Sports betting is both incredibly simple and fairly complicated, as strange as that may sound. At its simplest, it comes down to predicting the outcome of a sporting event. Which team will win? But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In order to intelligently bet on sports, whether it be in Las Vegas or any other format for sports betting, it’s necessary to understand how bets are set up and posted, and what all the associated terminology means.
Beyond that, it’s useful to understand why the odds are what they are, how the odds change in the lead-up to the sporting event, and how to select the best value out of your wagering opportunities. Once you become familiar with some of the ways you can bet on sporting events, you can delve into more complicated types of wagers, many of which go beyond betting on which team is going to win. The better sports books allow you to bet on nearly any outcome taking place within a sporting event. You can even string multiple bets together so that you’re betting on a portion or all of the games played on a day, even spanning across multiple sports.
In many sporting events, it’s far from a level playing field. Imagine the University of Alabama football team playing a Division II school with 2,000 students. If it were as simple as picking the winner, everyone would choose Alabama. Sports wagering deals with the disparity in talent between opposing teams in a couple of ways.
One way to deal with a sporting event with a clear favorite/underdog is to make it so that you win more or less money depending on which team wins. To go back to that Alabama/DII matchup, let’s say that you would win $1,500 on a wager on the DII school, while you’d only win $115 on a wager of $100 on Alabama. Now, more people might be tempted to bet on the tiny school, realizing that they can win a large payout with a relatively low bet. Conversely some bettors decide against risking a relatively large wager for a small payout betting on Alabama. A moneyline wager balances the risk of betting an underdog with a correspondingly higher payout if the upset occurs.
Another way of tackling the favorite/underdog problem is by using a point spread. Again, taking the Alabama/DII example: In a point spread bet, you’ll win the same amount of money regardless of which team you choose. However, you’re no longer picking the winner of the contest. A +/- number is given to each team, and the bet is whether the winning team will ‘cover’ the spread, which means winning by a number of points greater than the point spread number. So, Alabama might be -35 1/2, and the DII school is +35 ½. This means that for a bet on Alabama to pay out, Alabama must beat the DII school by more than 35 points. If Alabama wins, but wins by only 30, the bet that pays out is the wager on the DII school.
The simplest types of bets are either moneyline bets or point spread bets, as they come down to picking a team to beat (or cover against) another team. However, there are quite a few other types of sports wagers possible to make.
For a given sports event, a number will be set. The bet is whether the combined point total will exceed that value. It doesn’t matter which team scores the points, it’s simply adding the two scores.So, again using Alabama/DII, an over/under line might be 51 1/2.
The outcome of the game doesn’t matter in an Over/Under bet, only the combined scores. These types of bets are also known as Total or Team Total bets. Also, it’s worth noting that these types of bets can be for stats other than points scored. You could have a MLB Over/Under bet for number of home runs in a game, for example.
Up to this point, all the bets described so far are dictated by the sports book and oddsmakers. If you want to bet on Alabama/DII school, you’re stuck with the point spread being offered. Alternate lines are a way to change the terms of the wager in exchange for differences in the payout.
For example, let’s say you would prefer to bet on Alabama but you think 35 1/2 points is too many. An alternate line bet might allow you to take Alabama – 25 1/2, but instead of making $200 on a $100 wager you might make only $150. In essence, alternative lines allow a combination of a moneyline and point spread bet.
Most of the bets so far have dealt with the final outcome of the game in question, being settled at the end of the game and mostly dealing with the final score. Props allow for a wide range of other types of bets not tied to the final outcome of the game in question. Prop bets are essentially only limited by what an oddsmaker or sports book are willing to offer. They can range from something like which team will score the first points of a game, how many strikeouts a starting pitcher accumulates, whether a team scores a shorthanded goal in an NHL game, or any of a variety of other bets.
In this section, we’ll take a look at an example of betting odds you might see for a professional game and what those odds mean.This set of odds is for a MLB game.
Let’s start with the second and third lines. The two teams playing are the Cubs (CHN) and the Reds, and the numbers next to each team represents the money line. The Cubs are the favorite, and what the -170 means is that in order to win $100, you’d need to wager $170. The Reds are the underdogs, and a bet of $100 would win you $160. To put that on level terms, a wager of $100 on the Red (if they were to win) would return $260 to the bettor. A wager of $100 on the Cubs (if they won) would return $159. The top line in the odds represents the over/under, which is set at 9. The main takeaway from that line is that an over/under bet is wagering on whether more of fewer than 9 total runs are scored in the game. The ‘u-10’ part requires a side discussion about how sports books make money.
If you’re paying close attention, you may notice that there’s a gap in the money line. If it were perfectly even, it would be -170/+170, or -160/+160. However, that’s not the case. The gap in the middle of the odds is known as the vigorish or vig, also referred to as ‘juice’. Any good-sized sports book is looking to roughly balance out the betting on each side of every contest. If they do so, the gap in the moneyline means that the difference between -170/+160 is profit for the sports book. This now goes back to the ‘9u-10’. Just like with the moneyline, sports books take a vig on over/under bets. The ‘u’ means that the under bet is a -110 bet, meaning you aren’t getting even payout on betting the under.
In order to understand how betting odds are created, it’s necessary to focus back on what a sports book’s objective is. A sports book isn’t trying to trick the majority of bettors into betting for the team likely to lose. They want to set odds that cause as close to even a spread of bettors on either side of the wager. A perfect world for a sports book would be a betting line where exactly 50% of bettors are wagering on outcome while the other 50% are betting on the opposing outcome. If this happens, the sports book has no risk at all while making money due to the vig. Sports books use advanced analytics and historical sports-related data to make predictions about the likely outcomes of the game. Then, they also factor historical betting patterns to predict where the action is going to fall. The combination of their prediction of the outcome of the game and the enthusiasm for betting each side determines the lines they set.
In the simplest scenario, a sports book would post odds for a match, people would choose how they want to bet based on those odds, and eventually the game would happen and winners and losers would be determined. This isn’t usually the way it works in the real world, though. Instead, odds will shift over time leading up to the event, and this happens for a variety of reasons. The easiest to understand is a result of new information coming to light. For example, let’s say that an NFL team’s starting quarterback gets injured in practice a day before a game. The odds will probably shift in the favor of the opposing team.
A less obvious but far more common reason that betting odds change is due to the bets coming in. As people wager, it’s common for one side of a given bet to be more heavily favored than another. If a sports book leaves their betting odds the same, they risk exposure if the heavily favored side wins their bet. To compensate, most sports books will change their odds to try to more closely even out the betting on either side of their bets. You can expect that most sports books will adjust the odds they’re offering in the lead-up to a sporting event.
In sports wagering, there’s an idea of sharps vs. squares, with squares also being referred to as public money. A sharp bettor is someone who wins consistently, often times by going against the public consensus in bets. The reason this tactic tends to work goes back to the discussion about how oddsmakers set betting odds. There are two components: predicting what the likely outcome of the game will be and predicting where the betting is going to fall. Obviously, the most important factor for an individual bettor is going to be the first one. But the sports book needs to account the second factor too, meaning that there are areas where a sharp bettor can find an advantage. For example, let’s say that a team tends to have a large contingent of bettors who are fans of that team and tend to bet on them to win more than they rationally should. A sports book will adjust for this by offering odds that encourage action on that team’s opponents, because the sports book is most interested in balancing out the action on both sides.
This means that the odds objectively favor betting against this team in many situations. Very often, looking where the public money is falling offers opportunities for wagers that have a better than even chance of winning over the long term.
A final consideration when betting on sports is shopping around for the best possible odds. In a place like Las Vegas, you can find any one of a large number of sports books, and those sports books are frequently using different oddsmakers and formulas. It’s the same with online sportsbooks, however, it’s much easier. We source the live odds for the most commonly used sportsbooks online today. The largest online sportsbook being Bovada and the largest offline sportsbook being William Hill. The other online sportsbooks we provide free live odds for are: Pinnacle, Sportsbook.com, GTBets and BetOnline.
It’s possible to find better or worse odds for the same sporting event. In addition to checking multiple sources, another factor in finding the best odds lies in picking the right time to wager. If you can accurately predict that public money is going to strongly favor the side opposite your own belief, you can wait for that money to fall and push the odds of the opposing side further in your favor before wagering.