If you walk into (most) casinos in Las Vegas and other select states and pass all the shiny, flashing lights of the hundreds of slot machines, you will find tucked away in the corner a place that looks like it belongs on Wall Street. This, my friends, is the sportsbook.
This is the place you go if you want to place a sports wager (in person). Nowadays, most people can bet on the internet via online books, but what you see online is similar to what you would see in person. (If you have never placed a bet in person, I suggest you do so at some point!)
Now, many first time bettors might be intimidated by all the numbers. Numbers scream “complicated” and trigger inner math phobias.
One of the main reasons that sportsbetting is one of the least visited places in a casino is because a lot of people erroneously believe that since sports betting involves some math and statistics, it is overly complicated.
While analyzing statistics is certainly helpful (especially when betting over long periods of time) and should not be completely ignored, they do not tell the entire story. In fact, statistics tell a story about the past and are based on what already happened. Often times past events are indicative of future events, but not always. Some may disagree with me, but I believe, in this day and age of ever accessible information, too many meaningless statistics are often relied on too heavily at times.
As the saying goes, the best team on paper does not always win. That’s why they play the game.
Not to mention, I would also argue that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find a statistical edge. All of the statistical information that you have, everyone else has access too including the oddsmakers. The difference is finding which statistics are more meaningful and being able to apply that information situationally to give yourself a better chance of winning.
However, one important thing to remember is numbers do not lie! In my experience, the greatest value of statistics are the statistics you keep about your own results! For the novice sports bettor, it is easy to become enamored with brief success. Luck is fleeting and delusions abound in sports betting. Numbers can be sobering and the dose of reality to show what’s working and what isn’t.
Believe me when I say that every single factor impacting a game and that can be measured is used by oddsmakers and “sharps” (experienced players who know what the hell they are doing!) to determine the odds for a particular game. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, player stats and trends, team stats and trends, home and away splits, coaching changes, referee tendencies, injuries and momentum of a particular team.
So where does that leave me and you?
May the Odds Be on Your Side
If you take only one thing away from this post about sports betting, it’s this – Successful sports betting over time is all about finding value.
What does this mean? It means simply that if you want to win over the long run you have to find a way to find pick out games where you have an advantage over the odds set by the betting market.
Sounds easy enough right?
In fact, it is much more difficult than you would think.
Before we begin our journey of how to find value, you first must understand what odds are and how they work if you do not already.
In explaining the odds, I will also introduce you to two of the most common bets you will come across: the point spread and the moneyline.
The Line Defined
The power in knowing and understanding the odds cannot be understated. In fact, there are some sports investors who simply mine for value by shopping for the best odds across multiple books.
(You should know that the odds for any game are always fluctuating or changing depending on the amount of money wagered on a particular team or outcome.)
Also, sports books often offer slightly different odds depending upon their client base. This is why many serious sports bettors shop around for the best odds!
The first thing to understand is that the odds determine both the price you must pay to wager on a certain team or outcome and the expected return.
Let’s start with a real simple example.
Let’s say you and your friend start talking about the Superbowl and which team is going to win.
Your friend tells you that there is no way the Eagles have a chance against the Patriots. You tell your friend (in the most polite way as possible) that they are sorely mistaken. Trash talk ensues and, naturally, in order to settle the dispute you tell your friend to “put their money where their mouth is”.
Now, most friendly wagers are simple, even money wagers meaning that you bet your friend, let’s say, “$50”.
If you win then your friend pays you $50 and if you lose then you pay your friend $50. You might be very confident in your team and very happy about your bet. However, in the sportsbetting world, you would have gotten ripped off.
If you “legitimately” bet on the Eagles in last years 2018 Superbowl through a sportsbook, you most likely got one of two things (depending upon the type of bet you made) that would give you an advantage or reward you for the extra risk you were taking.
Either you got points in the form of a point spread or you got moneyline odds that would pay you more that the $50 wagered for a straight up win.
Let’s talk about what each of these bets are and what they mean.
The Point Spread
If you bet on the point spread of the Eagles, you got the Eagles at +4.5. What does that mean?
The point spread is basically a handicap for the team perceived to have a lower chance of winning. Also, know that the standard odds for the point spread are typically -110 although they sometimes can be -115 or +105. It simply depends on the sportsbook since each sportsbook is basing their price on their clients and the action they have received. (odds are further explained in the moneyline section)
I’ll use another example to illustrate.
Let’s say you have two brothers who both love playing basketball and often find themselves in spirited games of 1-on-1 on the family driveway.
Now, John, the older brother, is 3 years older than his younger brother Jake. He is a bit taller, he is stronger and he is a bit more skilled.
Knowing that Jack is more likely to lose a game to 11 by ones-and-twos, John might entice his younger brother by taunting him with something like “I bet I could beat you even if I spotted you 6 points”.
That would mean that Jack only has to score 5 points to win, but John has to score the full 11 to win.
In a sportsbook, the line would look something like this: Jack +6 and John -6.
Obviously, teams in professional sports do not start with the handicap scoreline given to them at the start of the game. All games start with a 0-0 scoreline.
However, in the betting world, teams who are perceived as the “favorite” (like John) are seen as more likely to win and will have to “cover the spread” or win by more than the point spread for the bet to be graded as a winner.
As for the “underdog” (like Jack), they are seen as less likely to win and, therefore, can lose by no more than the spread amount for the bet to be graded a winner.
Interestingly enough, the term “covering the spread” applies to both the underdog and favorites. As mentioned above, the favorite “covers” when they win the game by a margin of victory greater than the point spread.
In the case of the underdog, they can still lose the game, but “cover the spread” as long as the margin of loss is not greater than the point spread.
The positive handicap line for the underdog is indicated by a “+” and the point spread needed to cover by the favorite is indicated by a “-“.
Going back to the Superbowl featuring the Eagles and Patriots, the Patriots were seen as 4.5 point favorites.
This means that if you were to bet on the Eagles point spread, your bet would win if either the Eagles won the game outright or they lost by no more than 4 points.
If the Eagles lost by 5 or more points then the bet would have lost.
Why is there a .5 in the point spread?
The reason odds makers include a .5 point in the spread is to eliminate a push from occurring. A push occurs when the margin of victory is exactly the same as the point spread.
So in this example, if the point spread was 4 points instead of 4.5 and if the margin of victory happened to be exactly 4 for the Patriots then the bet would be graded as a push and the money would be returned to anyone who had that point spread regardless of the team they bet on.
With a 4.5 point spread, this actually favors the Eagles slightly because now a 4 point margin of loss would still see the bet win. On the flip side, the Patriots have to win by 5 in order to win the bet and a 4 point victory leads to a loss and not a push.
Point spreads with .5 are just as common as whole number point spreads. It just depends on what the oddsmaker has determined as the correct line.
Sticking with our example, the oddsmakers determined the Patriots as favorites since Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and company had played and won the big game on multiple occasions. Not to mention, the Eagles were relying on a backup quarterback in Nick Foles.
As history has shown time and time again, the game is not played on paper. The Eagles won 41-33 and not only covered the spread, but also won “straight up”. This brings us to the next type of bet: the moneyline bet.
Winning “straight up” means that a team wins the game outright without the aide of any point spread. This is the traditional winning and losing of the game we are all used to. It’s who actually won the game!
Now, we just got through saying that, often times, the two teams playing are not evenly matched in the eyes of the public and oddsmaker. Therefore, it is more risky to bet on a team to win that has a lower probability of winning.
On the flip side, a team seen as more likely to win is seen as less of a risk. The moneyline odds indicate this discrepancy and price in the associated risk and reward of betting on either team.
For the Eagles and Patriots, the moneyline odds were set at -180 for the Patriots and +160 for the Eagles (in American odds format. See below for a brief explanation of the different odd formats).
Let’s talk about what each of these numbers mean.
To start with, a +100 moneyline is a true to the odds even bet. This is the friendly wager we were referring to at the beginning of this post.
While +100 is an “even” bet mathamatically speaking, the standard “even” bet in the betting market is priced at -110.
Why the extra 10% for a “standard” bet? Well, it’s essentially the bookmaker’s cut for brokering the bet. They have to get paid too right! This cut of the bookmaker is called the “vigorish” or “vig” for short.
So, with a standard bet, in order to win $10 I need to wager $11. If I win I can expect to receive $10 back in profit plus my original wager amount of $11 for a total of $21 received.
What you need to remember is you did not “win” $21 since you already had the $11 and that was risked. You really profited $10 and did not lose your other $11 in the process.
The reason I make this distinction is another popular odds format, the decimal format, (common in European markets and the preferred format for most soccer matches) shows how much money will be won combined with your original stake.
As you start to move towards “better” moneyline odds, then the oddsmaker “matches” your wager by larger amounts. I call these odds “better” because the payout is better for you.
Starting with the Eagles, the “+” moneyline means that any money risked will see you receive more than simply a profit that matches your original stake.
If you notice, with just a tiny bit of simple math, we see that if we take our odds and divide them by 100 to turn them into a decimal then multiply it by the amount risked, we get how much we can expect to profit if our bet wins.
So, if I bet $10 on a team that is +150 and they win I would win 150/100 = 1.5 x $10 = $15. Another way of looking at it is I am getting $1.50 for every $1 I bet. I am getting an extra 50% in profit.
Using our real world example, the Eagles were +160 at one point. The original bet was for $50 so 160/100 = 1.6 x $50 = $80. If you would have bet on the Eagles at a sportsbook instead of with your friend, you would have made an extra $30.
(But maybe it was worth it to laugh at their (really your) expense?)
|Odds|| Amount Risked
|Amount Won||Total Received|
On the flip side, when betting the favorite you often have to pay a premium to bet on that team due to the implied probability being higher for the favorite to win.
So, to calculate this price it is a similar process to the underdog, but this time you start with the amount you would like to win instead of the amount you are risking. For example, if I want to win $10 on a bet that has odds of -110 I would take 110/100 = 1.1 x $10 = $11. I now determined that I have to risk $11 in order to win $10.
Using our real world example, the Patriots were a -180. This means I would have to bet $18 just to win $10. If I wanted to win $50, I would have to risk $90 (180/100 = 1.8 x $50 = $90). If I only risked $50, I would only win $27.78 (180/100 = 1.8 x (amount won) = $50 using a little algebra to solve for my unknown $50 / 1.8 = $27.78)
As I was saying, it costs more to bet on the favorite.
As a rule of thumb for myself, since I am not a high roller, I do not bet on anything higher than -165 unless I am including that play in a parlay. To be honest, I feel less comfortable looking for heavy favorites because I have to risk more and, to me, it is harder to justify paying a premium to bet on them unless you are betting large sums of money.
I would much rather take a chance on an underdog then bet on a heavy favorite. (For a primer on other types of bets such as parlays and teasers, I wrote about them here.)
|Odds|| Amount Risked
|Amount Won||Total Received|
For those of you who do not want to read my longwinded (but I would argue more entertaining post) here is a summary of what was covered
- Odds indicate the price you must pay to wager on a team or outcome and also determine how much you can expect to win
- Two of the most common bets you will see are point spreads and moneyline bets
- Point spreads are score handicaps either spotted to the underdog or the lowest possible margin of victory required by the favorite.
- When an underdog or favorite beat the point spread, we say they “covered”.
- Point spreads are typically given odds of -110 with the extra 10% being the “vig” or the cut that the oddsmaker takes for brokering the bet.
- The moneyline is a price adjustment where betting on the underdog (more risk) is rewarded with a higher payout, while betting on the favorite (less risk) costs a premium.
- To determine moneyline American odds, take the odds divide by 100 and multiply it by the amount risked in the case of the underdog and the amount you would like to win in the case of the favorite.
- For the underdog, this is how much money you stand to profit when risking said amount.
- For the favorite, this is how much you need to risk in order to win said amount.
- For soccer betting, you should become familiar with the decimal format.
Other Betting Formats
Odds can be presented in three different formats: American, decimal and fraction. While they all look a bit different, they are all ways of showing the ratio between what is risked and what is wagered.
Since we already went through how to understand American odds, I will focus on primarily on decimal (since I actually see it used) and fractional.
Decimal is the most popular format for soccer (football) matches, so if you are planning on betting soccer then you should become familiar with decimal odds. Most often you will see something like this for soccer matches
Team A: 2.18 Team B: 3.09 Draw 3.85
Decimal odds represent the total amount returned for each $1 bet. So, if I bet $10 at 2.18 odds then I will get $21.80 back.
Now, realize that this amount represents my profit and my initial amount risked. To find out how much I profited, I take the total ($21.80) and subtract it by the amount I risked ($10) to get $11.80.
In fact, if you see below, the amount profited represents American odds. We are back to where we started!
Translating these odds to American format you get
Team A is +118 Team B is +209 Draw is +285
Honestly, I have rarely, if ever, used fractional odds and have decided to not go into too much depth here. If your curious by nature and are dying to know, I would look up other websites to understand how they work.
Most sports betting sites can easily allow you to select the type of odds format you’d like and whenever you place the bet they calculate it automatically.
There are also many odds converters online if you don’t want to do the math in your head.