Sports Betting Basics
By Frank Britto

The world is full of ways to lose money—and a bookie can help you find them all.

Sports Betting Basics


In every major sporting contest, the real game is off the field...

where you can not only bet on matches, you can bet on every play in the game.

Yes, I’m back!  The author of the world-renowned article “Black Jack Basics.” Wait, what do you mean you haven’t read it?  Why not?  Okay, I’ll wait.  Hint: it’s right here on the website.

Well, to summarize, I began the article talking about the various types of gambling around today.  In speaking about my favorite, blackjack, as well as some of the others, I spoke about the game, but even more than that, it was the full experience.

So you want to bet on a football game, or really any other sporting event?  Well there are a few things you need to know.

Today, I’m going to enlighten you on another type of wager you can make, a sports wager.  Now, it’s not that you couldn’t make a sports wager in the past.  It was a bit more seedy and, I think, a lot more cool too.  You needed to have a “bookie”— someone who was willing to accept your wager, pay you if you won and would come knocking on your door, or at least he would send Guido the Killer Pimp knocking on your door, in the event you lost and were not willing to pay.  Now these guys did not accept credit cards, didn’t have a store front saying “Make Bets Here.” Business was handled in the back rooms of bars and over the phone using secret codes.  Yes, this is true.

When I was younger, every Sunday morning, my father would read the paper.  You know, the newspaper, the thing people used to read, of course while feeding their pet dinosaur, to get information?  No, well, it was a thing.  Anyway, he got his lines (don’t worry, I’ll explain later) and made a call.  Someone would pick up his call, my father would say his secret code and hang up.  What, no bets made?  The bookie was verifying who he was, ensuring no law enforcement was trying to trap him, and then called him back in order to make his bet.  Loved that.

So you want to bet on a football game, or really any other sporting event?  Well there are a few things you need to know.  The main thing, with most sports wagers, is the betting line, or simply, “the line.” As in, “Hey Frank, what’s the line on the Giants-49ers game?”

In every contest, one team will be considered the favorite and the other the underdog.  Using my example above, let’s say the Giants are favored to beat the 49ers by 7 points.  To answer my question above, “Giants by 7” or “Giants minus 7” would be a proper response.  This means if you decide to bet on the Giants, not only do they need to win the game, but they need to do so by more than 7 points, in order for you to win the bet.  Similarly, if you took the 49ers, “49ers plus 7”, they could still lose the game and you would win the bet, as long as they lost by less than 7 points.  A final score of 27-21 Giants would make Giant fans happy, but would not make those betting on the Giants happy.  Why?  Because they only won by 6 and the line was 7.  Now, in the event the Giants won 28-21, this would be a push or a tie.  No one would win or lose their bet.

Now an interesting point about the betting line is the reason it is created.  It would seem the better team would be the favorite in all cases.  This is generally true, but it’s not simply because they have the most talent.  The main reason a betting line exists is to ensure the book maker, usually a big Vegas casino or some online betting app can get an equal amount of money wagered on both sides.  These people don’t care who wins, they simply want to profit with as little risk as possible.

Each Monday, the lines for the following Sunday’s games come out.  This is where the line “opened.”  Immediately, people will begin to make bets.  If, again using my example above, everyone started to bet on the Giants minus 7, the line would change.  Yes, it would quickly go to 7.5, 8 and higher.  Why?  Because they are trying to entice more people to bet on the 49ers.  If you think the Giants will win by more than 7, you will bet on the Giants minus 7. Maybe if the line moved to 8 or even 9, then more people would bet on the 49ers, because they would ave a better shot at winning.  It’s great, watching a game in a casino, people can bet on the same team, but if the Giants win by 8, the people who bet the Giants minus 7 win, but in my example, some people may have bet the Giants after the line moved to 9, so those people would lose if the Giants only win by 8.

Now, let’s discuss this profit thing a bit more.  In addition to the betting line, the other thing you need to look out for is the vigorish, “The vig” or “The Juice”.  This is the percentage a bookie keeps on losing bets for the opportunity to make the bet.  Let’s go back to my example.  There are two bettors, one bets $100 on the Giants minus 7 and the other bets $100 on the 49ers plus 7.  This is as perfect as it gets for the book maker.  He can sit back, eat his nachos, knowing, regardless of the outcome of the game, he will win $10.

How? Well, I’ll show you.  Each bettor gives the bookie $110, $100 for their bet plus another $10 to pay the vig.  Now in my example, the vig is 110, or 10%, but this can also change.  The bookie is now holding $220.  If the Giants win by 8 or more points, the person who bet on the Giants will take his ticket to the cashier who will give him $210.  This is made up of his initial bet plus the vig, plus the 100 he won.  The remaining $10 is paid by the loser and the bookie keeps it. This is his profit. Now, I’ve learned to make my bets including the vig, as I don’t like to carry change.  To ensure you understand the math, let’s say you go to the bookie and say “give me 100 on the Giants -7”.  A perfectly acceptable bet.  If you win, you would receive $190.91.  Why such an odd amount?  The bookie will assume your 100 bet is $9.09 in vig and 90.91 in actual bet (100/1.1 = 90.91). So, if you win, you get back your bet of 90.91 + your winnings of 90.91 + the vig of 9.09 = 190.91.

The bookie’s goal is to entice as much betting as possible on both sides.

It’s never quite so clean as this, which is why lines, or spreads, move.  The goal is to entice as much betting as possible on both sides.  In the event there is more money on one team than the other, the bookie has some risk and their nachos don’t quite taste as good!

Think you’re armed with all you need to know?  Wait a second, hot-shot, not so fast.  What if you don’t want to bet with a spread, what can you do then?  Another type of bet is called “money line,” as in , “I’ll take $100 on the Giants money line.” In this case, all the Giants need to do is win the game, even by only one point in order for you to win your bet.  However, there is a catch. When you bet money line, you need to look at your odds.  The odds will be shown as follows, “+260” or “-320”. These odds are based on a wager of $100.  If you bet on the team +260, and they win, your $100 bet will win you $260.  This team is usually the underdog which is why you are getting good odds.  Conversely, if you wanted to bet on the team with odds of -320, this means you will need to bet $320 and if you win, you will only get $420 back.  Your original bet of $320 plus $100 in winnings.  Now, using $100 bet is the basis for understanding odds.  This doesn’t mean you need to actually bet $100.  Using the same example odds of +260.  You could bet $10 and you would be paid $26 if you won.  Notice there was no vig to be paid on a money line bet.  This is true — however, the casino profit is built into the odds.

Now I’ve been using football in my examples, as most sports betting in the US is on football.  However, people bet on everything.  Basketball, hockey, baseball, Premier league soccer, you name it.  Since this article is geared towards the basics, you’ve got them.  However, since I’m in a good mood, I will introduce you to two more little nuggets in the sports betting world.

Since the betting app craze has been really heating up, you can make bets on so many things.  You can bet on the final total score of the game.  This is referred to as the “over/under.”  If the over/under on a football game is 47, the combined score of both teams would have to be 48 or higher in order for you to win, assuming you bet the over; 27-21 would do the trick.  Now if you bet the under, hoping for a defensive battle, you would have lost.

There is something called proposition bets or simply “prop bets.”  So much fun.  These, generally speaking, are bets which don’t really rely on the outcome of the game.  Will Joe Schmo, the running back, run for over 80 yards?  Will Billy Bob quarterback throw for over 150 yards in a game?  I must have had at least a half-dozen prop bets during the Super Bowl.  It just gives you action on almost every play.

The last thing to mention are parlays.  This is when you can bet on multiple things to make up one bet.  You can have a parlay where you bet on two games.  With a parlay, you need each individual bet or “leg” of the parlay to win in order for you to win the bet.  The upside is if you win all the bets, the payout will be big.  Now it depends on the odds of each bet and the overall number of bets contained within the parlay, but the more legs the higher the payout.  This is where you can make a small bet, like $10 on a three-leg parlay and you can win hundreds.  For example, you can bet Game A with a spread, Game B money line and Game C with the over.  You can also combine multiple player prop bets into a parlay.  It is virtually endless what you can bet on.

Are you getting excited?  Good.  The last thing is how to get started.  You can certainly go to a casino in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, or one of the many other states where sports betting is legal.  Another choice is to use a sports-betting app.  There are several of them.  FanDuel, Caesar’s MGM, Draft Kings.  They all offer great come-ons to get you started, ie a free bet or huge odds on your first bet.

Good Luck!




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