Sports Betting 101
The Odds and Ends of Making a Wager
by Nolan Dalla
So, You Wanna Bet on Sports?
You’re not alone! According to recent estimates, each year roughly 20 million Americans place some type of wager on a sporting event. This number may actually be twice as high with the widespread popularity of office pools, football squares and casual bets made between friends and coworkers. Everyone, it seems, has a friendly wager going on the March Madness college basketball tournament or America’s premier sporting spectacle—the Super Bowl.
People of all ages, races, creeds and backgrounds bet on sports for at least two reasons: amusement and to make money. If most gamblers were asked about driving forces, the majority would probably declare they bet on sports for amusement and to make money. Indeed, for serious sports bettors, making money is one of the very best forms of “amusement.”
This article is intended to provide beginners and those new to sports betting with information essential to gambling and winning. What follows is a crash course on the different types of wagers, the basics on how to handicap a game or proposition, and a quick tutorial on actually placing your first bet. Now, let’s get to the fundamentals of sports betting.
Where Can I Bet on Sports?
Nevada is the only state that allows legalized sports gambling. Although a few other states, such as Oregon, do permit various forms of recreational sports betting, Nevada remains the undisputed center of the sports betting universe. Until recent years, if you wanted to wager on sports in the United States you either lived in Nevada or were visiting the state as a tourist. But with a computer and an Internet connection, you can bet on sports from just about anywhere today.
Accordingly, it has never been so easy to place a bet. Whether you are inside a Las Vegas casino or sitting at home in front of your home computer, anyone can now get in on the action. And business is booming—worldwide! Many sports gamblers find that opening an offshore account is the simplest and most convenient way to place bets. Still others prefer the excitement of stepping into a real sportsbook, placing a bet, and watching the game with fellow gamblers. Do what works best for you.
What Types of Wagers Can I Make?
The most common type of sports wager is called a “side” bet. When handicappers talk about betting on teams and point spreads, they are usually pondering which “side” is the best play. Important questions relating to sides—such as player matchups, team power ratings, line movement and value, and injury reports—dominate the sports betting landscape. However there are many other facets of sports gambling that are even more enticing and potentially profitable for astute bettors including moneylines, totals, parlays, teasers, propositions, second-half bets and futures. Let’s take each type of wager separately.
Side Bet: About 75 percent of all wagers placed in Nevada are side bets. Sportsbooks start off by posting an opening line on each game. This is called the point spread. Since most teams are not equal in talent, points are added to the team perceived to be the weaker of the two. Hence the essential question for gamblers becomes not Which team will win the game? but Which team will cover the point spread? A common example of a line would be as follows:
Green Bay -3 -110
Chicago +3 -110
The Green Bay Packers are the road team, designated by being listed on top. The Chicago Bears are the home team, which is always listed on bottom. According to oddsmakers, Green Bay is a three-point favorite. This means for the Green Bay bet to win, the Packers must win the game by at least 4 points. The Bears could lose the game, but if they lose by only one or two points, bettors that wagered on the Bears would win. If the Packers win the game by exactly three points, this would be a “push” and all wagers would be refunded. The second number listed is -110, which means bettors must lay 11-10 on every wager (or $110 to win $100). The extra 10 percent is called the house vig or juice. This is how the casino or sportsbook is guaranteed a profit.
Moneyline Bet: Another option is to bet on a team simply to win the game. The point spread is not a factor and has no bearing on the wager. However moneyline betting means either laying or getting a price. For example, a far-superior team has an inflated moneyline price versus an inferior opponent. A common example would be as follows:
Green Bay -140
If you think the Packers will win the game, you must lay 14-10 (or $140 to win $100). If you think the Bears will win the game, you can lay 10-12.5 (or bet $100 to win back $125). If you doubt the potential value of moneyline betting, keep in mind that the point spread does not come into play in most games, whatever the sport. If you simply pick the straight-up winner of the game, you are already way ahead of most sports gamblers.
Totals Bet: Betting on the total means placing a wager on the combined number of points scored in the game by both teams. Essentially you are trying to predict whether the game will be high or low scoring. A common example would be as follows:
Green Bay 39
Chicago Under -120
Oddsmakers have posted a total of 39 on this game. You have the option of betting “over” or “under” the total. If you believe the game will be high scoring, bet over. If you believe the game will be low scoring, bet under. Notice on many totals, there are adjusted vig prices. In the Green Bay-Chicago game, if you were to bet under 39, you would be required to lay 12-10 (or $120 to win $100). If you bet over 39, you would lay even money ($100 to win $100). The most important factors that influence totals are weather conditions, playing surface (indoor versus outdoor stadiums), and player injuries.
Parlays: It’s tough enough to pick a side or total correctly. But for more aggressive bettors that want to go for a bigger payoff, parlays are an attractive alternative. A parlay means you pick two or more teams against the point spread and receive a higher payoff based on the number correct picks. A three-team parlay usually pays 6-to-1 for example. So a $100 bettor would win $600 if he picks all three games correctly. This all sounds too easy. The downside is that if any one of the three picks loses, the entire parlay loses as well. Hence a gambler could pick two out of three winners (a good day for most bettors) but would lose money if he bet the group as a parlay. Sportsbooks make a significant amount of profit from parlay cards, which should tell you something about their value. If you’re smart, you’ll avoid this type of bet.
Sports Betting 101.