A lot of betting strategy is very complex, and it definitely helps to learn some of the more advanced concepts if you want to be truly successful. However, trying to get your head around complicated strategies is NOT the right approach as a beginner. There are several simple betting systems that are relatively easy to understand, and it makes much more sense to start with these. They're not guaranteed to bring immediate success, but they can be effective if used correctly.
Sometimes with NFL odds you’ll see a spread posted as a whole number. Decimals or fractions are usually utilized to ensure there won’t be a tie. If in our example the spread was reset to 10 with the Colts favored and they win by 10, then the game is considered to be a tie, which in betting terms is called a push. If there is a push all bets are off and the sportsbooks return all wagers back to the bettors.
Let’s start with the basics: what do sports bettors mean when they talk about a ‘line?’ The word line, in the language of a sportsbook, can refer to either the odds and/or a point spread in any sports contest. Let’s take a look at an imaginary line the way you’d read it off the board sitting in a Vegas sports betting lounge or on the screen at your online book. Let’s imagine a game between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys. Your book’s NFL betting line might look something like this:
In this example the Jets are listed as four-point favorites (-4) over the Bills and the 49ers are three-point underdogs (+3) against the Seahawks. So, if you bet $110 on the favored Jets, they must defeat the Bills by more than four points in order to win $100. If you bet $110 on the underdog 49ers you will win $100 if they win outright or lose by less than the three-point spread. If the final score happens to end up exactly on the number it's a tie, or 'push,' and you get your money back.
The basic principle of point spreads and totals is that you have roughly a 50% chance of winning, so technically a "fair" return on these types of wagers should be equal to the amount staked. However, they are usually priced up by bookmakers at odds of -110 (1.91 in decimal odds format, 10/11 in fractional odds format), which means for every $110 staked you stand to win $100. You don't have to stake as much as $110 of course, but the point is that a successful wager will only return 90% of the amount staked (plus the initial stake of course).
Betting on sporting events has long been the most popular form of spread betting. Whilst most bets the casino offers to players have a built in house edge, betting on the spread offers an opportunity for the astute gambler. When a casino accepts a spread bet, it gives the player the odds of 10 to 11, or -110. That means that for every 11 dollars the player wagers, the player will win 10, slightly lower than an even money bet. If team A is playing team B, the casino is not concerned with who wins the game; they are only concerned with taking an equal amount of money of both sides. For example, if one player takes team A and the other takes team B and each wager $110 to win $100, it doesn’t matter what team wins; the casino makes money. They take $100 of the $110 from the losing bet and pay the winner, keeping the extra $10 for themselves. This is the house edge. The goal of the casino is to set a line that encourages an equal amount of action on both sides, thereby guaranteeing a profit. This also explains how money can be made by the astute gambler. If casinos set lines to encourage an equal amount of money on both sides, it sets them based on the public perception of the team, not necessarily the real strength of the teams. Many things can affect public perception, which moves the line away from what the real line should be. This gap between the Vegas line, the real line, and differences between other sports books betting lines and spreads is where value can be found.
The 3-digit numbers to the far right are the listed prices for these bets. This is also called the odds, vig, or juice. An easy way to think of it is the amount you must risk to win $100 on this wager. In our example, -110 means you must risk $110 if you want to win $100. -110 is pretty standard, but you will find different options. We will cover those in more depth when we talk about money lines. The price of the bet has no impact on which team is favored. Only the plus or minus on the point spread matters. This is handled differently when you bet strictly on the moneyline.
The NFL spread (betting point spreads is also known as betting ‘sides’ since you are picking one side to win the game) acknowledges that not all teams are created equal. If they were, we wouldn’t need NFL point spreads at all – teams would be so evenly matched that every game was a toss-up (or a pick em in football parlance). Simply picking the winner would be enough of a challenge.