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Football Betting Basics
Welcome to the first in a series of articles that will examine some of the finer points in sports betting for newcomers to the idea of trying to get the edge on the bookie. Many of the ideas will be applicable to other sports, but we'll be focusing on how to bet football. Much of this stuff will be old-hat to old-timers but hopefully many people will get at least a few ideas from the articles.
Links to the other articles in this series can be found at the bottom of the page.
Q & A ABOUT "THE LINE"
1. "What the Line means – and what it doesn't."
Suppose you have a local bookie who lets you bet football by betting the line printed in your local newspaper's sports section. On the Wednesday before the NFL season kicks off you open the paper and under "NFL Lines" you see:
(Favorites listed first, home team in CAPS)
JETS 6.5 Patriots
OK so what does this mean? This means you can call your football bookie and bet $11 on the Jets. If the Jets win by 7 points or more you get the $11 back plus $10 more. If the Jets win by 6 or less, or the Patriots win, you lose the $11. Or, if you like the Patriots, you can bet $11 on them. If they win, or lose by six or less, you cash in, getting your $11 back plus $10 more. If the Jets win by 7 or more, your money on the Patriots is gone. Of course you can bet more than $11 to win $10. You can bet $55 to win $50, $110 to win $100, or more. Generally when you bet football, you risk $11 for every $10 you want to profit…that's the standard and it varies little.
A line is also called a "point spread" or "spread".
So what does it REALLY mean? The number 6.5 is the head start in points the line-maker gives the Patriots. He thinks, and your football bookie is very much hoping, that if that's the head start given the Patriots for wagering purposes, half of the bookie's clients' dough will be bet on the Jets and the other half on the Patriots.
Why is this important? The smart football bookie doesn't want to bet or gamble–he wants a sure thing: a guaranteed profit from his customers. Consider the simplest case where a bookie has just two bettors, you and me, and this number of 6.5 does its job. You bet $11 on the Jets and I bet $11 on the Patriots. One of us wins. Let's say it's me…I hate the Jets. I get my $11 back, plus $10 of your money. The extra $1 you put in stays in the bookmaker's pocket as his small, guaranteed profit (it's called "vig" or "juice").
What does the Line NOT mean? It does not mean, under any circumstances, that football oddsmakers think the Jets will win by about 6 or 7 points. It's your job to predict who will win and by how much when you bet football…the line-maker doesn't want to do your job for you. He works for the bookies. He and the bookies don't care who wins or loses or by how much–they just want the same amount of cash on each side so the bookies can get juice. The line-maker tries to come up with the handicap of points that will put half the public's money on the Jets, and half on the Patriots. As long as the money is split evenly, the bookie "wins" in his own way, and the result of the game is of no importance to him.
2. "Whoa. The Line is different today from yesterday. What's with that?"
So the next day in the paper, it's now
Jets 7 Patriots
instead. Now if you like the Jets they've got to win by 8 or more for you to cash in. If you like the Patriots, they can win or lose by 6 or less and you'll win. (If the game lands on a Jet win by exactly 7, anybody who bet while the line was 7 just has their money refunded…you get the line at the time you bet, even if it changes later.)
The Line moved because the line-maker consulted with some big sports books and the money wasn't balanced when the number was 6.5–there was more coming in on the Jets than the Patriots. So the line-maker and bookies changed the number to try to encourage more bets on the Patriots to even things up and get that juice.
(Line movement is complicated and these are only the basics. Detailing line movements and other things a bookie can do to "even up" the betting would take pages. One thing that the bookie could do instead of moving the line is to say "It's still 6.5 but Jets bettors have to lay $11.50 to win $10 and Patriots backers can lay only $10.50 to win $10." This is called "moving the money instead of the line". Think about this one. It's especially common when the line is exactly 3 points, a football winning margin that actually occurs a lot.)
3. "Why do different places have different Lines on the same game?"
Suppose you have access to several sportsbooks. (this is a good idea and we'll talk about it in a later article) and you find they have different lines, like:
Bookie A: Jets by 6.5 (from the Newspaper)
Bookie B: Jets by 6
Bookie C: Jets by 7
Bookie D: Jets by 6.5
Bookie E: Jets by 7
Bookie F: Jets by 6.5
Everybody but the football bookie who blindly follows the paper is trying to balance the Jets bets with the Patriots bets. Maybe Bookie B is in Boston so he is a little lopsided on people betting for the Patriots — so he's trying to entice Jets bettors to step up. Maybe Bookie C is in the Bronx (so he has too much money on the Jets at 6.5), and maybe E's clients bet favorite teams a lot instead of underdog teams, so they're looking for more money on the Patriots right now.
In the above example if you like the Jets you'll take your business to Bookie B because if the Jets win by exactly 7 you're a winner, and if the Jets win by exactly 6, it's the only shop at which you don't lose. If you like the Patriots, in this example Bookie C or E are the places to play because the Patriots get more points as a head-start there. More on line-shopping in another article below.
Football Betting Basics
Types Of Bets
How To Choose a Sportsbook
Paying for Picks
Middling Football Games