For sports fanatics, the opportunities to participate and even profit from their favorite hobby continue to expand. First came season-long fantasy, daily fantasy, and now sports betting is becoming increasingly viable as an outlet for sports fans who just can’t get enough.
Each year, more and more states are legalizing sports betting, which is opening the door for an untapped source of revenue for the state, but also for local businesses and some well-prepared bettors.
If you’re new to the wonderful world of placing bets, our Sports Betting 101 series is designed to break down many of the different strategies and approaches that can help you understand what can be confusing and intimidating to first-time players.
But before we get into the myriad ways that bets can be placed, we need to have a rudimentary understanding of the basics, like money lines, spreads, totals, and vig.
The first thing that any potential bettor should know is that Vegas knows what they’re doing. Their ability to properly handicap a game that has yet to take place is uncanny and if something seems too good to be true, it likely is.
Any casino or “house” that accepts a bet is going to expect a little something in return. Called the vig or “juice,” those costs are baked into the lines. For example, you may see two teams considered dead-even on the field, with PICK EM listed as the line.
That means the teams are considered 50/50 but the odds associated with the bet may say (-110). That means the house is taking 10 points off the top, just for offering the bet. Successfully picking that game would result in just a 90% return after paying the juice.
In an ideal world, Vegas would have 50% of every line they offer on opposing teams and they could simply sit back and absorb the vig. Just consider it the mandatory price for doing business.
The easiest bet to make, you’re simply picking which team will win, regardless of point spreads or any other plays. Sometimes teams are considered even and will be listed as a PICK ‘EM minus the juice, but usually there is a favorite and an underdog.
Betting on teams straight up is just too easy, so you’ll see a + and – assigned to each squad depending on how evenly-matched Vegas thinks they are.
Using $100 as the basic “unit” of betting, picking the favorite would entail betting more than $100 to win back your original investment. In other words, picking a huge favorite to simply win might mean you’d see a -250 next to that team. That means you’d have to risk $250 to win $100, or gamble $250 for total payout of $350 (minus the vig.)
An underdog would have a + simple and would be a more favorable bet. A team listed at +130 means you would receive $230 on a single-unit wager. Again, don’t forget the juice.
In order to try to get equal action on both sides, Vegas or your house will assign point spreads, “rewarding” the underdog. In football, a slight underdog might be expected to lose by three points, so they would have a (+3) next to their line, while the favorite would be (-3.)
Point spreads tell you how many points better that Vegas thinks a team in than their opponent.
In the above example, the New England Patriots are considered very small home favorites against the Buffalo Bills. Vegas expects the Patriots to win by just two points, so taking the Bills means you would win the bet even if Buffalo lost by one point.
Any tie would be a no-bet, with your money returned. That’s why you often see a 1/2-point (-3.5) assigned, to avoid ties.
Also known as over/under, totals bets are simply the combined points scored by both teams. Once a line is determined at the beginning of the week, a bettor can choose to go OVER or UNDER. An exacta would also be a no-bet.
In the above image, we see the line from an NFC East Thursday night showdown between the Commanders and Giants. In the game, Washington was favored by 3.5 but there was a very modest over/under of 40.5 points, which is low.
By analyzing that spread, we can decide that the “implied” total of the game was Washington 22.5 to New York 18. Totaling up both scores gets you to 40.5, with the Commanders favored by 3.5. Not a very exciting matchup if you like offense and one that might be ripe for an OVER bet.
Totals are relatively simple and can often be live, meaning you can play each quarter, half, or simply the game. Weather can also be a factor late in the season, so quickly jumping on UNDERS early in the week can be a solid strategy once winter sets in.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, the final score of that game went WAY over, with Washington barely winning 30-29. Bettors who picked the Giants to cover the 3.5-point spread and the OVER had a great night.
That’s what makes betting fun. It enhances what is already a great sport and gives the fans at home something else to cheer for. Now that you know the basics, Pick a plan that’s right for you. We’ll help guide you the rest of the way.