FOOTBALL WAGERING - THE BASICS
(Exotic bets described below)
There are several different types and variations of bets that can be placed when wagering on a football game, but basically, when you place a wager on the outcome of a game, you are either wagering on the 'totals' or the 'sides'. When wagering on the totals, you are betting that the total combined score of the game will either be over or under a specific number set by the oddsmakers (commonly referred to as the over/under). Which team wins the game is of no consequence - it's the total combined score that matters . When betting on a side, however, you are laying your money on a specific team (or side); wagering that they will either win the game outright or will beat the point spread. Wagering on sides can be done by either using the point spread or the money line.
Wagering using the Point Spread
People are generally more familiar with the point spread and often use it to refer to how much one team is 'favored' to win over another. Many people believe that this number represents in points how much better the oddsmakers think Team A is than Team B. This, however, is a common misperception. In its simplest terms, the point spread you see listed in your local paper is actually the "dividing line" of public opinion. In theory, this is the point where 50% of the betting public (or money wagered) believes each team will cover the point spread. For example, if the 49ers are favored by 8 points over the Cardinals, this indicates that 50% of the money is wagered believing the 49ers will cover the 8 point spread (defeat the Cardinals by more than 8 points) while the remaining 50% of the betting action believes the Cardinals will cover the 8 point spread (win the game outright or lose by less than 8 points).
The true function of the sportsbooks is the reason the point spread is a “dividing line” and not a prediction on the outcome of a game. Many people tend to think that when they wager, they are placing a bet against the sportsbook - trying to outwit or outsmart the bookmaker. In some instances, this may be true - after all, it's the bookmaker who sets the line and can adjust it afterwards as he sees fit. However, the sportsbook's main function is to act as the "middleman," collecting bets placed on both sides of the game and adjusting the point spread as best it can in order to keep the amount bet on each team relatively even. Oftentimes, the betting action will be unbalanced for a variety of reasons and as a result, the sportsbook will be forced to take the other side in order to provide balance.
At the end of the game, the sportsbook will pay the winners, collect from the losers and pocket a "commission," commonly referred to as the "juice," or "vigorish". The vigorish is the sportsbook's payment for handling all the bets and although occasionally you will find a sportsbook that charges less, the vigorish is generally equal to a little less than 10% of the amount of the winning bet. Most people are under the impression that it's the loser that pays the vigorish, but it's really the winners who pays the vigorish by having it withheld from their winnings.
You can see how this works by looking at the results of the same wager with and without the bookmaker involved. Let's assume you wagered $11 (generally with a bookmaker, you must wager $11 in order to win $10) on the outcome of a game with your friend and with a bookmaker. If you lose, your friend collects your $11, same as the bookmaker. You would have lost 100% of your wager in either scenario. If you win, however, you would collect $11 in winnings from your friend but only $10 in winnings from the bookmaker. The remaining $1 is the vigorish. Instead of paying you the full $11 in winnings, the sportsbook has deducted $1 as its fee for being the middleman. So as you can see, it's really the winners who pay the vigorish as it is deducted from their winnings.
Understanding these distinctions are important if you plan on placing a wager because it's not really the sportsbook that you're trying to outsmart, it's your fellow bettor. To be more specific, it's your fellow bettors AT LARGE. Outwit them with your knowledge of the caliber of the two teams involved, and you'll walk away with their money. Get outsmarted by them, or outsmart yourself, and they will take yours. It's just a matter of knowing which 'side' to be on.
Wagering using the Money Line
The money line, on the other hand, is different than the point spread in two main respects. First, the biggest difference is that when you bet using the money line, you're betting on which team will win the game outright, not whether Team A will beat Team B by a specific number of points. In that sense, winning a wager using the money line is easier - you only have to decide which team will win the game - not which team will win the game and by how much. The second major distinction is that the payout for money line wagers differs from wagers using the point spread. A wager using the point spread will win dollar for dollar the amount wagered less the vigorish. However, money line wager payouts vary depending upon the perceived difference in quality between the two teams. As a result, money line wagering can be much more risky, especially when wagering on favorites which requires you to put more money at risk in order to win less. On the other hand, you can make a very nice return on your money if you bet on an underdog that comes through with the upset. For example,
Let's use this matchup between Arizona and San Francisco as an example:
Arizona +8 +280
San Francisco -8 -360
The point spread shows San Francisco to be favored by 8 points over Arizona. Let's assume you like San Francisco's chances of beating Arizona by more than 8 points in this game and decide to wager $110 on them using the point spread. If you are right, you'll win $100 on your $110 wager. However, if the 49ers fail to 'cover' the spread, you will lose your $110.
Now, taking a look at the money line, you'll notice that the Cardinals are +280 while the 49ers are -360. These amounts represent what must either be risked by the bettor in order to win $100 (if betting on the favorite, denoted by the negative number), or what the bettor can win for risking $100 (if betting on the underdog, denoted by the positive number), depending on which team he bets. The net difference between the two numbers (280 vs. 360) represents the sportsbook's commission for handling the bets.
Going back to wagering on the 49ers - if you like their chances of winning this game and wish to wager on them using the money line, you could win $100 if the 49ers simply win the game. However, in order to win $100, you would have to risk $360. So basically, you're getting less than 30 cents on the dollar for every dollar you risk. Is it worth the gamble? On the other hand, if you felt that Arizona would win the game outright, you could wager $100 for the chance to win $280, or 2.8 dollars for every one risked - a much better return. However, the risk you take here is whether the Cardinals, as a decided underdog, can actually win the game.
So, the bottom line is that when wagering on the money line, you must take into consideration whether the risk you're taking is worth the reward.
There are other wagers, called 'exotic bets,' that can be made which are based upon a combination or variation of straight bets. Since not all types of exotic wagers are accepted by all sportsbooks, we'll only discuss a couple of the more popular ones (as they relate to football) here.
Parlays are a popular type of wager, mainly because they sport a higher payout than the standard 10-11 odds offered by straight bets against the point spread. As a result, this makes them quite enticing to gamblers who want to get rich quick. Of course, the reason the payouts are higher is because the chances of winning are lower. Parlay bets involve wagering on a group of two or more games in which your pick in each game must beat the point spread or the 'total'. If just one pick loses, the entire parlay loses, while if one of your wagers ends in a 'push' (tie), the 'push' is thrown out as if the bet was never placed and the parlay reverts to the next lower level parlay.
Sportsbooks vary on their payouts in regards to parlays, with the most generous payouts in Las Vegas. However, using the conservative payout table below, we can see that if you placed a $100 wager on a two team parlay and won, you would make $260 on your $100 bet. If one team covered and the other 'pushed', your bet would revert to the next lower level bet, which in this case would be the straight bet paying 10-11 odds. Because the other team covered, your ‘straight bet’ would result in you winning $91. However, if either team failed to cover, you would lose your original $100 wager.
2 teams 13-5
3 teams 6-1
4 teams 11-1
5 teams 21-1
6 teams 31-1
7 teams 51-1
8 teams 71-1
As you can see by the chart, your winnings can accumulate rather quickly when you are successful at parlays. Simply by wagering on just two teams, you can more than double your money if both cover. In addition, parlays can actually lessen the total amount of money you put at risk when compared to straight bets. For example, assume you bet a $100 two team parlay on the Eagles and Steelers. If both teams cover, you win $260 on the $100 you risked. In contrast, if you placed two individual $100 straight wagers ( risk $200 total) on the Eagles and Steelers and each team covered, you would have winnings after vigorish of $182 - much less than what you would have on a two team parlay.
Now you can see why parlays are so enticing. So what's the problem?
For starters, your chances of losing the entire amount of your wager are much greater with a parlay than on straight bets simply because all teams must cover in order for you to win your parlay. Therefore, you must be able to handicap games with some appreciable degree of accuracy, especially the more teams you parlay. For this reason alone, it is generally recommended that you never wager on more than a three team parlay.
Another problem with parlays is that as you climb the parlay ladder and include more teams in your bet, the amount of vigorish the sportsbooks take increases, resulting in the payout to you becoming a mere fraction of the risk you are taking. For example, with a two team parlay there are four possible outcomes: both teams cover the spread; the first team covers and second one doesn't; the second team covers and the first one doesn't; or neither team covers. Therefore, the actual odds of winning a two team parlay (assuming an equal chance of all outcomes based on 50% handicapping) are 3-1 (25%). The corresponding payout for the two team parlay is 2.6-1 (13-5). With a four team parlay, the odds of winning are 15-1, but you only receive a payout of 11-1. By the time you get to a six team parlay, there are 64 possible outcomes, but if you win, you are paid at the rate of 31-1. So, although more glamorous than a straight bet, the payout you receive from a parlay does not completely reward you for the amount of risk you must take (depending upon your average handicapping percentage) - especially once you get past a three to four team parlay.
Another downside is that since the odds of you winning a parlay are stacked against you (3-1 in the case of a two team parlay), you must have a much more sizeable bankroll with which to wager in order to be able to withstand the losses you will incur between winnings. Of course, as with straight bets, the quality of your handicapping can significantly impact your success. For example, an average 60% handicapping on straight bets can reduce your chances of losing a two team parlay to just under 2-1, which is better than the odds the sportsbooks pay on that type of wager.
So, the bottom line on parlays really comes down to how serious of a gambler you are. If you are in it for the long haul, your bankroll can withstand the losses you’ll incur between winnings, and you don’t overextend your handicapping ability by wagering too high up the parlay ladder, you should realize a greater return on your money betting parlays regularly versus straight bets. On the other hand, if you enjoy wagering occasionally, or your bankroll can’t withstand a series of losses before your next win, then a straight bet is the better way to go.
A teaser is basically a modified parlay. This type of wager consists of a selection of two or more teams in which the point spread is adjusted in your favor from anywhere from 3 to 7 points. In return, you agree to accept a lower payout which is ultimately determined by the number of teams and points selected. As always, it depends on the sportsbook, but generally a push and a win on a two team teaser results in a return of your money and is treated as if the wager never occurred. A push and a loss is treated as a loss and any push on a three or more team teaser causes the teaser to revert to the next lower level teaser similar to the parlay. Keep in mind that the odds and rules can change based upon the sportsbook, so you'll want to make sure what the exact rules are before you place any wager.
Thanks to the "teased" point spread, teasers certainly help to lessen the amount of risk you take when combining several wagers into one. However, you really don't start seeing returns that exceed the straight bet's 10-11 odds until you wager on at least a three team teaser. In the end, when compared to parlays, you should win on teasers more frequently, however, the amount you win per teaser will also be substantially less. In addition, pushes basically count against you as they negate any win you might otherwise realize had you bet a parlay instead.
Futures involve wagering on some event that will be determined in the future. In the NFL, futures regarding the individual teams usually involve wagering on how many games a team will win during the season, what a team's chances are for winning their division and who might win the Super Bowl. Futures usually offer higher odds for bettors and change throughout the season. However, once you've placed a future wager, your odds are locked in and do not change.
The value of future wagers can be hard to assess because of the length of time before the outcome is resolved, the lack of relevant information at the time the wager is placed, and the many unpredictable events that may occur. For instance, when you consider placing a wager on a team for the upcoming weekend, you are aware of the recent history and any significant injuries or circumstances that may affect the team's performance. Based on that knowledge, you may elect to wager or pass on that particular game. However, once you've placed a future bet, you're in for the long haul, come what may. Another drawback of futures is that if you have a limited bankroll, making a future bet ties up some of your money, making it unavailable for any wagers you might otherwise make throughout the season.
Despite all this, if you look closely, you can generally find some good opportunities for profit in futures. They are probably one of the most interesting and fun wagers about which to speculate simply because of the unknown. In our next series of articles, we'll do just that.