Gambling 101: Intro to Sports Betting

(STL.News) Traditional sportsbooks are not like those in Las Vegas.  Those have flashy lights, joking dealers, and offer free drinks to gamblers willing to lose their money.  Real sportsbooks used to be in boiler rooms in the back of a pizzeria or in an apartment down an alley where line-makers would hand adjust betting lines, and the sportsbook’s reps would take wagers over the phone.

But that all changed in the late 90s with the advent of the internet.  Suddenly, bookmakers were able to automate a large part of their operations, namely, the taking and tracking of wagers all while retaining their anonymity, at least from the players.

But that’s enough about that; let’s look at the two most popular ways of sports betting in Arizona on sports like football, basketball, soccer, baseball, and hockey.

The Point Spread

The point spread is by far the most popular way to bet on sports. Handicappers create lines by predicting how many points one team will beat another team by.  For example, the Arizona Cardinals are playing their division rival, the Seattle Seahawks, and sportsbooks are listed as 3-point favorites.  If Arizona wins straight up (meaning without a handicap), they didn’t necessarily cover the spread and win you the bet.  They would have to win by at least 4 points. This means that they’ll beat the Seahawks by more than four points; the bettors who picked them will win money.  If Arizona wins but doesn’t cover the spread, then the Seahawks will have “covered” the points spread or gotten the ‘backdoor cover,’ and their backers win money instead, even if they end up losing the game.

As long as Seattle loses by less than three points, they cover the spread. If the Packers lose, then bettors who picked the spread have lost their wager since Green Bay didn’t beat Minnesota by more than three points.  If the margin of victory fell at exactly three points, say Green Bay 24, Minnesota 21, then it’s a push and your wager is returned.

In baseball and hockey, the point spread is different.  In baseball, it’s called the run line, and in hockey, the puck line. So, unlike sports like football and basketball where there is a point spread that’s unique to each matchup, in baseball and hockey, that line stays at plus or minus 1.5, and the thing that changes is the price (or risk versus reward) for taking one side or the other.  For example, the Arizona Diamondbacks might be +1.5 (-160) against the LA Dodgers.  This means they are underdogs in the game but have a chalky price of -160 —you have to lay 160 to win 100, or 16 to win 10, etc.— to cover the run line.  This means that they are favored to only lose by one run.  If they lose by just one run or win the game, they also cover the run line.  It works the same in hockey with the puck line.  You may see -1.5 (+150), which would mean that the books think that team will win the game, but they don’t think it will be a dominating win and thus are offering a positive money line for that team to win by two—risk 100 to win 150 or 10 to win 15, etc.

The Total (OVER/UNDER)

Totals are a little more complicated than picking outright winners since you’re predicting how many points will be scored by both sides.  There are two different types of bets that can be placed: over and under.  Over bets involve the total number of points scored in a game going over a certain amount, while under bets mean that you predict that both teams will combine to score fewer than the predetermined amount.

We might see the Arizona Cardinals vs. Seattle Seahawks total listed as O51 (-115) & U51 (-105).  These numbers would indicate that the sportsbooks have taken slightly more bets on the OVER and are trying to entice players to take the UNDER.  It could also mean that they lean slightly towards the OVER cashing, meaning they expect Arizona and Seattle to combine for more than 51 points in the game.

The Golden Rule that Sportsbooks Don’t Want You to Know

The most important thing to remember when sports betting is to take your emotions out of it.  You are not betting for or against a team, rather against a particular line.  On top of this, don’t bet against any line that you can’t find a clear and definitive edge against.  In other words, you should have a solid argument backed by historical data, recent momentum, and stats for why you are buying in against a betting line.