – This is any money bet on a contest or race. The term can also be used in other gambling references. (e.g., I’ve got some action on the Dallas Cowboys game today.)


Against the Spread (ATS) – A bet on one side of the point spread. Can also be used in reference to how a team does against the spread. (e.g., The Saints are 7-2 this season against the spread.)


Betting Line or Line – Also known as the odds or point spread. This is how much one team is favored over another. Can also be termed as “odds” when it comes to bets like futures wagers.


Bookmaker/Bookie – A sportsbook or person who accepts wagers on games, both legal and illegal. “Book” can also be used for short and also in terms of placing a bet. (e.g., I’ve got three bets booked on Sunday’s NFL games.)


Buying Points – This allows a bettor to move the point spread a bit for a better chance of a winning bet.


Cover – This means that a team wins versus the spread. If the Giants are a 2.5 point favorite (-2.5), and win by 3 points, then they have covered the spread.


Futures Bet – A wager for some future event, such as betting a team before the season to win the Super Bowl or World Series.


Handle – The total amount bet on a game, contest or total at a sportsbook over a certain period of time.


Laying the Points – When a bettor takes the favorite.


Moneyline – This is a bet in which a bettor simply has to pick the right team to win. However, payouts are less depending on the odds. Odds are usually posted as such:

  • Packers -160. This means you would have to wager $160 on the Packers to win $100.
  • Packers +160. With this bet, you’d get back $160 for a $100 bet if the team wins.
  • Note that these amounts aren’t required to place a bet. Lower amounts can certainly be bet, but this is an easy way for a book to display the odds on these types of wagers.


Odds – General term for the betting lines or point spreads.


Over/Under – This is a bet based on the total number of points scored between two teams in a game. If the Giants play the Eagles, the Over/Under might be listed by the sports book as 45. If a player bets the under and the final score is 27-21, that player would lose the bet as the score went “Over” (27+21=48).


If the game ended at 24-20, “Over” bettors would lose as the total only reached 44. If the score ended at 24-21 (45 points total), the bet would be a push and bettors get their money back.


Parlay – A bet in which a person selects more than one outcome that must happen. The payout will be higher based on the number of events, but if one part of the bet does not come through then the entire bet is a loss.


Pick ’em – A game in which there is no favorite. The two teams are considered equal and bettors must simply pick the winner.


Point Spread – This is the margin of victory for a game determined by the oddsmaker. Sportsbooks use this to create action on both teams. The favorite will have to win by more than the margin the oddsmakers set. If the Jets are favored by 2.5 against the Cardinals, they must win by 3 points or more for a win. If they only win by 2, they didn’t cover the spread and those who bet the Cardinals will win.


Point Spreads may be posted in the following ways:

  • Steelers -3.5. This means the team is favored by 3.5 points, spotting the opposing team a 3.5-point lead. Bookmakers often use half-points to avoid a push. If the Broncos win by 4 or more, they have covered the spread.
  • Steelers +3.5. This means the Steelers are a 3.5-point underdog. If they lose by 3 points or less, a player would cash a winner on them.


Push – A bet that results in a tie. If the Jets are favored by 7 and win 21-14, neither team won and the bets are returned.


Teaser – A type of parlay where a bettor can move the point spread in his or her favor, but results in a lower payout.


Vig or Juice – The commission or percentage of the betting pool that the house (sportsbook) takes. This is how a sportsbook profits.



How does the Sportsbook Make Money?

New sports bettors might not understand exactly how a sportsbook or casino makes money. One thing is certain, they aren’t in the business of betting against customers—or losing money. In theory, bookmakers are just setting point spreads that hopefully even out the action on both teams. In effect, bettors of one team are betting those who took the other team and the bookie is the intermediary


So how does the casino make money from those wagers? The books take a commission on the total money bet (see vig/juice above). If there is too much action on one team, bookmakers will adjust the line so that more money begins flowing to the other team and evens that out. The system usually works and the casino has no real interest in which side wins. Occasionally more money flows to one team and they face a loss on the action. But for the most part, bookmakers have mastered this art and are quite happy taking their vig.

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