Before the 2019 season kicks off on Thursday, I wanted to breakdown some of the basic terms that you will see when placing bets on games. For those of you who are new to sports gambling or are overwhelmed by a betting slip, I hope this will clarify some of the numbers that are thrown around. For the more experienced gamblers, I hope to add some better understanding to the math behind the numbers so you can make better financial decision when placing bets.

To get this tutorial started, we have pulled a simple screenshot of Thursday Night’s game between the Bears and Packers. This is what a typical basic bet slip will look like from an online betting platform.

There are several components to this betting slip. First of all, they list the date and time of the game. Bets must be placed before kickoff. Most sports books have in-game wagering, so if you place a bet after kickoff, you will be playing with adjusted odds and payouts dependent on the current state of the game. Next, you will see the two teams listed in the matchup, along with an identifier for the game (number 26). The next three columns are the lines you can play. You can play the spread, the money line, and the points total.

Spread – The spread is the margin of victory for a game that is determined by the sports book. You will see a negative number and a positive number. In this case you will see that Green Bay is listed as +3.0 and Chicago is listed as -3.0. When a team is listed with a negative number, they are the favorite to win the matchup. If you place a bet on Chicago, they will have to win by at least 3 points in order for you to win the bet. If you bet on Green Bay, they can still lose the game, but if they lose by less than 3, you will win the bet. Next to the margin of victory, you will see the payout in parentheses. Sports books always list payouts in quantities of 100. For instance, in this example Green Bay is listed at an EVEN payout. Therefore, if you bet $100 on Green Bay, and your bet wins, you would receive your $100 back, plus you would win $100. Chicago is listed at a -120 payout. A negative payout means that you would have to wager the dollar value after the negative to win $100. In this instance, you would have to wager $120 to win $100. If you were to wager $100 on Chicago, and they won, you would win $83.33, plus your initial investment of $100 back. Now, if the game were to be decided by exactly the spread, for example Chicago wins 23-20, the bets would be voided and you would receive your money back. This is known as a PUSH. Nobody wins, nobody loses.

Money Line – When playing the money line you do not have to worry about the margin of victory. You are simply picking the winner of the game. The lines that you see in the money line section are the payouts. In this example, Green Bay is listed at +140. Therefore, if you placed a $100 bet on Green Bay to win and they did (regardless of margin of victory) you would win $140 on top of your investment of $100. Chicago is listed at -160, so like we talked about in the spread definition, you would have to wager $160 to win $100. If you were to place a $100 bet on Chicago to win, and they did, you would receive your $100 investment back, plus $62.50.

Point Total – the last column you see on this list is the points total. When playing this, you will be predicting how many points will be scored in the game between both teams. This line is listed at 46.5. You see two choices, O46.5 (-110) and U46.5 (-110). You can bet that the final score will be OVER 46.5 points, or UNDER 46.5 points. To place a bet on the OVER, select O46.5, and the place a bet on the UNDER, select U46.5. Typical payouts for the Point Total is -110, and this example is true to that form. You would have to place $110 dollars on either to make $100 on a winning bet.

Calculating your Payout – Even though sports books talk in quantities of 100, you do not need to place that amount to play. You can place whatever dollar amount that you would like to play. The math behind the payout is quite simple, and it can be explained with percentages. When the payout is listed as a +, you take the number and divide it by 100. For example, the money line payout for Green Bay is +140. To calculate your payout you would take 140/100 which gives you 1.4 or 140%. If you placed a $12 bet on Green Bay, and wanted to know what your payout would be take $12 x 140%, which gives you $16.80. To calculate a payout from a negative odd, you would simply invert the math. Chicago is listed at -160, so to calculate what the percentage payout would be take 100/160, which gives you .625 or 62.5%. Playing the same $12, you would take $12 x 62.5%, which gives you $7.50.

How do the Sports Books make money?

The house always wins. I am sure you have heard of this phrase, but when it comes to sports gambling, the odds and payouts are set up so that the sports books always turn a profit at the end of the day. To understand how it works, you have to see where the money is going on each of the lines. Lets break it down in a simple form and assume that the payouts for a bet are both -110, like our Point Total line above. For simplicity purposes, lets say that a sports book has a total of $1,000,000 placed on the Point Total in this game. 50% ($500,000) of the bets are placed on the over, and 50% ($500,000) of the bets are placed on the under. The game finishes, and the points total is 50, meaning that the Over bets win. The sports book is going to pay out a total of $454,545.45 to the winning bets. All of the losing bets will stay with the sports book, which is $500,000. At the end of the day the Sports Book will profit $45,454.55.

Now, lets assume that the same $1,000,000 is wagered on the same line, but 75% ($750,000) of the bets are placed on the over, and 25% ($250,000) are placed on the under. If the over were to win the sports books would pay out a total of $681,818.18, and would only take in $250,000, netting a $431,818.18 loss. This would be a huge liability to the sports book, so they cannot let that happen and maintain a successful business model. That is when you see the line and/or the payout move. If too much money is being wagered on one side or another, the line (or odds) will shift to make the other side more enticing. Sports books will have a sweet spot that they want to stay in to ensure their profitability. Depending on where the money is going, the sports books will change their spreads, money lines, and payouts to make sure that whatever side wins, they will take in more money than they lose. At the end of the day, the house always wins.

Other Terms

Futures Bet – When placing a bet on a futures line, you are predicting an outcome down the road. You can place a bet on the future Super Bowl Champion, or the win total for a team at the end of the season. It will be a bet that is paid out after the completion of the event you are wagering.

Laying the Points – When the person wagering picks the favorite in a spread play.

Pick ’em – This happens when there is a game with no favorite. You will notice the listing as PK in the points spread, as neither team has been designated as a favorite to win the game. In this case, the payout will be the same as the Money Line, as all you are doing is picking the winner of the game.

Parlay – A parlay is when a bettor lumps multiple bets into one payoff. In order to win a parlay, all the events you are betting on will have to come true in order for you to win. The more events you lump into a parlay, the better the payoff, but the harder it is to win. If one of your events loses, you will lose the entire bet.

Teaser – This is a type of parlay where the bettor can move the spread in their favor. This will decrease the difficulty of a typical parlay, but as you adjust the spread, the payout will decrease.

Vig – This is a term used to define the cut that a sports book will take from the betting pool. We talked about this above when referencing how a sports book makes money. This can also be known as Juice.

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