Following the Supreme Court’s ruling that PASPA is unconstitutional, numerous state legislatures are discussing — or already have passed laws — that will allow sports betting at brick-and-mortar casinos and racetracks, as well as online.
The conservative estimate here is that by the end of 2018 eight or nine states will have licensed sportsbooks allowing full-fledged sports betting (straight wagers, parlays, futures and more) at casinos, racetracks and possibly in retail locations, such as gas station convenience stores. By the end of 2019, that figure could grow, giving residents and neighbors in 12 to 14 states access to legal sportsbooks and legal online/mobile wagering as well.
With that in mind, let’s look at sports betting basics. You’ve walked into a sportsbook, you’re staring at a wall of orange and green letters and numbers and it looks like hieroglyphics. You may find a patient clerk at the sportsbook counter who can explain some basics, but it’s always better to go in with an idea how it works. Start by doing some research online, learning a bit of sports betting terminology and about types of wagers available at sportsbooks.
Here’s a review of some basics. Joining us to cover some ground is Vic Salerno, a pioneering Nevada sportsbook executive and current President of US Bookmaking and US Fantasy Sports.
What are the point spread and the money line?
There are a few basic ways to bet on the result of a game. The most popular ways are to bet one team using the “point spread” (or spread) or to bet the outcome on the “money line” (ML).
“A point spread is a number of points by which one team is favored over the other,” Salerno explains. “For example, let’s say the Cleveland Cavaliers are playing the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Cavaliers are a 3.5-point favorite. That means that Cleveland has to win by three and half or more points. If they only win by 3, then someone betting on the Cavaliers would lose their wager.”
So suppose the Cavs edge the Bucks 93-90. Someone betting on Milwaukee would win there because the Bucks “covered” the spread — by either winning outright or by losing by three or less. The person who bet on the Cavaliers (the “favorite”) would have lost here, while someone else backing the underdog Bucks (or the “dog”) would have won their wager, despite the Bucks losing the game.
The point spread is the great equalizer. It’s a game within a game.
The money line is straight up without the handicap.
“The money line is just who is going to win the game outright,” Salerno says. “So in that same example, with Cleveland on the money line, just to win the game outright, you would have to lay, say, two dollars to win a dollar.”
That would be represented on the board (or on the mobile app) by -200, or 1-2 odds. Bet $200 to win $100, $100 to win $50 and so on. You have to bet more than $100 to win $100 because the outcome of the Cavs simply winning the game is a lot more likely.
And on the other side, the Bucks, who are at +3.5 on the spread (or “getting” 3.5 points), would be somewhere around +160 on the money line (8-5 odds). So, you risk $100 to win $160, but only if the Bucks are victorious. If you bet the Bucks ML and they lose the game by any margin, you lose your wager.
What is handicapping?
Handicapping refers to a person’s approach to predicting a game’s outcome. Some people weigh certain factors differently than others. Do the Golden State Warriors play poorly on the second night of a back-to-back? Maybe you think that’s just noise.
“[Handicapping is] just knowledge. I mean every game is different,” Salerno says. “In general, you look at applicable weather conditions, and in any sport, it’s injuries. You should be up to date on those. Past statistics come into handicapping, and in some sports, past performances against that team. So, for example, in basketball, they play each other more often than they do in football, so you would use past performances for your handicap.”
Handicapping can be as simple or as complicated as you like. People who wager on sports professionally (or try) will devise their own rating systems and use them to help identify what a line should be.
What about the total?
Ever notice someone only rooting for offense or defense, regardless of who has the ball? He/she may have bet “over” or “under” the game’s total, the total amount of points scored for both teams. It’s a wager totally independent of the game’s outcome (spread or ML).
Salerno provides an example why somebody may prefer that to picking a side (a winner or loser).
“Let’s say that in football, the Green Bay Packers are playing the New England Patriots in Green Bay and the total was 45,” he says. “The line might be Green Bay, say by three, and people feel that both teams would score more combined points than the 45. So in that case, and regardless of who wins, they feel that there will be more than 45 points scored, so they would bet ‘over’ on that. And vice versa, if they felt less points would be scored, they would bet on that.”
These scenarios often come down to the final minute of the game. Let’s say that the Packers lead 24-20 late in the game and are trying to kill the clock on offense. Aaron Rodgers hits Davante Adams for a 23-yard reception, Adams runs to the Patriots’ 20-yard line and then the Patriots lock down and force the Packers to kick a field goal on fourth down. Those on the over hold their breath. It’s good, the game ends 27-20 Packers and the total skates past 45.
Keep in mind that in addition to a game total, most sportsbooks will offer a separate total for the first quarter, second quarter, first half, third quarter, fourth quarter and for the second half. You may think the game will start very conservatively. In that case, you might wager “under” in the first quarter or half.
Also keep in mind that there are other types of wagers called “props” that look at a variety of player-specific or team-specific events. A popular prop during the NCAA tournament is the first team to score 10, 15 or 20 points. It’s just an exciting race to open things up.
What are teasers and parlays?
Now we’re getting into “exotics,” or types of wagers beyond the traditional kinds. Teasers and parlays are the two most popular variations.
“A parlay is when you take two or more teams, and they both have to [cover the spread],” Salerno says. “In football, you might take, say the Packers -3 and the Detroit Lions +4. To win your parlay, they would both have to cover those spreads.”
So what is the benefit of having to win both legs of the bet? You get a bigger payout.
You can bet more than two teams in a parlay, too; the more teams you pick, the higher the possible payout. For example, a seven-team spread parlay pays out at about 75-1. But remember — to win your bet, you have to win all legs of the parlay. So if you nail six Sunday football games, but lose the Monday night game, you can kiss that ticket goodbye.
A teaser is similar to a parlay in that you must take two or more teams, and they both have to cover the spread. The difference here is you get to add points to, or tease, the spreads. In football, one teaser option is to add six points to a spread. So going back to the Packers-Lions example, instead of Green Bay being -3, you would get +3. The Lions would go from +4 to +10 in this teaser.
Putting it another way, a teaser gives you some cushion, but again you have to be right on every team (or “leg”) you play. Teasers may seem appealing, but things often don’t go the way we expect, so don’t be easily seduced by the extra points.
Speaking of points, here’s a good spot to mention how the “book” or the “house” takes a cut. Consider that -110 you’ll frequently see. That extra 10 refers to the “juice” or the “vig.” For the ability to place a wager, the bettor has to pay that juice or vig. After all, the sportsbook and its employees have to eat, too — they are taking the risk with every wager placed. And that’s basically why -110 exists. Bet $11 to win $10 (plus your $11 back), or bet $110 to win $100 (plus your $110 back).
What does it mean to wager in-game?
Once the game starts, it’s no longer true that all bets are off.
You can bet “in-game” when a bookmaker has a moment to look at what has happened, reassess and offer a new line(s) accordingly. This type of wagering is becoming increasingly popular.
There are many in-game wagering options. Suppose the total for an NBA game is 200 points before the tip, but both teams come out on fire, on pace to go way past 200 points.
“There’s an algorithm that takes and sees how much time is left in the game, and then divides that into points scored, and that’s how we arrive at a new total,” Salerno says. “So a game that was originally 200, if they’re scoring at a more rapid rate, it would go up to say 210, and you can bet at 210 whether you want to go over or under.”
How about that bankroll?
The most common pitfall for newcomers comes back to the bankroll, or the amount of money you’ve set aside for sports betting.
“This is my opinion: You should always keep your bets relatively the same with each and every bet, no more than 5 percent on any one game,” Salerno says. “And you should never chase or increase your wagers when you’re losing. Saying, ‘OK, I can’t lose three in a row’ and betting four times as much on the next game [gets you into trouble]. And you can lose four in a row, or five or six. So, you can’t chase it.”
The other pitfall is a bettor letting his heart get into a place where his mind is — in other words, falling in love with his home team or his favorite team.
Finally, as in every industry, technology is changing the game. Pretty much every sportsbook, existing or to come, will have a mobile app or online platform. That means if you have access to different sportsbooks, you can do what’s called “line shopping,” or looking for the line that gives you the best odds on the side or total you like. Think of it like shopping for a new pair of shoes online; find the pair you like and then get the best price on them.
“Having accounts in different locations gives a player a huge advantage,” Salerno says. “If you want to bet on Cleveland, one place might have it at -3 and the other places all have -3.5. That can make the difference between a winner and a loser.”
Brett Smiley is the editor-in-chief of SportsHandle.com, covering sports betting legislation, the industry and culture.