Basics of Sports Betting
An Essential Guide to Understanding the Types of Bets, Odds, and Betting Lines
The explosive growth in sports betting has many sports fans looking for a primer on the betting basics. A solid understanding of sports betting fundamentals is a must for those looking to take advantage of online sports betting, or those that simply want to be prepared to enjoy a visit to a sportsbook in New Jersey. This guide will help you understand how to place bets on major sporting events and pick up a few tips on cashing in on the fun along the way.
The betting concepts in this guide can apply to a wide variety of sports wagering, but we’ll stick with the major US team sports in covering the basics. These sports include American Football, Baseball, and Basketball. An overview of the types of wagers that can be placed on these sports will provide the fundamental understanding needed for any similar sports wagering.
Before putting your hard-earned money on a sports wager, you should understand the process involved with making that wager available to you. You may have a good feel for the game-winner, but in making the bet you will most often be presented with a “spread” on the game. The most common wager offered by the sportsbooks is a bet on a single game that includes a “point spread”.
You may see for example, that NY Jets are listed as -7.5 against the Chicago Bears. This is the "spread" or "line" on the game.
In this example, the Jets are considered the favorite. The favorite always has the negative points listed or is “laying” 7.5 points in this example. If you are betting on the NY Jets here, you are wagering that they will win by 8 points or more.
With this type of wager, you will also see a line that indicates the amount you need to bet to win 100, and that amount is usually 110. That does not mean you have to bet $110 minimum, if means the bet to payout ratio is 11 to 10, regardless of the amounts bet, within house limits. The 1-unit difference is the sportsbook’s commission and is discussed further below. Also, a winning bet returns the win amount plus your original bet, as an example of the 11/10 ratio, if you bet $11, you will collect $21.
Keep an eye out for spreads without the .5; those with 7 or 3 points as examples. In this situation, if the Jets, won by 7 points in our simple single bet example above, you would get the amount bet returned to you. A tie on a single point spread bet is referred to as a “push”, and you get your wager back.
Another type of basic bet is a straight bet where the payouts are aligned with the probability of win without the spread balance. This means, if the favorite is twice as likely to win, then, in theory, you should expect that a bet of $200 would pay $100 in winnings, plus your original bet. Of course, the sportsbook requires their percentage, so the money line is adjusted a bit further. For the NY Jets example above a team favored by 7.5 points would have a money line of -360/280. This means betting on the favorite requires a 36/10 ratio, or bet of $36 to win $10, or a total payout of $46. A $10 bet on the underdog will result in winnings of $28, or a total payout of $38.
If you are looking to bet on the underdog in what is expected to be a close scoring contest, always consider the money line. This may offer increased expected value versus taking a few points that only pay out 10 for an 11 bet. Of course, the underdog has to win the game to collect your winnings, but the payout difference makes this worth a deeper look.
Before we move on to other types of wagers, lets pause and discuss the role of the oddsmaker; meaning the person or service that came up with the -7.5 points in this first basic example above. Often the odds or win probability heavily favors one team relative to its opponent, and the point spread is a form of handicap placed on the favorite to “balance the action”. A point spread that generates the same amount of money bet on both teams is the ideal situation for the sportsbook. With balanced action the sportsbook can operate a riskless business, that simply collects its commission from the winners, and could care less who wins the game.
This commission of the winnings that the sportsbook takes in from the winners is sometimes referred to as the “vig”, short for “vigorish,“ and in this sense, it means the number of gambling winnings that are withheld to keep the sportsbook in operation.
As the bettor, you are wagering that the oddsmaker’s line, that was developed to balance the action, is inaccurate. Your analysis indicates that the spread is too high or low, and therefore a profit opportunity exists.
Take a deep look at the lines for what are considered “public favorites.” These are teams that have a long history of winning or otherwise high-profile teams. Often, the oddsmakers may have to adjust the spread a bit in anticipation of a lot of small, public perception bets. The past is interesting, but the analysis should be focused on the teams about to take the field.
We can use the simple example of a coin flip to gain a better understanding of probability as it would relate to a typical point spread line.
Assuming the sportsbook displays a line on a coin flip with two possible outcomes, the probability of "heads" winning the flip is 50%. One outcome is "heads" out of two possibilities, "heads or tails."
The sportsbook spread for this “even odds” event is -110 and would be listed as follows:
The odds listed as -110 show a payout ratio where a bet of 11 returns 10, plus your bet amount.
For example, on an even-odds bet, a wager amount of $110 pays a total of $210. An even-odds bet with a sportsbook does not pay even money since the sportsbook must collect its commission (aka the ‘vig’).
This is a betting opportunity where we would take a pass, given the 110 odds/payout structure. It is clear you are not getting even payout for an even-odds bet. However, we can support this intuitive knowledge with some numbers. An odds payout of -110, has implied odds of 52.4%. Implied odds are calculated by dividing the bet amount by the payout, or 110/210 = .524.
The implied odds infer that if we were to bet on this line 100 times, we need to win 52.4 coin flips out of 100, just to break even. Since the expected odds of win =50% are less than the implied odds of 52.4%, it is a definite pass.
This simple odds/payout example introduces the process of finding value in the betting lines through the concept of implied odds analysis. The challenge of determining the win probability of an actual sports event far exceeds the coin flip example. There is no need to do the math when analyzing odds, but a successful sports season does require a strong sense of the probable outcome relative to the odds/payout offered.
Types of Bets
The first example above is a single team, point spread wager. The NY Jets were listed as a 7.5-point favorite against the Chicago Bears. With a parlay type bet, you have an opportunity to add one or more bets to your wager. A 2-team parlay would mean adding another wager to your single bet. A 3-team parlay means adding 2 more, and you can continue to add games to your single-game wager, often up to 10 bets.
With parlay bets, the payouts increase significantly as you add teams, but so does the probability of loss, since you need to cover the spread on every game on the bet.
Examples of multiple team parlay payouts are listed in the following table:
Parlay bets can be a lot of fun, but If you are looking to bet on multiple games, there is a better chance for long term profitability with multiple single bets. The parlay payoffs look attractive, but the payouts are far less than the underlying odds. Example: simple probability of picking the winner of game 1 is 50%; the same as game 2. The joint probability is .5 times .5 or 25%, which would require a payout in the 4 to 1 range, versus the payout of only 2.6.to 1.
Teasers are a type of parlay bet that allows bettors to choose from a few favorable point spread adjustments in exchange for a lower payout. It is a type of parlay since there is a two-game minimum with teaser bets. A teaser bet requires the selection of multiple games, and the teaser spread choice. The standard spread adjustment choices for American Football are: 7.5, 7, 6.5 and 6-point teasers.
As an example, in our NY Jets scenario, a bettor is very confident that the Jets will win the game, but not as confident that they will beat the spread. On a 6-point teaser, the Jets game is paired with another similar game, where the spread is reduced for the favorite or increased by 6 points for the underdog. In our example of a 7.5 line, we could tease this game down to 1.5-point spread but will need to add another bet where we are confident a move of 6 points will result in win.
A point spread change of 6 or 7 points can significantly change the probability to cover the spread. However, along with this increase in win probability, comes with a significant drop in the payouts of covering multiple games. As an example, a 2-team teaser pays the same 11/10 ratio as a single point spread bet. This means you need to pick 2 winners at for the same payout you would receive as winning a single point spread game but can offer good value since the point spread is changed in your favor.
Examples of 7-point teasers are listed in the following table:
Note: Teaser betting guidelines can vary by sportsbook and by sport. As an example, the point spread options for football are different than basketball. Sportsbooks in Las Vegas have a limit of 8 games on a single teaser bet.
Teasers are a safer bet since you can minimize the impact of the points spread to your advantage. But given you need to win multiple games with a limited payout, it often makes sense to take another look at the game. If you are not confident your bet can cover the spread, then you probably should take another look at the opponent or better yet, look at another game. Similar to a standard parlay, if you are looking to bet on multiple games, there is a better chance for long term profitability with multiple single bets.
Another very common type of sports bet is the Over/Under bet, where instead of picking a team to win the game, the bet is on the combined score of the game. With this type of bet, the sportsbook puts up a number total that will draw balanced action. As a bettor, you would analyze that combined total in terms of the scoring and defensive capabilities of the two teams.
Again, using our NY Jets versus the Bears example, let’s assume the oddsmaker sets an over/under total of 37.5 points. A winning bet on the over, means the combined scores of both teams (to include any overtime play), would require a combined point total of 38 points or higher. A winning bet on the under would require that the combined point total is 37 points or less. Over/Under bets almost always include the. 5 point “hook”, since the sportsbook prefers to avoid “push” bets.
The payout odds for American football and basketball follow the 11/10 ratio. You will see the over/under line as listed with -/+ 110, meaning you need to bet 11 to collect 10, along with your original bet. Baseball can vary from the 11/10 standard and lines of =/- 125, are common, in addition to a money line. Baseball has some unique betting aspects that will address further below.
It is standard sportsbook practice to mix over/under bets with team point spread bets on parlays and teasers. This provides you with a wide range of betting and risk reduction opportunities, along with the increased payout of a parlay. However, in the long-run, betting single games has a better profitability outcome, since single-game bet payouts are closer aligned with win probabilities.
Betting Variations by Sport
Both land-based and online sportsbooks put up betting lines on American Football, Baseball, and Basketball. The betting format for Football and Basketball are very similar. Point spreads are used to establish two-way action, and payouts on these single team wagers are mostly the types that lay 11 to win 10. In every major sport, parlays or multiple teams spread selections, or a combination of team selections and over/under bets can be added to a parlay wager. Teasers are used in Football and Basketball, but the range of point spread adjustments varies; football in the 5,6,7 range, while basketball teasers start in the 4-point range.
Baseball bets are primarily the money line type, given the lower scores in baseball. Baseball wagering also includes a “run line”, where a bet can be placed with +1.5, or 2.5 run spread, but most betting in baseball is done with a money line. With a baseball, single game bet, it is typical to expect lay -175 or 150 to win a 100, on the favored team. Another difference with baseball wagers is the betting lines include the name of the teams and also their starting pitchers, since starting pitching strength has a significant impact on win probability.
Strategies for Each Sport
Sports specific strategies address the necessary modifications to find odds/payout value in the different sports betting categories. The analysis techniques will vary; however, a disciplined and selective approach applies to all betting categories.
New Jersey sportsbooks will offer betting options on all major professional athletic events including the National Football League, (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Hockey League (NHL). There are betting lines for practically every collegiate level football and basketball game.
Note, there some exceptions for college betting. If you’re looking to bet on the Rutgers vs. Syracuse football game or the big Seton Hall vs Connecticut basketball matchup, you need to know that wagering on New Jersey-based college teams is prohibited at all New Jersey sportsbook locations.
The following strategy section will focus wagering variations for the NFL, NBA and MLB games, along with some tips on college football and basketball. These sports cover the variations in betting strategy and also the represent highest betting volume.
The NFL is the largest sports betting category and draws in a huge volume of bets. This is a major opportunity/risk situation for the sportsbooks and a lot of serious analysis effort goes into their betting lines. The betting strategy for the NFL is to take a highly selective approach. Use the time during the week between games to take a deep look at comparative power rankings.
NFL point spreads lines tend to be very closely correlated to actual game results. A weak line in the NFL is practically non-existent.
You need to look hard at comparative stats in all team performance categories and stay away from over-valued “public” favorites. Start by looking for value in underdogs, where you’re getting points value or see moneyline payout value.
It is important to stay on top of current information with NFL selection analysis. Check daily for updates on injuries, likely weather conditions, player suspensions, other factors that can sway game day outcome.
NBA and MLB
The NBA and MLB sports categories offer good odds/payout opportunities since there is a large volume of daily games with these sports. Given the steady game volume, a huge level of statistical data is available. A weekly feed of game stats in this category can help identify valid team performance trends.
Baseball stats would include pitcher performance, ERA, innings pitched and team stats, for runs scored and fielding errors. The volume of stats leads to valid comparative rankings that are needed to make objective selections.
NBA player stats include scoring, rebounds, and team stats for home and away results.
These sports are stats heavy and allow you to make selections on objective number analysis. Selection analysis requires a regular stats feed and some daily time set aside for analysis. To gain an edge in these numbers-driven categories, serious bettors need to be prepared to dig into the statistics quickly, since there are daily opportunities during the MLB and NBA seasons.
College basketball and college football, offer good odds/payout value. The New Jersey sportsbooks offer betting lines on just about every major and minor college conference.
This volume of over 150+ college games each weekend means there is a lot of information to review, but you can focus on one or two conferences and stay on top of trend information. The uneven competition level among the many non-professional teams and conferences can generate some wide-ranging point outcomes and some real odd/value opportunities.
College basketball statistics are similar to the NBA and can provide important trend information.
College football requires more current situation analysis, along with a good set of comparative rankings.
With both of these college sports categories, inter-conference competition levels make comparative analysis a challenge. However, with a narrowed focus and solid information, you can turn this challenge into a profit edge.
There are opportunities for good odds/payout value with the many college football bowl games offered. Take a hard look at the in the minor bowl games, since the well-known, favored teams are often point spread losers in these lower rung bowl games. The NCAA March tournament will experience a lot of “over-betting” on the big college team favorites.
With college sports, it pays to do your “homework.” Good research and a consistent approach will more often result in favorable odds/payout value as compared to the ”tighter” spread lines in tee professional sports.
Sports betting can add a lot of excitement in terms of watching sports, but it is important to look for value in the lines each sportsbook offers and carefully manage your bankroll. If your analysis indicates a good probability of a win, make a bet with about 5% of your budget for the season. If the line is too close to bet on, it is okay to pass. There are other games and will be another day for wagering opportunities. The sportsbooks have to put a line on just about every game each day, but you can be selective.
An advanced strategy is one that has demonstrated a consistent methodology over time by carefully tracking trends and making minor adjustments to a long-range approach. The advanced strategy discussed here will include bankroll management tips and cover “Live-Betting” as an advanced methodology.
Cash management is a critical component of your overall sports betting plan. When your analysis points to a good odds/payout opportunity, there must be resources available.
An advanced strategy includes the risk possibility of a string of losses, along with the expected wins.
A sound cash plan incorporates a long-run perspective that systematically adjusts bets in line with odds value.
A proportional bet system has been proven to provide the most favorable cash management results. Proportional betting simply means, if you have looked at the implied odds and see a 4% edge, then bet 4% of your bankroll. This bet aligned, the proportional method is a better way to increase your bankroll as the expected wins roll in and more importantly, minimize the impact of a string of losses. You need to plan for wins and have the funds to take advantage of every opportunity over the betting season.
Live betting is a recent addition to the wagering opportunities offered by the New Jersey sportsbooks, that is made possible through the amazing betting apps currently available. As in-game situations change, so do the betting odds. This can generate some real value opportunities to either hedge a bet or possibly “middle” a bet, just jump on a great opportunity. If the odds change significantly, you may want to take the opposite side of your well-studied bet to save some cash. This is would be a hedge situation to sell some of your bet position that no longer looks like a winner.
A middle possibility is set up anytime the point spread moves a few points. If you took a bet laying 3.5 points and now the line jumps to 6 points, you may want to take the other side and cash both. Live betting or in-game requires being ready and in a position to take advantage of an opportunity that can quickly change again. Live betting requires game situation experience and the best app interface possible, with great batteries, so you can find to make fast and certain betting moves as game conditions change.
Live betting can really add excitement to your sports gaming experience!
Tips for Beginners
The sure tip for beginners is to review the basic concepts discussed above and start slow. Get started with a list of teams, and test your selection process on the prior year’s results. Adjust the betting methods as needed by running through a full season of games on paper. Make sure your process includes the stats that support an objective case, based on the analysis. When you have a good selection methodology, stick with it and avoid the “I feel lucky today” approach.
New Jersey sportsbooks put up betting lines on every major professional sports event, and most college games. However, as a bettor, you can be selective and focus your analysis to a few of the lines, and look for odds/payout value.
Be wary of “public favorites!" Betting lines for teams that receive lots of national exposure, with a past winning tradition, often are overvalued, since the sportsbooks need to balance the action by increasing the points given to the underdog. The analysis and selection of overlooked underdogs should be the first technique you try to develop.
Money management is an important area for beginners. Take a long-term approach and set a budget for the season and carefully track your bankroll. Cash management tips are covered in more detail below, but a fixed single bet amount in the range of 2% of your total season bankroll is a good rule of thumb when getting started.