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Football Betting Basics
Types of Bets
Welcome to the second in a series on betting football. In this installment we review and comment upon the basic and exotic types of bets available to players who want action on the NFL.
OK, for the purposes of explaining the bets we'll assume the following first week lines in the NFL. For more info on what a line is (and isn't), see the first article in the series.
Patriots 47.5
JETS 6.5
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Oakland 45
GREEN BAY 10
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Detroit 49
SEATTLE 7.5
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Minnesota 48
ATLANTA 3
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Pittsburgh 7
CLEVELAND 41.5
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Now here we go:
1) SIDES
This involves the smaller number listed by each pair of teams. The team beside the smaller number is favored by that many points. (So the Jets are favored over New England by 6.5, Green Bay is favored over Oakland by 10, Seattle by 7.5, and so on.)
Pick the team you like to win the game, including the handicap. You risk $11 for every $10 you want to win from the bookmaker. If you choose Seattle, Seattle must win by more than 7.5 points (so 8 points or more). If you prefer Detroit, Detroit either has to win on the field or lose by 7.5 points or less for you to win your bet. So it doesn't only matter, sometimes, who wins the game, but who wins including the handicap or "spread".
If Detroit wins, Detroit bettors win.
If Seattle wins by 8 or more points, Seattle bettors win.
If Seattle wins on the field by 7 points or less, Detroit bettors win because Seattle "didn't cover the spread".
Suppose in the Pittsburgh–Cleveland game Pittsburgh wins by exactly 7 points, the line. In that case all bets are considered off, and risked money is just returned to bettors. This is called a "push", "wash", "jerk", and other things I can't print here.
This is the most common bet in football. If you're risking $11 to win $10 on each bet, you must be right 52.4% of the time to break even. The break even point is LESS than 52.4% when using a sportsbook with reduced juice, such as 5 dimes sportsbook.
2) TOTALS
This involves the larger number associated with each pair of teams. This is the "Over/Under" number, and it's listed beside the underdog.
Envision the total final score of both teams in the Pittsburgh–Cleveland game. If you think it'll be "OVER" 41.5, risk $11 to win $10 from your bookie. If you think it'll be 41 points or less, bet the same amount on the "UNDER". Overtime counts!
If the Minnesota–Atlanta game ends 28-20 for a total of 48, that's a push treated the same way as a side that pushes. Bettors just get their money back.
Another common bet, the "TOTAL" can see the bettor cheering both teams' offenses, or both teams' defenses. At the dorm one year in university I had the over on the Super Bowl. More than a few people were confused why I wanted both the Bills AND the Giants to run it up!
3) PARLAYS (in Europe, "ACCUMULATORS")
Number of Teams .......... Odds
2 ........ 13/5
3 ........ 6/1
4 ........ 11/1
5 ........ 20/1
6 ........ 30/1
7 ........ 50/1
8 ........ 70/1
**Note - these odds are an industry average. You can do better than the above odds at many sportsbooks.
In a parlay, you pick two or more sides, totals, or a combination of sides and totals, and if they all win, you win at the odds quoted. If one or more of your picks loses, your bet loses. A popular bet is one that parlays the side and the total in the same game often "favorite and over" or "underdog and under".
Pushes in Parlays: If one of your picks pushes, most places use "ties reduce": that one part of your parlay that pushed was deemed not to have been played and you now have a parlay with one pick less. So if you played a 5-team parlay and 4 of your picks won and 1 pushed, you would be credited with a winning, 4-team parlay. Avoid any shop where ties on parlays lose.
In general, multiple team parlays are BAD BETS! The true odds of hitting a 2-teamer is 3-1 and a 3-teamer 7-1, so the standard odds above give the bookie a modest edge. The bookie's cut gets big thereafter though: The true odds on a 4-teamer are 15-1, on a 6-teamer 63-1, and on an 8-teamer 255-1; the payoffs aren't nearly that good! Some people say "Well it's like the Lottery...maybe the jackpot should truly be $20 million, but who's going to complain about winning $7 million?". Take that philosophy if you like, but take it at your own risk.
4) TEASERS
This bet is so named because it can tease the player into thinking he has the advantage over the house. We'll discuss 2-team teasers, but teasers of more teams are also available and work the same way.
2-Team Teaser
6 Points: 10/11
6.5 Points 5/6
7 Points: 10/13
Pick two sides, two totals, or one of each. Like a parlay both must win, but you get to move the line in your favor by 6, 6.5, or 7 points depending on how much you bet.
If you like Seattle and the over in the Pittsburgh game and you choose a 6-point teaser, then you lay $11 against your bookie's $10 and you need Seattle to win by (7.5 - 6) only 1.5 points or more and the total in the Pittsburgh game to go over (41.5 - 6) only 35.5.
If you like New England and the under in the Pittsburgh game on a 7-point tease then New England has to win or lose by (6.5 + 7) at most 13.5 points and the Pittsburgh total has to go under (41.5 + 7) a score of 48.5.
Books treat pushes within teasers differently from place to place. Check out the shop's rules before you bet. Be sure to avoid a place where "ties lose".
Is the teaser a good bet? A teaser is a lot like a cello recital. Done properly, with attention to subtleties, it can be beautiful. Done incorrectly, it's the ugliest thing ever. A future article will be entirely devoted to teasers.
**Note - Just as with the parlay odds, these odds are an industry average. You can do better than the above odds at many sportsbooks.
5) MONEY LINES
Some people prefer to bet on which team will win the game without the use of the spread. This is called "betting on the money line" or "betting straight up".
On the Patriots–Jets game you might see a money line of:
Patriots +$240
Jets -$280
The minus number goes with the favorite. That is how much you must risk on that team to win $100 of your bookie's dough.
The plus number goes with the underdog. That is how much your bookie would wager against your $100 if you took that team.
If there is no favorite, each team is listed at -$110. For either side you must risk $110 to win $100.
Money lines can be parlayed; consult a book on sports betting for how to calculate payoff odds. (All baseball odds are money lines, so a book on betting baseball would have this for sure.)
Most shops have a fixed conversion table for spread odds to money line odds. 3-point favorites are near -$150 on the money line, touchdown favorites near -$300, and 10-point favorites near -$500. Most shops won't have a money line on a game where the spread is more than 14 points.
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6) 1ST HALF and HALFTIME LINES
Before the game the book will offer a line on the first half side and total. Once again you lay $11 to win $10 and the bet is "finished" at halftime. Similarly, at the half, sportbooks will deal a line on the second half of play only (but this does include overtime, if any). Many people beat these lines with great frequency.
7) "IF"S
With apologies to Rudyard Kipling, the "if" bet is more about being a manager of money than about being a man. You call in two bets at once but the second one only plays "if" the first one wins. Usually the second bet is on a game that will start before the bet on the first game is decided. Be very clear with the clerk that you are placing an "if" bet. (Say "if" a LOT!).
You may decide you like the Jets and Detroit in Week 1, but you want to limit your risk. So you decide to bet $110 to win $100 on the Jets -6.5, and then instruct your bookie to put $110 on Detroit +7.5 on the West Coast game, but only if the Jets win for you in the early game.
If both teams win, you win $200...$100 from the Jets and $100 from Detroit. Nice. If the Jets win but Detroit loses on you, you're out $10: The Jets won you $100 but you lost $110 on Detroit. If the Jets don't win by 7 or more, you lose $110–your Jets bet. The Detroit bet doesn't happen because the Jets didn't win for you.
So you can win $200, or lose pennies, or lose at most $110.
8) REVERSES (Sometimes called "if-and-reverse")
The reverse is two "if" bets on the same two teams, with each team on the front end once (and so each team is on the back end once as well). A "Reverse" on the above teams is simply the addition of a mirror "if" bet: one that puts $110 on Detroit no matter what, and if Detroit wins, puts $110 back on the Jets.
So if both teams win, you win $400–two times $200, the total winnings on a single "if".
If one team wins, you lose $120. Lets say the Jets win but Detroit loses. In the "Jets first" side, you won $100 on the Jets, but you then lost $110 on Detroit. Down $10. On the "Detroit first" side, Detroit lost, so you lose $110, and the Jets bet never happened. So you lose $10 plus $110 for $120.
If both teams lose, you're out $220. Both front-ends are losers so both back-ends are thankfully void!
Some people like parlays, some prefer reverses. Get opinions on this in the posting forum. I prefer single bets rather than parlays or reverses!
9) ACTION POINTS
Somebody once called this "the crack cocaine of wagering". I wish people used more creative analogies. It's just another intriguing bet!
You not only back a team to cover the right side of the spread, but your payoff depends on how well they do it. Suppose you like Atlanta -3 over Minnesota. Figure out your unit-bet. Let's say it's $10. For every point more than three that Atlanta wins by, you win $10. For every point Atlanta falls short of winning by three by, you lose $11.
If Atlanta won by 10, you'd win $70: Take the winning margin (10), subtract the spread (3), and multiply the result by your unit-bet ($10). If Minnesota won by 3, you're out $66: Atlanta came up six points short of winning by three, so multiply 6 by your unit bet to figure out your loss.
Most shops "cap" a win or loss at 15 or 20 points, and clients can usually lower the cap number when the bet is placed. So if Atlanta loses 56-7, you're not out $520. If they win in a rout, in this example you win a maximum of $200 on a 20-point cap. Most people who bet action points bet them when they smell a blowout.
Playing Action Points offshore requires a big bankroll because most shops require you to have in your account enough money to cover an "absolute loss" of the cap number of unit-bets.
10) SUPREMACY or SPREAD BETTING (European & some Australian Books)
This bet emerged from financial districts in London, Madrid, and likely other stock exchanges. It's the European version of Action Points.
The term "Spread" here is NOT the traditional spread. In the Atlanta example above, instead of booking Action points on Atlanta -3 (or Minnesota +3) the bookmaker would list what he calls the spread here as something like "Atlanta, 1-5".
The good news is that winners earn $10 a point and losers lose $10 a point, not $11/point per action point loss. The bad news is that it's a split-line: Atlanta-backers have Atlanta at -5 (the higher spread number goes with the listed team, the favorite), and Minnesota-backers have Minnesota +1 (the lower spread number). What happens if Atlanta wins by exactly 2, 3, or 4 points? Everybody loses!
Supremacy, for this reason, is a poor choice for the bettor in comparison to Action Points. When a game lands splat on the odds-maker's line in Action Points, all bets are off. In Supremacy, the bookie collects a small sum from everyone. This is particularly poisonous in pro football when the number 3 lies within the spread...a disproportionate number of games are decided by exactly three points.
11) BUYING POINTS
Suppose you like the Patriots at the quoted line of +6.5, but you "really" like them +7. If you can't find +7 at another shop, you can move the line half a point ("buy" a half point) in your favor by laying $12 to win $10 instead of $11 to win $10. On a to-win-$10 bet, each half-point move will cost you an extra $1 of risk. One exception is moving "onto" or "off" the number 3, which usually costs $1.50 of risk to move both on and off. (This is because lots of NFL games are decided by exactly 3 points.) Places that offer point buying will usually let people buy up to between 3 and 7 points.
This can be useful when the line is around the number 3 in football, but otherwise is of questionable value.
12) PROPS ("Propositions")
These are all those extra bets you have probably seen come Super Bowl time. In fact, that was once the ONLY time you saw these types of bet. Such as, how many rushing yards a back will have. How many completions a QB will have and so on.
These days however, props are offered on just about every game on the board at sportsbooks such as 5 dimes and sportsbook.ag. These types of wagers are also routinely BEATEN by sharp bettors so do your homework!!