Sports betting may be the most popular form of gambling in the world. It’s not the first thing that most people think about when you mention gambling, but let’s look at some numbers.
According to ESPN, 4.2 billion was wagered on sporting events in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2015. When you consider that Las Vegas only controls a small part of the worldwide handle of sports bets, it’s easy to estimate that the worldwide handle could approach 100 billion.
In the same article, it’s estimated that Las Vegas only handles 10% of the US market when you include bets made with bookies, with offshore bookmakers, and in other unregulated markets. Using these numbers, they estimate that over 42 billion is wagered in the US alone.
Because sports betting is such a large market, I decided to put together a list of 10 things you should know about sports betting.
1. The Vig Costs You Money
The way sportsbooks make money isn’t by figuring out how to make people place bets on losing teams. The sportsbooks don’t care who you bet on, but they like to have roughly the same amount of money wagered on each side of a game.
When a sports book has the same amount of money bet on each side of a game or contest, they lock in a profit.
Here’s an example:
Gamblers need to bet 110 to win 100 on a game. If the bookmaker takes bets of $11,000 on each side of a game, they lock in a profit of $1,000.
The half that wins gets back their 110 and 100 which is taken from the half that loses. This leaves the profit of $1,000 for the bookmaker.
The difference between what you have to bet and how much you can win is called vig.
The vig is easy to see when you have to bet 110 to win 100 or 105 to win 100, but even in money line bets, there’s a vig built in. This is why the money line bets aren’t even on both sides of a game or contest unless they’re both at -110 or -105.
It’s rare to find an opportunity to place bets with no vig at sports books, but bets placed between individuals usually don’t have vig.
Be aware that the vig costs you money in the long run, so any chance you find to place bets with no vig or reduced vig helps you. The vig is why you need to be able to win more games than you lose when placing bets with bookmakers.
2. Travel Is Important
When you’re evaluating games and betting lines, you need to consider which team has to travel and how far they’ve traveled to get to the game.
In the US teams that travel from one coast to another tend to perform worse than when they travel closer to home. The travel from the west coast to the east coast seems to be worse.
When you’re evaluating a game, the travel plays a big part in the expected outcome. But you also need to know that the bookmakers take this into account when they set the lines.
The secret to being a winning sports bettor is finding lines that have value. In other words, you need to be able to find games where you can do a better job than the book evaluating the outcome.
Travel schedules are just one small part of this, but if you ignore them, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage against the bookmaker.
3. The Books Make Money, and Almost No One Else Does
Because of the vig, you learned about in the first section the sports books make money if they’re run correctly. The books can’t always get the same amount of money wagered on each side of a game, but they take bets on dozens or hundreds of contests, and if they set good lines, it averages out over time.
If a bookmaker is run correctly, sets good lines, adjusts their lines when needed, and is backed by enough money, they’re practically guaranteed to lock in a long-term profit.
This profit has to come from somewhere, and it comes from gamblers.
Very few sports bettors are able to show a long-term profit. But almost every bookmaker turns a long-term profit.
Some sports bettors are able to make money, but the odds are heavily in the book maker’s favor. I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t bet on sports, but you need to be aware of the odds against you. If you truly want to be profitable, you should consider this information. Is there any way you can work the other side? Can you become the bookmaker instead of being on the losing side?
4. Big Games Have Tight Lines
Bookmakers set opening lines based on the expected outcome of a contest and how much action they predict to see on each side of the game. While most lines are close to the expected outcome of a game, remember that the bookmakers are more interested in balancing the best than predicting the actual outcome.
As the bookmaker takes bets in on a game if they get too much bet on one side of a game they adjust the line to try to get more people to bet on the other side.
This creates a situation where the games with the most bets, or biggest handle, tend to have tighter lines than games with a smaller handle.
The bookmakers may post lines on hundreds of games a week, but they know which ones will receive the highest handles. They spend more time and resources on making sure they have good lines on big games than on less popular ones.
This should give you a clue to which games you should spend most of your time looking for value in. You can bet on big games, and you might be able to find value, but often the best value is found on the less popular contests.
5. The Money Line Can Be Your Friend
As you learned earlier, money lines have vig built in, but often you can find value in money lines. A money line wager is a bet on which team is going to win ignoring the point spread.
You might think this is a great way to make money on teams that are heavily favored, but most of the value, in the long run, will be in finding teams that are small favorites or underdogs that have a good chance to win.
I tend to make numerous bets every week during certain seasons, and I like to make a series of money line bets where I see value. In the opening week of the NFL season in 2017 I made a money line bet on the New England Patriots, the Detroit Lions, and the Los Angeles (or wherever they’re from this year) Raiders.
The Lions and Raiders won, and the Patriots lost, but I made a smaller bet on the Patriots than the other two games and realized a 20 unit win for the week. The Patriots were much higher favorites than the other two teams so if I’d have bet the same amount on each game I’d have lost for the week.
The reason I show you this example isn’t to try to convince you I’m a great sports bettor. It’s to show you that money line bets on big favorites can be dangerous.
It’s easy to pick a team that’ a heavy favorite on the money line but you have to risk such a high amount in relation to the possible reward that one bad game can wipe out your entire week. I’ve seen this happen too many times, so I make smaller bets on teams that are a heavy favorite, especially early in the season.
Be careful betting on the money line on heavy favorites. The amount you need to wager is often so much that one big upset can wipe out weeks of profit.
6. How to Read Lines
Betting lines can be confusing. But once you learn how to read them, you can quickly see which team is favored and which is the underdog. In this section, you’re going to learn how to read regular lines and money lines.
Normal lines are generally listed with the favorite showing a minus number and the underdog showing a plus number.
Here’s an example:
- Houston Texans + 7
- New England Patriots – 7
- This game can also be listed like this:
- Houston Texans
- New England Patriots – 7
The home team is listed second. If you bet on the team with the plus number you get the points and if you bet on the team with the minus number you give the points.
When you bet on the underdog and get points, it means you add the points to the final score for your team at the end of the game. In this example, if you bet on the Houston Texans and they win the game or lose by six or less you win the bet.
If you bet on the favorite, it means they have to win by more than the points they give. In this example, if you bet on the Patriots, they have to win by eight or more points for you to win the bet.
Money line bets also have a plus or minus number, but it designates how much you need to bet to win 100 or how much you win if you bet 100.
If the money line on the team you want to bet on is + 400, it means that if you bet 100, you win 400 if they win.
When the money line shows – 500 it means you have to bet 500 to win 100.
If the money line is a positive number you win that much for a bet of 100 and if it’s a negative number you have to bet 100 to win that much.
You don’t have to make wagers in increments of 100. The amount is adjusted based on how much you bet. So, if you bet 50 on a money line bet of + 400, it means you win 200 if your team wins.
7. Home Team Bias
The fact is that home teams win considerably more often than visiting teams. And bookmakers located close to the home team usually receive more bets on the home team than the visitor. The bookmakers know this and often adjust the line against the home teams closest to them.
You can use this information when you evaluate games and lines.
It’s often advantageous to compare lines from different bookmakers to see where the best lines are available.
The lines already take into account the fact that home teams win more than the visiting team. But sometimes you can use the home team bias to find value in lines, especially if you’re willing to bet on visiting underdogs.
You can’t blindly bet on any group, whether it’s home underdogs or road underdogs, but you can find opportunities on a game by game basis.
Here’s an example of home team bias:
If you live in Michigan and want to bet on NCAA football games that Michigan plays in you can often find local lines that are better for Michigan’s opponent when you bet close to home.
The lines in Las Vegas might be Michigan at – 6 and the local lines might be Michigan at – 9 or – 10.
This is a big difference, and if the Las Vegas line is a good line, there’s value in taking their opponent at + 9 or + 10.
You can find situations like this all over the world if you know what to look for.
It’s dangerous to blindly bet on any game, but if the national line is – 6 and you can make bets at. 10, which will be + 10, on the visiting team you can probably show a long-term profit. Of course, you still need to evaluate the game and decide if it’s a good bet or not, but when a line is three or four points off, there’s value somewhere. You just need to decide which side the value is on.
If you decide that the bet on the visitor at + 10 isn’t a good line then the bet on Michigan at. 6 offers value.
8. Small Conference Profits
In the section about big games having tight lines you learned how the bookmakers concentrate most of their resources on the games with the biggest handle. This opens an opportunity for smart sports bettors to find value in games with smaller betting handles.
One of the main places you see this is in the small conference in NCAA basketball and football.
The big conferences have the best matchups every week, but all of the small conferences have games too. If you’re willing to do more work than the bookmakers researching small conference players and teams you have a real opportunity to find games and lines that offer value.
We have access to more news, statistic, and information now than at any time in history. The bookmakers don’t always have time to sift through all of the available information for every game. And you don’t either, but you don’t have to be an expert on every game the books offer a line on.
If you want to be a winning sports bettor, pick a small conference or two and become an expert on the teams and players. Build a network of contacts and information source to find things the bookmakers miss.
9. What About Weather?
The weather can change the outcome of any outdoor sporting event. Many lines are made days before the actual game, and the weather forecast can change. Of course, as the forecast changes the bookmakers often adjust the lines.
Some players and teams do better in bad weather than others, and this is the type of thing you need to know when looking for lines that offer value.
As a general rule, bad weather lowers the overall offensive output in most games. A football game in snow or heavy rain makes it more likely for each team to turn the ball over and makes it harder to throw.
10. Pitchers and Quarterbacks
Most sports bets are placed on team sports like basketball, soccer, football, and baseball. But some positions are more important to betting and predictions than others.
Starting pitchers in baseball and starting quarterbacks in football tend to have more to do with the outcomes of games than any other positions. This means that when you evaluate football and baseball games, you need to weigh these positions more heavily than the other positions.
A strong starting pitcher keeps his team in the game longer and protects a lead better than a poor one. A bad quarterback can lose a game by throwing a bad interception or playing poorly.
The bookmakers take these things into account when setting lines, but you also need to evaluate games with these things in mind when you’re trying to find value.
Use these 10 things you should know about sports betting to improve your results. Remember that most sports bettors lose in the long run, and the bookmakers are the ones that usually make the most money. But if you use the advice you learned here, it can go a long way toward evening the balance.