Many novice bettors fail to understand the impact of home advantage when wagering on sport events. When looking at the board for potential wagers, these bettors tend to get excited and bet on lots of superior teams favored on the road against weaker opponents. The betting market is so much more advanced than this, and for the most part point spreads are always going to be 50/50 propositions.
I’ve titled this Sports Betting For Dummies. It’s a tutorial for those who want to start betting on sports or those who want to gain a better understanding of some of the terminology and theory behind it. We’ve all been in the position of learning something new, so please don’t be embarrassed if you don’t grasp these concepts. Instead, contact me via the form at the bottom of this page, and I’ll help you in any way I can.
Who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned NFL spread? Not only does the point spread remain the king when it comes to wagering on pro football, it is a favorite among pro sports bettors and beginners alike. Also known as the line or spread and as betting “sides,” a common misconception is that sportsbooks set the spread as a predicted margin of victory. It’s actually the number oddsmakers predict would be a good balance between people who want to bet the underdog and those who want to bet the favorite.
The most common way to bet football is against the pointspread (ATS), often called a side bet. This involves making a wager on either the favorite or the underdog. For example, Team A is a 7-point favorite (-7) against Team B, making Team B a 7-point underdog (+7). If you bet on Team A, it must win by more than seven points for you to win your bet. Conversely, if you bet on Team B, it must lose by less than seven points for you to win your bet. Of course, if Team B wins outright, you also win your bet. If Team A wins by exactly seven points, your bet pushes and your wager is refunded.
Here you can see that the Rams are +3.5, while the Cowboys are -3.5. So for this example the Cowboys are 3.5 point favorites, while the Rams are underdogs of 3.5 points. If you were to bet on St Louis you would need them to lose by 3 or fewer points or just win the game outright. If you were to bet on Dallas you would need the Cowboys to win by 4 or more points.
The optimal situation for bookmakers is to set odds that will attract an equal amount of money on both sides, thus limiting their exposure to any one particular result. To further explain, consider two people make a bet on each side of a game without a bookmaker. Each risks $110, meaning there is $220 to be won. The winner of that bet will receive all $220. However, if he had made that $110 bet through a bookmaker he would have only won $100 because of the vig. In a perfect world if all bookmaker action was balanced, they would be guaranteed a nice profit because of the vig.
Sports betting has resulted in a number of scandals in sport, affecting the integrity of sports events through various acts including point shaving (players affecting the score by missing shots), spot-fixing (a player action is fixed), bad calls from officials at key moments, and overall match fixing (the overall result of the event is fixed). Examples include the 1919 World Series, the alleged (and later admitted) illegal gambling of former MLB player Pete Rose, and former NBA referee Tim Donaghy.
Spread betting has moved outside the ambit of sport and financial markets (that is, those dealing solely with share, bonds and derivatives), to cover a wide range of markets, such as house prices. By paying attention to the external factors, such as weather and time of day, those who are betting using a point spread can be better prepared when it comes to obtaining a favorable outcome. Additionally, by avoiding the favourite-longshot bias, where the expected returns on bets placed at shorter odds exceed that of bets placed at the longer odds, and not betting with one’s favorite team, but rather with the team that has been shown to be better when playing in a specific weather condition and time of day, the possibility of arriving at a positive outcome is increased.
Donald Hoover, FDU professor in International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and former casino executive commented on the results, "Betting on sports is not an uncommon practice for many New Jerseyans, but for the most part, the state doesn't supervise it, doesn't tax it and doesn't take any revenue from it." In 2010 a national poll showed that voters opposed sports betting in all states by a margin of 53-39. Woolley commented on the results, "If some states allow sports betting and profit by it, other states will want to follow." Yet by December 2011, after New Jersey passed its sports betting referendum, the national measure shifted to 42-42. In January 2012, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed legislation allowing sports betting in the state after it was approved in a nonbinding voter referendum in 2011. He announced on May 24, 2012 that he planned to go ahead and set up a system of wagering at the state's racetracks and casinos that fall, before the National Football League season ended.
“Permitted Class III Gaming. The Tribe may conduct, only on Indian Lands, subject to all of the terms and conditions of this Compact, any or all forms of Class III Gaming” (emphasis added). The agreement between the state government and Tribal governments seemingly grants the tribes, subject to the compact, extensive authority to authorize Class III gaming at their facilities.
That’s easy to understand because of the payouts. If a team is heavily favored, that means they’re perceived as having a better chance of winning. If that’s the case, then you would win less money betting on them. The opposite is true for the underdog: they’re deemed as having a smaller chance of winning, which means you would get a bigger payout if you bet on them (and they won).
If you'd rather not deal with point spreads, you can do a "Money Line" wager, which is whether the team/player you bet on wins or loses. You will see "Hawaii Tech +150 or Alaska Tech -140". This means if you bet on Hawaii Tech, if you bet $100, you would profit $150 (returns $250), while to win $100 on Alaska Tech, you must put up $140. Those ratios work whether you're betting $100, $10, or any other multiple of money.
While most football fans have seen a point spread before, not everyone understands how they work. There’s a common misconception that the oddsmakers are trying to outsmart their customers by posting the spread and getting people to bet on the wrong side. At the same time, many bettors think that their goal is to “beat the bookie.” This is false; as mentioned, the sportsbook is incentivized to keep the action on either team as balanced as possible, in order to limit exposure.
Once you understand how odds in college football are expressed, you can use them to start to determine where your money should go. Be sure to see our college football odds page that connects you with the top sportsbooks on the Internet. The odds makers are trying to even out all bets. Your job is to determine on which side of the point spread, line or over/under it goes.
A listed odd with a – sign in front of it, such as the -140 in our example above, shows us how much money you would need to wager in order to win $100. So using the -140, this would show us that you would need to bet $140 in order to win $100 in profits. You can easily substitute the $100 bet for a $10 bet by moving the decimal place over one spot, showing us that you would need to wager $14 in order to win $10 in profits.
For example, if you want to bet that -140 favorite, you’ll need to risk $140 in order to win $100. To bet on the +120 underdog we mentioned above, you’ll need to bet $100 to win $120 if the dog wins outright. In many cases, betting moneylines offers better value and can provide a bigger profit for less risk. Check out our NFL Betting Guide to learn more about when you should bet a moneyline instead of a point spread.