Betting 101

Gambling on sports is incredibly popular in North America.

In a much-quoted 2003 survey conducted by Markitecture and reported by ESPN, about 118 million Americans 16 years of age or older admitted to participating in some form of sports gaming at least once a year. Office pools and friendly wagers are typical, but with the explosion of Internet gambling, more and more people are entering the world of chalk, vigorish and matador covers.

This article points the way for newcomers who want to know how to place a bet – not the strategy, but the method. Once you know what you’re dealing with, the process itself is fairly simple. It’s also imperative to understand the system before you can grasp the strategies you need to make a healthy profit.

The good book

Unless you happen to be in Nevada, you’ll be dealing with an Internet-based betting organization. These, like their Vegas-based counterparts, are called sportsbooks, and there are several reputable ones out there. Their offices are based in locations where sports gaming is legal, places like Australia, England and across the Caribbean, but many cater to the American public in their selection of sports.

It is not illegal to use these services, but legislators in the United States have put pressure on credit card companies to disallow transactions involving offshore books. That hasn’t prevented bettors from using services such as NetTeller to conduct their business. According to a CNN report last year, market research firm Christianson Capital Advisors expected Internet wagering to reach $18.4 billion in 2010, an increase of over 322 percent from 2003′s numbers.

Odds and sods

Sportsbooks have access to the same odds information that places in Vegas use. There will usually be some discrepancy among the books, which adjust their odds depending on the betting patterns of their customers. It’s good strategy to find a handful of books that you find satisfactory, then shop around to find the best line for the particular game that interests you. But everyone has to start with that first book.

In North America, odds are shown in what is known as American pricing, as opposed to the decimal or fractional odds more common in Europe. If you see a number with a negative sign in front, like -140, that means a wager of $140 is required to win $100. Conversely, a number with a positive sign like +140, or with no sign at all like 140, means a wager of $100 would pay $140 if it wins.

Different sports have different ways to play, both on the field and at the book. The odds on a typical baseball game, for example, may be expressed like this:

Giants 220
Padres -240

This type of listing is known as a moneyline. A bet of $100 on the Giants will pay $220 if they win, while laying $240 on the Padres will pay $100 if San Diego prevails.

The other common listing is the pointspread (or ‘spread’ for short), which, even though it represents an even-money offering, will feature a number like -110. Consider this WNBA game:

Monarchs 2 -110
Shock -2 -110

Here, for a bet on the Shock to pay, the team has to beat Sacramento by more than two points, while the Monarchs will pay as long as they don’t lose by more than two. A two-point Detroit victory would result in a push.

So, why the -110 on both sides? That’s because the book is charging $110 and paying out $100 on a winning bet. That’s known as juice, vigorish or vig, and that’s how the books make their money.

Basketball and football are the two sports where the spread will be heavily featured. Hockey uses a pointspread system that incorporates elements of both the spread and the moneyline, like so:

Canadiens 1.5 -260
Bruins -1.5 220

The spread in this case is a (mostly) arbitrary number, usually half-a-goal for regular season games and 1.5 for the playoffs. It’s a bit cumbersome, which goes to show how hockey isn’t really a user-friendly game for gamblers. Even more unwieldy are lines for soccer games, which look like this:

Columbus vs. D.C. United +120 +220 +180

Yes, there are three results you can bet on here. From left to right, they are a win for the home team, a draw and a win for the away team.

Betting on soccer and hockey may seem complicated, but if you follow those sports, there’s money to be made and fun to be had. Besides, when it comes to hockey, betting on totals is more popular. Will the two teams combine to score over or under five goals? That’s the usual offering – nice and simple. Totals are found alongside most lines for just about any sport where they keep score.

Jays 190 9.5o -115
Red Sox -208 9.5u 105

In this example, the total for the Jays-Red Sox game is 9.5. You can bet over or under the total, but if you bet over (o), it’ll take a $115 bet to win $100. The more scoring there is in a sport (basketball, for example), the more likely you’ll see -110 on either side.

A good book will have a wide variety of sports available for betting. Auto racing, golf, tennis, boxing and horse racing each have a small piece of the North American pie. You can also find action on arena football, mixed martial arts and just about anything else. Browse the sports available at your book and see how the odds are listed.

Straight bets, parlays and teasers – oh my

The straight bet is the most common offering found at the books. It’s simple: pick the winning team, factoring in the pointspread if there is one. Betting on totals is also a form of straight bet.

Parlays do good business, especially in Canada, where sports lotteries are available across the country. Here, the bettor selects a number of games (at least two) and all the picks have to come up favorably for the bettor to get paid. The odds for parlays are fairly standard:

Games Odds
2 2.6 to 1
3 6 to 1
4 11 to 1
5 20 to 1
6 40 to 1
7 80 to 1
8 150 to 1

The allure of the eight-game parlay is obvious, but picking eight winners isn’t so easy. Many experienced bettors avoid this type of bet. They also shy away from teasers, where you pay extra money to move the pointspread in your team’s favor.

Future bets, where you wager in advance on an outcome such as a team winning a championship, can be tempting. So can exotic bets and propositions, which invariably pop up during the Super Bowl. Will the coin flip come out heads or tails? Will a streaker make his/her way onto the field? Make these wagers at your discretion.

These are the basics when it comes to sports gambling. Once you’ve got them down pat, you’re in position to take the next step. There are strategies for betting in general, and for each specific sport. Knowledge is power, so keep learning if you want to keep earning.