How to understand sports betting

Trick betting and other pitfalls in one of the world’s biggest earnings.

Why, for example, do you never bet on a heavily favored team – say, 8-to-1 or 9-to-1 – to win a game? Because you think that team will actually lose? If so, why not just buy a lottery ticket and avoid the vigorish (vigorish: commission charged by bookmakers)? No, traditionally those who bet on such long shots are what gamblers call “smarties” – sharpshooters looking to make a quick buck with an exotic parlay bet. In a wager on two teams, the bettor must choose the winner of each of the two games. Those who bet on a favorite with odds of 8 or 9 to 1 usually attach a “hook,” a second team that has little chance of winning its game, but which, if it manages to stun its opponent, will cause the big favorite to lose and thus pay double the original bet. In this type of exotic betting, you don’t pick against the house (the house is the bookies’ name) because you are betting on both teams to win – and there is no greater fool than someone who bets that the two favorites can both pass; hence, everyone accepts your action.#

Betting on sports with a reliable partner –

Point spread

Point spread. The most popular bet in sports betting is a point spread bet, where one team, usually the underdog, is given a certain number of points with which to beat the favorite. For example, if Florida plays Ohio State and the odds determine that Florida must win by more than 10 points to even pay out (a $100 win for every $110 bet), then Florida can be listed as +10; meaning that you have to risk $110 on Florida to win $100 on whether it will cover or beat the spread (coverage: when a team wins outright against the spread). If you want to bet on Ohio State instead of Florida and they have a +8 handicap, you would make the same bet but win $120 for every $110 risk (winning $100 on Florida means losing $11, thus covering the spread). Picking favorites is always popular; you don’t have to have a rich imagination to imagine bettors across the country happily betting on Ohio State, even though they were expected to be defeated by Florida.


Vigorish. So how does anyone bet on a favorite like Ohio State? First, bookmakers don’t offer money lines on all NFL games; some of them are simply too lopsided, which can make it difficult for the few people who want to bet on favorites to find a bookmaker. Second, bettors may not want to bet on Ohio State, Notre Dame or even USC.

Because it doesn’t make much sense to spend money on a team that can only win half its games; bettors want to bet on something that is more likely to win at least 3-1. So bookmakers sometimes “fade” (ignore) public promotions on these types of teams and open the book (book: a list of bets made by patrons with firm odds already set for each game) in two ways: first, by lowering the spread to be closer to what they think the true line should be; second, by introducing +3 and -3 money lines.

How to calculate a bet

For example, you can see that Ohio State is listed as -1 -105 (-105: meaning you have to bet $100 to win $105) instead of -10; this is because the bookie will lose 25 cents of every dollar bet if Ohio State covers the spread, but only 21 cents of every dollar bet if they do not cover the spread, and 21% vigorish is much less damaging than 25%. The same goes for +115 instead of +8. Not much of a difference? You better believe it: remember that each combination costs the house just over 5%, and that one move can make a huge difference in profits.