The arrival of legalized online sports betting is becoming a reality for many states in the US. It’s been nearly two years since the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to overturn PASPA, the 1992 law that made sports betting illegal at the federal level. To the benefit of the country, that right to decide has been left to the states.
As of this writing, 19 states have some form of sports betting, with many of them also including online betting. Thanks to sites like DraftKings and Fanduel, the infrastructure for states to take advantage of legalization quickly and efficiently was already present.
So your state finally legalizes sports gambling, you download the app of your choice, submit your credentials, make a deposit, and start scouring the games. But there appear to be infinite options, and everything looks a little bit too confusing. What are all these numbers with pluses and minuses? What’s the difference between a moneyline and a futures?
Don’t fret: this is the simple 5 Minute Guide to Betting.
When browsing a league such as the NFL or NBA, games are typically broken up like the below:
|Denver Nuggets||-3 (-110)||-162||O 224.5 (-110)|
|Toronto Raptors||+3 (-110)||+136||U 224.5 (-110)|
A few of the columns need to be defined before diving in.
“Spread” is how many points a team can win or lose by for that bet to still hit. The +/- sign determines whether the team has to win by that number or not lose by that number. Minus (-) means that the team is favored and has to win by more than that amount, and plus (+) means the team has to not lose by more than that amount. In the example above, Denver needs to win by 4 or more to cover and for the bet to hit, and Toronto needs any outcome except for losing by 4 or more to cover. To “cover” means that the team won or lost by the margin of the spread or better and won the bet.
If the exact number hits (e.g. Denver wins by 3;110-107), then it’s a “push” for both Toronto and Denver, and the bettor gets their original wager back. The odds will typically, although not always, be -110 when betting the spread.
“Moneyline” means taking that team to win the game outright. Taking the favored team means the payout will be less, but taking the underdog can yield large profits.
“O/U” stands for “over/under”, which is the point total for both teams to score. In the example above, if Toronto and Denver combine for 225, the over hits. If it’s 224, then the under will hit. Be careful when betting the under since a game going to overtime doesn’t invalidate the wager.
The bettor has the option to put money on any of those 3 events to happen. When a bet is placed, that is called the “wager”. If the bet loses, the bettor loses the wager. If the bettor wins, they get their wager back and what they won to total the “payout” What the casino pays out is entirely dependent on the odds the bettor took and therefore the likelihood of the event.
ODDS AND IMPLIED PROBABILITY
The odds may seem confusing in their payout methods at first, but it’s quite simple. If a number has a minus sign in front of it such as the Denver Nuggets moneyline above (-162), then you have to bet that amount ($162) to win $100. If a number has a plus sign in front of it such as taking the Raptors to win (+136), then betting $100 will get a profit of $136. Minus money means what to bet to get $100, whereas plus money is what betting $100 will get you.
The most popular number at the books and the number of the spread is -110. -110 is the number used by sportsbooks because that is their cut for taking on the risk, and therefore their profit. Vegas’s goal isn’t to beat the bettor: it’s to get 50% of the money bet on one side of the spread and the other 50% to be bet on the other side. If I put $110 on the Raptors +3.5 and you put $110 on the Nuggets -3.5 at -110 odds for both, then the bookie still makes a profit of $10 no matter the result of the game, as you lost $110 to the bookie and the bookie only had to pay me $100 in profit.
A useful tool when betting -110 is to look at a team’s “against the spread (ATS)” record. ATS shows how many times that team has covered or “beat the spread”. A bad team from a win/loss standpoint can have a good ATS record, just as a “good” team can be bad ATS by keeping games close and not winning by enough. For example, the Detroit Pistons are currently the 9th best team ATS, but they have the least wins in the Eastern Conference.
Oftentimes a line is set with a half point (-3.5) so the bettors can’t push. In American football this can be especially frustrating, as roughly 24% of games are decided by either 3 points or 7. Vegas will often set the lines “outside” that, and nothing makes me want to jump off a cliff when I take the LA Chargers -3.5 against the Broncos and they only win by 3, or take the Bears to cover +6.5 against the Titans and they lose by 7.
The higher the number with a minus sign means that that event has a higher probability of happening. Teams like Alabama Football will often have heavily favored moneylines, such as -300 or higher. The higher the number with a plus sign means that event is less likely to happen. Predictably, taking the New York Jets to win is almost always heavy plus odds.
One of the best ways to understand the likelihood of an event happening is with an implied probability calculator. -200 may seem like a safe bet, but it only has a 66.67% implied chance of happening. Oftentimes new bettors will put that as a “safe” leg on a parlay without knowing much about the team to get a few extra dollars on the payout. It’s unwise to take a “sure” bet on an event you know little about – because it’s still a gamble – and then leave it up to a ⅔ chance for not much more profit. Take the money where you can get it.
Looking from the side of the underdog, a team may be +200, and therefore an implied 33.33% chance to win. If you believe you have an edge that the public and the sportsbook don’t see in a matchup, taking the moneyline and getting the extra profit can be a nice adrenaline rush. If you follow a couple of small market teams closely, then noticing opportunistic spreads is generally easier as you have a better grip on the team than the public.
TYPES OF BETTING
As with any form of gambling, there are many different strategies to go with. Below are a few of the basics.
Betting the singles is exactly what it sounds like: betting the outcome of a single game. If you guess that game right, you win. Guess incorrectly, and you lose. Boring, but it’s the easiest way to profit, and especially so for the person who bets sparsely but with great conviction.
If there are two or more outcomes that you’re confident in, then you can create a parlay to increase your payout since the odds multiply on top of each other. A parlay is attractive due to the large amounts of money that can be won with small bets. However, for the parlay to hit, you must get every outcome, or “leg” correct. In other words, if you don’t get one outcome right, the entire parlay loses. I can’t begin to express how much I want to self-immolate when betting a 4 leg parlay, 3 out of 4 games hit and the 4th game doesn’t cover by a half point.
Statistically speaking, the more items on the parlay, the worse the sportsbook pays out on odds compared to the true odds. The table below assumes -110 odds for each leg, which would be an implied probability of 50%.
|Number of Legs in the Parlay||True Odds at 50%||Odds Payout at the Sportsbook|
|2||3 to 1||2.6 to 1|
|3||7 to 1||6 to 1|
|4||15 to 1||12 to 1|
|5||31 to 1||24 to 1|
|6||63 to 1||48 to 1|
|7||127 to 1||92 to 1|
|8||255 to 1||176 to 1|
|9||511 to 1||337 to 1|
|10||1,023 to 1||645 to 1|
|11||2,047 to 1||1,233 to 1|
The gap between the odds payout and correct odds increases as more legs get added on. For example, a 2 leg parlay pays 86.7% of the true odds, a 5 item parlay pays only 77.4% of the true odds, and an 11 only pays 60% of the true odds. The sportsbook takes a larger and larger edge of the parlay, as they take on more risk for such a minimal bet. However, they already have a big enough edge as it is, so try not to have too many legs. Otherwise the casino has a disproportionate advantage compared to your payout, and they already have a disproportionate advantage considering only one leg needs to miss for you to lose.
The simplest and most predictable way to bet. The idea is simple: bet the same amount on every game you bet at -110 odds. Predict 52.4% of the games correctly with this method and you profit. While unexciting, taking away the ability to make emotional financial decisions is safe for many bettors and does its job in adding a little flair to the events.
Instead of betting the same dollar amount each time, proportional betting involves betting a ranged percentage of the bankroll each time. Most sources recommend 1-5% of your bankroll should be bet each time, with the percentage you bet varying on your level of confidence. In theory, betting percentages of the bankroll instead of a fixed amount allows the bettor to capitalize on hot streaks and slow down the losses on cold streaks.
WAYS TO BET
Pre-game betting involves betting on a game before it happens. You can bet on Over/Under, the spread, player props, etc. While pre-game betting is the most popular way to bet in the US, it is starting to lose some ground to the next type of betting.
In-game betting is simply that: placing a bet during the course of a game. Odds change frequently, as a team that was heavily favored could end up losing by 20 at halftime. If you believe that team still has some fight left, the sportsbook may be offering an enticing spread to capitalize on.
In-game betting is actually more popular than pregame betting in Europe, but it still has yet to gain popularity in the US. Many bettors feel as if they have to see how two teams will start a game to be able to better determine what the outcome will be, and where the advantage over the bookie is to be had.When in-game betting the odds change rapidly, especially in a sport like basketball where there are points scored every minute.
Futures bets are wagers placed on longer-term events. This can include who will win the division, the conference, the championship. Futures typically have high plus money odds, and taking a couple teams that have favorable odds can be a good way to hedge yourself but still profit big.
The odds will change throughout the season, as teams may suffer an injury to a star, or just simply outperform or underperform their initial expectations. As such, futures can be placed either before the season or during the season.
Player props are bets placed on players to perform a certain task. This includes which player will score first and whether a player will score over/under an amount of points, rebounds, receptions, etc. There are also futures player props, such as who will win MVP, or whether a player will gain a certain amount of yards.
Player props are useful when a player’s strength might be another team’s weakness. An example would be taking Tom Brady over 2.5 touchdowns against the Lions.
HOW MUCH TO BET
An obvious negative to sports betting is the potential to lose money. So how much should the bettor risk? It varies, but the ethos is we’re trying to win a meal at a good restaurant, order DoorDash, or get a tank of gas. As a part of the working class, that means roughly $25 a week for myself. Betting payments to the landlord on a game is strictly forbidden, and while I work for attorneys, I personally can’t afford one in that sort of lawsuit. If you’re one of the attorneys I work for, then maybe you can do those $100 parlays I dream of, but even then you still shouldn’t bet more than whatever amount will keep you up at night.
Ultimately you’ll find what your risk tolerance is, and don’t increase it. Betting on sports makes sports more fun, but losing your lifestyle over a blown call by the referee isn’t. The margins of victory are miniscule, Vegas always wins, and there are a million better investments to be had with your money. The best bettors in the world still can’t hit on 60% of their games, so don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s a career.
Websites always have promotions going on, especially when a state launches online gambling. Here in Michigan, I received $200 from BetMGM, $200 from DraftKings, and $100 from FanDuel (all in bonus cash) just for signing up and depositing money prelaunch. It’s literally free betting money! If you’re joining after your state already legalized it there are still promos, but the bonuses typically are much less.
As always, watch out for the terms and conditions. Typically the bettor can’t withdraw their deposited money until they have spent their bonus, and they can’t withdraw their bonus until they bet a certain number of their bonus, whether it be 1:1, 2:1, 25:1 (as is the case for DraftKings), or any other number.
Bonus casino credit can actually turn into sportsbook credit if the bettor plays enough of their bonus, whatever that number may be. Don’t bet big in the casino, as you want to retain as much credit as possible for sports betting. It’s the only casino game where profiting in the long term is a possibility. Stick to $1 rolls of roulette and $1 blackjack hands until you’ve bet enough to minimize the risk, rather than playing $20 hands and starting with a cold streak.
The most important rules to remember are to be responsible and have fun. As soon as those rules get broken, it becomes a financial burden, and you’re chewing your nails to nubs over end game results, you need to quit. Taking advantage of every promotion possible is a great way to ensure that you never need to touch your own bank account.
Check out our other betting material, and as always, happy betting.