Until recently, you had to go to Las Vegas to place a legal wager on a sporting event. That’s all changed, however, and sports betting today is gobbling up a bigger and bigger piece of the gambling pie everywhere it’s allowed. Sports gambling is big business, and the odds are stacked against the party that places the bet. Like all gambling, sports betting is a potentially dangerous and destructive vice, so bet responsibly, stick to your limits and get acquainted with the process with this primer — and if you’re still not ready for the risks, stick to safer investments.
Sports Gambling Has Been Deregulated
On May 14, 2018, the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), which outlawed sports betting in the United States outside of Nevada. Within just one year, seven states in addition to Nevada legalized sports betting and took in $8 billion in bets. Today, it’s fully legal in 13 states and all but a handful of the rest are moving toward legalization.
How You Can Bet Depends on Where You Live
In some states, you can only place bets in person at a physical sportsbook, often located inside a casino. Other states allow in-person, online and mobile sports betting. Some states, such as New Mexico, have only a single location where it’s legal to place bets. Other states, like New Jersey — which led the battle to overturn PASPA — allow betting through dozens of physical locations, apps and websites.
Not All Sports Betting Sites Are Created Equal
There are dozens of apps and websites dedicated to gambling in general and sports betting in particular — and you can expect a different experience with each one. Most importantly, check the company’s history and reputation, but keep in mind that different sites take bets on different sports and different leagues. Check for things such as the competitiveness of odds and lines as well as betting options and customer service formats. It’s also important to note that some sites have different payout speeds and methods for deposits and withdrawals.
Learn To Manage Your Bankroll
Before you place your first bet, it’s important to learn the most important aspect of sports gambling: managing your bankroll. Your bankroll is the amount of money you deposit for betting, and while everybody’s number is different, a general rule of thumb is to never bankroll more than you can afford to lose. The second step is to choose your “unit size” — that’s the percentage of your bankroll you bet on any one event. Generally, that should be between 1% and 5%, and you’ll have to periodically reevaluate your bankroll management strategy. It generally is the most experienced bettors and those with the greatest sports knowledge who bet as high as the range of 4% to 5%. Conservative bettors stay in the low end of the range.
Get Used To Losing
Professional gamblers rarely bet more than 1% of their bankroll on a single event — probably because they know how likely they are to part ways with that money. A common error is to bet big when you hit a hot streak, but breaking from your bankroll-management strategy when you’re hot is rarely a winning move. Professional gamblers hope to win about 60% of the time — which means even they lose four bets out of 10. In short, frequent losses are a reality of sports betting.
Sports Betting Has Its Own Language
A wager is called “action.” When the underdog keeps the score within the line, they’ve “covered the spread.” A $1,000 bet is a “dime.” “Handle” is the number of bets taken and “hold” is the percentage that goes to the house. If a game is “off the board,” you can’t bet on it and the two opposing teams are known as “sides.” Like lawyers, doctors and auto mechanics, sports gamblers use jargon that is alien to outsiders, and if you want to get in on the action, you’ll have to learn the lingo.
You Can Bet On Just About Anything
Thanks to “exotic” prop bets, you can gamble on just about anything where the outcome is undetermined. Many of them are arbitrary and borderline comical, but oddsmakers make odds on them just the same. Exotic prop bets for the Super Bowl, for example, have included whether the stadium roof would open before the game, the number of commercials that would air during the game, whether or not a fan would run out onto the field and whether Christina Aguilera would make a halftime appearance.
Oddsmakers Pick Favorites and Underdogs
Oddsmakers work to beat bettors for the sportsbooks that employ them. They do this by crunching an enormous amount of both hard data — the statistics — and soft data such as public perception. As the name implies, oddsmakers determine the odds that one team or athlete will beat another and by how much. They then use that information to create lines and point spreads that are favorable to the sportsbook but still competitive against competing books.
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Point Spreads Even the Odds
One of the most common ways to wager is by betting the point spread, which represents the number of points a favorite is expected to win by over an underdog. The point spread allows bettors to gamble not on whether the underdog finds a way to win, but if the loss will be by less than oddsmakers expected. The favorite “gives” points to the underdog. If you bet on the Philadelphia Eagles, for example, as an eight-point favorite over the New York Giants, you would need the Birds to win by more than eight to win the bet.
Moneyline Betting Lets You Pick a Winner Outright
Losing to a point spread bet on a team that actually won the game is a frustrating endeavor. If point spreads aren’t for you, you can play the moneyline, which lets you pick a team to win straight up by any number of points. If you pick a favorite, of course, you’ll have to risk more to win less — if you pick a heavily favored team, you’ll have to pay much more. A -240 money line means you bet $240 to win $100. On the other side of the coin is a risky but potentially lucrative bet on the underdog. A +$190 moneyline means you bet $100 to win $190.
Over/Under Allows You To Gamble On Combined Scores
Another common wager is the over/under, which lets you bet on the cumulative points scored in a contest. If the over/under in the Eagles-Giants game is 28.5, for example, you could bet that the two teams will combine to score more than 29 points or fewer than 28. The line almost always is set at a half-point decimal to avoid draws, called “pushes.” When two teams with weak defenses and high-powered offenses compete, spreads are generally high, and they typically are low under the reverse offense-defense scenario.
Parlay Bets Are All or Nothing
Parlay bets allow you to increase your chances of a big payout by combining multiple bets into a single wager. The odds get bigger with the more bets you include, but as with all gambling, there is a catch. In order to win the parlay, you have to win all bets contained within. If a single bet loses, you lose the entire parlay — including bets you might have won individually.
Teaser Bets Boost Parlays — at a Price
Teaser bets combine multiple wagers, each of which must win, just like parlays, but this type of wagering gives the bettor some extra control. Teasers allow the player to “buy” points to add or subtract from the spread to increase their odds of winning. The tradeoff is that if you do win the teaser, you’ll earn a lower return.
Prop Bets Let You Wager On Arbitrary Events
Short for “proposition bets,” prop bets let you bet on events within a contest that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the outcome of the game. Some require no skill or knowledge whatsoever, like the results of the opening coin toss or the over/under on the time it will take the performer to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl. Skilled prop bets include things such as which team will score first and whether a certain player will score a touchdown.
Different Books Set Different Lines
As previously discussed, many states recognize several different gambling operations, both online and real world. You should shop around with as many of them as you can, then place your bet with the book that offers the most favorable line. Even half a point can mean the difference between your team covering the point spread — and you winning your bet — or not.
Lines Move in Real Time
Oddsmakers often float their opening line to a select group of bettors to see how they react. They sometimes then refine the line before pushing it live for the betting public — but the movement doesn’t stop there. Depending on how many people place bets on one side of the line or the other, the oddsmaker might adust the line several times throughout the day. That’s because their end goal is to create an environment where players bet on both teams in roughly equal numbers.
In Sports Betting, Everyone Pays To Play
Sportsbooks collect a commission — often called “juice” or “vig,” which is short for “vigorish” — on all bets placed. The reason that the best oddsmakers are the ones whose lines encourage equal and opposite wagers is that with an even split, the money wagered by those who bet on the loser pays the winnings for those who bet correctly — and the book keeps the juice.
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-110 Represents the Vig
Juice or vig is represented by -110, which is the magic number for sportsbooks. To ensure a profit on even wagers, books require players to put up $110 to win $100. If one bettor loses a $100 bet and another player pays $110 to win $100, the sportsbook gets $10 in vig. Without the concept of -110, it would be virtually impossible for the sportsbook to stay in business.
You Can Shop Around for 'Reduced Juice'
With standard -110 juice, you have to win 52.37% of your wagers to break even. Some sportsbooks will offer “reduced juice” on some bets either to compete with rival books or to encourage bettors to wager the other way on a lopsided line. If a book offers -107 reduced juice, you have to win just 51.67% of the time to break even. With -105 juice, that number drops to 51.22%.
Big Line Shifts Open the Door for 'Middling'
When a heavily favored team gets a relatively low line, many bettors will rush to lock in their bets on what they see as a favorable spread. Oddsmakers then adjust the line to get people to bet the other way. If the line moves significantly, bettors who locked in early wagers on the original spread can “play the middle” by placing a separate bet against the same team covering the new spread. For example, if you lock in a bet on the Buffalo Bills to beat the New York Jets by seven — a single touchdown — and then the line moves to 10 — now a two-score game — you could middle by betting against the Bills on the second bet. If the Bills win by nine, you win both bets.
Understand the Push Concept Before You Wager
In sports betting, a stalemate that neither wins your bet nor loses it is called a push. What constitutes a push can vary depending on the sport, the sportsbook and the type of wager (over/under, point spread, moneyline, etc.). If you push on one of your bets in a parlay, that individual bet is removed and the rest of the parlay continues as usual. In a teaser, a single push voids the entire bet. With a push, a bettor’s money is returned.
Bonuses Come With Strings
Many betting sites offer bonuses to attract new customers, sometimes in the form of deposit bonuses, other times in the form of a free bet. While bonuses are a good way to pad your bankroll, they always come with restrictions. Sometimes you have to bet a certain amount of money before you can cash in; other bonuses come with “rollover” requirements. There can be time limits on bonuses, limits on the number of active bonuses you can earn or limits on what type of bets you can make with bonus money.
Lines Never Change On Bets That Have Been Placed
Once you place a bet, you lock in the line that existed at that time, but that dynamic is a double-edged sword. You could end up happy that you locked in a bet as you watch the line become less favorable throughout the day, or you could watch it go the other way and get stuck wishing you hadn’t pulled the trigger so early. There is no “right time” to bet. Getting it right requires skill, experience and luck. Generally, lines tend to rise against the favorite as game time approaches, but it’s not always wise to hold out until the last minute when betting on the underdog.
Winning Doesn’t Mean Instant Cash
There’s a lot of variation in how different books allow players to withdraw money from their accounts — and it’s almost always easier to deposit money to your bankroll than to take money out. Some books have maximum and minimum withdrawal amounts, while others lock some of your funds until you’ve completed bonus requirements such as rollovers. Some books have dramatically different payout speeds and some offer many more payment methods than others.
Winning Too Much Can Get You Banned
Sportsbooks want gamblers to win about 50% of their wagers. That way, they can collect vig from all bettors half the time — and, of course, you can never lose too much. You can, however, win too much. When players win too frequently, particularly with higher-wage bets, it’s fairly common for the book to inform them that they’re no longer welcome to place wagers.
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About the Author
Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street’s investment community in New York City.