The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sports Gambling
So it’s essential I start out with a disclaimer here. I am NOT a heavy sports gambler AT ALL, and don’t really do it much (outside of fantasy football and confidence pool type things), but the idea has intrigued me in the past. That being said, I do pay heavy attention to sports gambling lines and trends for a variety of reasons. The first is that it actually can serve as a pretty solid gauge of who will win a sporting event (which team is favored for example) if you pay attention to things right (more on this later). Second……well I’m a sports geek, and there is a lot of research that goes into making these lines, so trying to figure out why lines fall the way they do is something that intrigues me. Third, as I mentioned before, for things like fantasy football and confidence pools, you have to understand what you’re looking at in the gambling world. So with the Superbowl coming up, the most gambled on sporting event of the year, our good friend over at the brojourney.com, Matt Jared, pointed out that it seemed adequate to take a look at the different ways one can gamble on sports and what everything means. So we will take a very basic look at the major ways to bet and a couple different types of bets that can be placed.
1. BETTING “AGAINST THE SPREAD”
GENERAL: Starting off here with the most common of sports bets, and the one that is probably the most familiar. Betting against the spread is different from betting on a team to win straight up, where you would simply be picking a winner or a loser in a game (more on this later). Instead when using a spread, you have a scenario where the team favored to win is “giving” points (denoted by the – sign on the point spread) or the underdog is “getting” points (denoted by the + sign on the point spread), both essentially meaning the same thing just in different words. The general idea behind putting a spread on a game by book keepers is basically, “how many points does the favorite have to give in order for people to start betting on the underdog?” THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT (more later).
WHERE: Bets against the spread are most common in sports that have the potential to score a lot of points, like football and basketball, as there is potential for a substantial point total differential. Sports like baseball, soccer, or hockey for example, are less likely to have a spread on them due to the close nature of the games.
PAYOFF: This type is typically a 1:1 ratio in pay off, meaning you put down ten dollars and get twenty in return. There are different types of bets that can be made (particularly parlays and teasers, which we will get to later) that are a little more involved and change the amount of money that can be won. You will also notice that the lines are usually set in .5 point increments, which is done so that there cannot be a tie, also known as a push. (Ex. a line is set at 3 points and the favorite wins by 3 points. You now have a push and nobody wins.) Pushes can be handled in multiple ways, including the refunding of the money, or it could be treated as a win or a loss depending on the book being used.
HOW TO PLAY/THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND:
This is an example of a basic ESPN pick’em line.
Above, we have an example of what a spread line would look like. In this example, the Lions were getting 3.5 points (denoted by +3.5) against the Bears in week 17. So in this pick, I chose the Lions, even though I believed the Bears would win because I did not think the Bears would win by more than a field goal. I was correct in this case, as the Lions lost, but only by two points. So if you were to “add” the 3.5 onto the Lions score, the final score (by the betting book) would have been 27.5 to 26 in favor of the Lions, so I won the pick.
Some things to keep in mind when betting the spread. First is that these lines are originally made in Vegas typically, and keep in mind those people are very good at making money and predicting games. Remember, these guys are setting the lines trying to make the underdog look enticing enough to bet on. That in mind, it is important to understand that these lines can (and will) move throughout the week as more and more bets are being placed. If a line comes out and it is too low (meaning the favorite is not giving enough points), money will come in hard on the favorite and the book will raise the line for later bets, trying to encourage betting on the underdog, until betting resides around 50/50. So there are two ways that sharps (aka wise guys, aka people that really know how to gamble) will approach this. They will watch for the line to come out and if it looks too good to pass up one way or the other, they will immediately place money on it before the public (all the rest of us who are amateurs) come in and screw the line up. OR, they will examine the line and decide that due to some outside factor (irrational public support of one team, injury, an upcoming announcement they know about), they will WAIT on the public money to push the line irrationally in one direction and then take advantage of that irrational line and bet intelligently.
One last thing about the formation of lines before I stop rambling about this one type of bet. When forming the bets, it is typical that there is a home field advantage built into a line. In football for example, it is generally thought the home team automatically gives 3 (-3) no matter what. So, looking at last weeks’ 49ers/Falcons game, you see what I mean when I pointed out that it was a crazy line. The 49ers were GIVING 3.5 (at least when it opened, it ended up moving to 4) on the road to a #1 seeded team. That shows that the sports books believed that on a neutral field, 49ers were actually at least 6.5 points better than the Falcons, and I think they were right. For the Superbowl though, this isn’t much of a factor as they are playing at a neutral site (and it’s not close to either team).
2. THE MONEY LINE (THIS WILL BE SHORTER I PROMISE)
GENERAL: A line is placed on a game that person can pick up straight up (with no spread) that shows how much money a person would have to put down to win money, based on 100 dollars. I know that sounded confusing, but stick with me. There are two ways a money line can be denoted, which is by picking a favorite (-) or an underdog (+) just like the spread. If you see a – for a team, that denotes how much money would have to be put down in order to win 100 dollars. If you see a + for a team, that denotes how much you could win by putting down 100 dollars.
WHERE: This is kind of opposite of the spread, where you will see this in sports where there is typically not a large enough point differential to make a spread out of. So you’re looking at things like hockey, soccer, baseball, but probably most notably (in the gambling community) in horse racing and boxing. However, this still does appear in other point accruing sports (basketball and football) in two major contexts. One is that it will appear on single games, it will just be a smaller money line than you might get on a big event like boxing (-110 for a favorite or something). The second, and more common way is actually common throughout all of sports. This is in the form of a simple long term bet, where at the beginning of the year you might pick someone like the Bulls at +250 (pulling a number out here) to win the NBA championship at the end of the year. These odds will fluctuate during the year, but can typically continue to be taken.
PAYOFF: As noted up above, the general payoff will differ based on which side you are betting on. If you are betting on the favorite and win, you will be getting your money you bet back, plus LESS money than you put in. If you bet on the underdog and win you will be getting your money back, plus MORE money than you put in.
HOW TO PLAY/THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND: So this can be kind of confusing without seeing an example. Let’s use a hypothetical situation where the Yankees (good) are playing the Cubs (suck) to demonstrate a money line. Here is what the money line bet might look like:
“New York Yankees (-175) vs. Chicago Cubs (+140)”
So in this situation, you would need to put down 175 dollars on the Yankees in order to get your 175 back plus the additional 100 if they won. If you bet on the Cubs, you would put down your one hundred and would receive that back along with another 140. In the grand scheme, the money line seems to be more efficient at getting people to make sucker underdog bets, as you can easily talk yourself into, “well, all it takes is the Cubs to play out of their ass for one game and I could win 140 bucks!” In the big point sports, I will still glance at the money line as kind of an equalizer, or another measure to take a look at to see how confident in one team the sharps really are. If a team’s money line and spread don’t match up on the eye test (like a team is giving 9.5 on the spread but for some reason is something like -105), there might be something you don’t know and might be a warning to stay away from the game, as someone out there seems to be at least semi confident they could flat out lose the game.
The most frequent question about the money line has to do with the increments of betting. Placing the line in increments of 100 is very deceiving and intimidating, as you do NOT in fact have to place bets in 100 dollar increments. If a team is +200, you can in fact bet 5 dollars to get 10 depending on if the sports book has a minimum bet, so that’s a big plus. Really, the money line is just a fancy way to put the term someone is 2:1 to win or something of that nature. 2:1 favorite is the same as saying that favorite is +200, so that’s another part of the terminology that gets in the way.
3. A COUPLE DIFFERENT TYPES OF BETS
For all those who wish to gamble in a more exciting manner, here are a couple of the basic types of bets you can make.
OVER/UNDER BETS: This is a pretty straight forward type of bet that commonly goes along with bets on the spread. Basically, a number is set for the total amount of points scored in a contest. For example say a football game is set at 48.5. If you take the over, you would guess that the two teams would combine for over 48 (27-24 for example), and if you take the under, you would guess the two teams would go wind up under 48 combined (27-20 for example). In my opinion, always pretty hard to pick, but if you’ve got a real strong feeling that you’re going to see a shoot out or defense-fest, this is a fun bet to make things interesting.
PROP BETS: My personal favorite of the entire gambling community. You would not believe the shit you can gamble on, for real…. Two years ago when the Steelers played the Packers, the most exciting moments of the game for me were the first and last five minutes of the game, but not for the reasons you would think. I had the prop bet for Christina Aguilera to finish the national anthem in under 1 minute and 56 seconds while still simultaneously holding the last note for over 8 seconds, AND I PARLAYED THEM (more coming on a parlay in a second). DO YOU KNOW HOW STUPID THAT IS CHRIS, YOU CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS!? And I hit on both bets. And then, in the last five minutes of the game, I lost all $7.50 I had made on that bet. I mean seriously, who would have guessed that the Gatorade color dumped on the coach would be purple? Purple!? Both teams have yellow in their team colors and some water boy went with purple. Such a load of crap. Prop bets are the best, betting on anything as irrational as the coin toss and gatorade color to as rational as the MVP of the game and the amount of rushing yards Colin Kaepernick will have.
TEASERS: One of the more common bets made that can keep you interested in multiple games and make your gambling a little easier. The premise here is that you get extra points in your favor (on the spread that is) when making your bet, but would then receive less money for your win. It is common to bring more than one team into your teasers to try to increase the money you can make on one bet. If doing a single team teaser in a football game, the common idea is to give yourself another 6 points in the direction of your bet. So if you bet an underdog at +2.5, you now get that underdog at +8.5, giving you a little more cushion, but earning you less than even money on your bet. This has also been know to be used on over under bets, typically at 6 points again, so that you may pick and over/under line in either direction with a little more cushion. When doing a typical teaser, if you choose to involve multiple teams (up to as many as 5 or so), you can add or subtract a certain amount of points given to you from the spreads of the games. A little bit safer way to gamble (or say they want you to think. Many-a folks have learned that to not be true the hard way).
PARLAY: Here is where you have to be pretty good (and pretty ballsy) to win a lot. Basically, a parlay involves taking multiple bets and putting them all into one, but you are forced to win all of your picks without any cushion. An example would be taking three bets with a spread and putting them all together into one bet. However, if even one of these bets loses against the spread, you lose the entire parlay and you are out all of your money. The higher number of teams you put in, the higher the pay off will be. You can go as high as 15 team teasers if you so desired, which let’s face it, would require a butt load of luck at that point. (Now you can understand why that Christina Aguilera bet was so ballsy. Taking her to go over 8 seconds on one note and STILL make it under 1:56. That’s risky.)
So, hopefully this helps clear up some of the gambling mumbo jumbo you may be surrounded by while drinking your beer and eating taco dip during the Superbowl. With this information, you are now armed to pretend to be able to give solid gambling critiques of your friends’ gambling decisions. Or if you so choose, to make some picks of your own. Picks and a Superbowl post are surely on the way in the next week as well.