Understanding Sports Betting Presented by
The Complete Guide to Sports Betting for Beginners
Getting into sports betting can be quite a daunting undertaking, especially if you
have little to no experience in sports betting of any sort to
begin with. There are dozens of sports and thousands of markets
to choose from on any given day. This guide will provide you
with the information to start your sports betting endeavor successfuly.
What is a favorite?
A favorite is a team or competitor that oddsmakers expect to win, and it is often displayed with a minus sign in front of the odds. This is the team or competitor that is favored over the opposition, hence being called a favorite. When betting a point spread, the favorite will often be laying or giving points to the opposition to make the wager evener. When wagering on the money line, the favorite will have a lesser return on the money that is bet.
What is an underdog?
Opposite to a favorite, an underdog is the team or competitor oddsmakers expect to lose. Underdogs are often displayed with a plus sign in front of the odds. Underdogs operate in similar fashion to favorites when it comes to a point spread or a moneyline, just opposite. When betting a point spread, the underdog will often be receiving extra points versus the opposition to make the wager evener. When wagering on the money line, the underdog will have a greater return on the money that is bet.
What is a pick or pick’em?
A pick or a pick’em is when a bet is even on both sides in terms of who the oddsmakers expect to win, meaning it’s a 50-50 proposition. You just “pick” who you think is going to come out on top without having to overcome a point spread or lay odds. In pick’em contests, betting the money line will lend an even return.
What is the point spread and how do spreads work?
A point spread is used to even a betting matchup between two sides. The favorite will be giving points to the other side, and the underdog will be receiving points. To win against the point spread, the favorite must overcome the number of points given to the underdog. For the underdog to win against the point spread, the underdog can use the points given to overcome the opposition.
For example, let’s say the Boston Celtics are -4 favorites over the Los Angeles Lakers, who are +4 underdogs. After the final score is realized, the Celtics would subtract four points from their total if that’s the team you bet on, or the Lakers would add four points if you bet on this side. This would then determine if the bet was won “against the spread.” In this example, if the Celtics beat the Lakers by a score of 100-90, all bets placed on Boston at -4 would win, as they overcame the four-point spread, and all bets placed on Los Angeles at +4 would lose because the team failed to overcome Boston’s total even with the added points. Likewise, if the final score was 94-92 in favor of the Celtics, the Celtics would lose a point-spread bet and the Lakers would win.
Because the point spread is used to even the matchup, the odds you receive on a point-spread bet are much closer to even in terms of your return. Betting on the money line means you are betting on the two sides straight up, without the added or subtracted points that a point spread provides.
If the Dallas Cowboys played the New York Giants, you pick which team you would want to win and the odds factor in who is the favorite and who is the underdog. In this example, the Cowboys might be listed at a price of -200 and the Giants listed as +175. This shows us that the Cowboys are the favorite to win the game and the Giants are the underdog (note the minus and plus signs, as mentioned before). With these odds, you would need to bet $200 on the Cowboys to win $100. On the other side, a bet of $100 on the Giants would win you $175.
This same game may be listed using a point spread, too, and that can help you determine where you want to make your bet.
What is a total?
In a game, a total is the number of points scored. Oddsmakers and sportsbooks will often release lines for the total amount of points scored between both teams in a game, and bettors can wager on if they think the total will be over or under the listed amount. This is often referred to as an “over/under” bet. Oddsmakers and sportsbooks can also put up totals for each side separately.
Totals can also apply to wins in a season. In fact, season win totals are some of the most popular wagers across all major sports, especially in the NFL. An oddsmaker or a sportsbook will determine a line to set for the number of wins a team will get in a regular season. Bettors can then wager on if they think the team will win more or fewer games than the number posted.
Where can you place a sports bet?
Depending on the jurisdiction, sports bets can be placed in a sportsbook or online, but those interested in placing a sports bet should understand the rules and regulations of the market they are in.
How much should you bet?
A wise man once said, “Only bet what you can afford to lose.” This applies to investing in stocks, playing poker, and especially to betting on sports. Only wagering in amounts that are comfortable to you is part of proper bankroll management, and know that each person is different, with varying thresholds.
Oftentimes you’ll hear sports bettors refer to the amount of money wagered in “units.” A unit is a predetermined bet size a bettor will use as an average wager. From there, a bettor will determine how many units to wager depending on the conservative or aggressive nature of the bet.
It is commonly suggested that bettors risk in the range of 1%-5% of his or her bankroll on each individual bet, depending on the confidence level you have in the bet. The lower end of that range, 1%, is often one unit for a sports bettor. Putting this into an example, let’s say you have $1,000 in your betting bankroll. Each unit would be 1% or $10 and your maximum bet can be 5% or $50. Applying the 1%-5% rule, sports bettors can guard against losing streaks and avoid losing an entire bankroll quickly.
Why did the odds change?
In most cases, the odds are always changing. Oddsmakers and sportsbooks are constantly trying to find and keep the best middle ground in a wager and often need to adjust one side of a bet, the other, or both in order to do so. Too much money being bet on one side or the other can cause the odds or point spread to be adjusted, and then there are things like changes in the weather or injury news that can affect how a game will play out and push oddsmakers to adjust.
Odds or point spreads changing is completely normal. Just like the prices in the stock market can and will adjust over time, so will the odds and point spreads at a sportsbook. Odds change and line movement can work for you, but they can also work against you. This is why it’s suggested to study line movements when you are looking to place a wager.
What if there’s a tie?
A tie in the world of sports betting is often referred to as a “push.” If you bet on the money line and there was a tie as the result, you’ll likely get your money back and that’s it. The same goes for a point spread if the result ends up equating to a tie.
There are two main ways to bet on a favorite or an underdog. The first is the point spread, which is a bet on the margin of victory. For example, say the Patriots are 7-point favorites against the Jets. They’d be listed at -7. If you bet on the Patriots, they need to win the game by 8 points or more for you to win your bet. If the Patriots win by 8 points or more, you “cover.” If the Patriots win by exactly 7 points, that is called a “push,” which means you get back the money you originally bet. If the Patriots win by 6 points or fewer (or lose the game straight-up), you lose your bet. On the flip side, if you bet on the Jets “plus the points” (+7), you need the Jets to either win the game lose by six points or fewer for you to win (or cover) your bet. Spreads are available for all sports, but they are predominantly used when betting on higher-scoring sports like football and basketball.
The second way to bet on a favorite or an underdog is on the moneyline. This is based solely on which team will win the game, and uses American odds to calculate the payout. Favorites are again given a “minus” designation, such as -150, -200 or -500. If a favorite is -200, that means you have to risk $200 to win $100. If the favorite wins, you get $100, but if the favorite loses, you’re out $200. Because favorites are expected to win, you assume more risk when betting on them. Underdogs are given a “plus” designation, such as +150, +200 or +500. If an underdog is +200, that means if you bet $100 on them and they win the game, you get $200. If they lose the game, you lose only the $100 that you risked. Because underdogs are expected to lose, there is more of a reward when betting on them. Moneylines are available for all sports, but they are predominantly used when betting on lower-scoring sports like baseball, hockey and soccer.
In addition to setting a line for the favorite and the underdog, oddsmakers will also set a total number of points scored in a game by both teams combined. This is called the total or over/under. Bettors can then wager on whether or not the game will go Over or Under the total. For example, an NBA game between the Celtics and Bulls might have a total of 215. You could either bet the Over 215 or the Under 215. If you bet the Over 215 and the total points scored end up being 216 or higher, you win your bet. If the total points scored are 214 or fewer, you lose.
What Is the -110 Number Listed Next to My Bet? The oddsmakers put a “tax” on every bet, which is typically called the “juice” or “vig” (short for “vigorish”). The juice is the commission you have to pay to the sportsbook for them to accept your wager. The vig in the U.S. will be listed in American odds. Say the Duke Blue Devils are -5 (-110) … that means if you want to bet on Duke as a 5-point favorite, you need to risk $110 to win $100. The juice can also be a positive number, such as Penn State -7 (+110). That means if you bet $100 on Penn State as a 7-point favorite and it covers, you win $110. If it loses, you lose only the $100 that you risked. You always have to risk more on a favorite than you’d win on an underdog…otherwise, sportsbooks would be out of business.
Rotation numbers are what’s listed to the left of a team on the board. They are also referred to as the NSS number or Vegas ID number. They are unique to the team, sport and league, and universal across most sportsbooks. For example, you might see the number “312” listed next to the Bruins -120. If you’re at a casino and want to bet $100 on the Bruins, walk up to the window with your money and say, “$100 on 312, Bruins -120.”
Lines Move in Real Time
Much like stocks on Wall Street, the sports betting market is fluid. Throughout the day, bookmakers will adjust the odds depending on the action they’re taking and other news, such as injuries and weather. For example, if the Vikings open as 7-point favorites and the vast majority of bets are on the Vikings, you might see the Vikings’ line move from -7 to -7.5. The line could move even further to -8, or it could be “bought back” to -7. You can monitor betting data for every game in real time on our live odds page or in our mobile app (download here).
Shop for the Best Line
Lines can vary based on the sportsbook, because different books have different clienteles. As a result, one book may post the Cavs -8 while another has -7.5. Having access to more than one sportsbook allows you to shop for the best line. Getting an extra half-point might not seem like a huge deal, but it adds up over the long haul and increases your chances of winning.
Identify Your Strengths and Weaknesses. This isn’t Monopoly money, so you want to make sure you’re tracking your progress. The easiest way to do that is with our award-winning (and free!) app, which has awesome features like live bet cover probability and odds shopping, it also lets you track all of your bets across nearly every sport. And that’s valuable because you can identify where your strengths and weaknesses are as you start betting. Are you more successful betting on the NFL or NBA? Do you thrive when taking player props or over/unders? These are all a good thing to know, and it can allow you to maximize your winnings.
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