Confused by some of the jargon we use on the show? Check here for an explanation of some commonly used sports gambling terms. And don’t forget to let us know if there are any other entries you’d like to see added.
BOOKMAKER: Someone who works in the field of setting lines and payouts for sports gambling. Also sometimes used to describe sportsbooks themselves, particularly ones that make their own lines.
MONEY LINE: If you don’t like betting against a spread, you’ll often have the option of taking the money line instead. A money line is usually expressed as a plus or minus followed by a three or four digit value (examples +125, -400, +1400). The number indicates the payout if that side wins, so a team that is listed as +200 will pay two dollars for every dollar you wagered, while a team listed as -200 will pay 50 cents for every dollar you wagered. The advantage of a money line wager is that you don’t need to concern yourself with the margin of victory – just pick a winner!
POINT SPREAD: When we talk about a game and mention something like “The line is Cleveland -3 for this game,” we’re talking about the point spread. In this case, Cleveland is expected to win by three points. So if you’re betting against the spread and want to take Cleveland to win, then you need them to win by MORE than three points. If they win by exactly three, it’s a push and you get your money back. If they win by 2 or less (or lose the game outright), then you lost the bet. It’s important to note that while the point spread generally reflects the expected final score, other factors come into play when sports books set the spread, including the popularity of the teams involved and the amount of action that the book is expecting.
PROP BET: Short for “proposition bet”, a prop bet is simply a bet that something will or won’t happen during a game. This can be anything from a certain player hitting a home run in a baseball game to the singer of the national anthem going over a certain amount of time. Prop bets often have lower maximum bets so sportsbooks don’t get burned by people with inside information.
SHARP: An experienced gambler who makes decisions based on a number of factors, including the teams involved, the spread or line, and the distribution of bets in the contest (to name a few).
SIDE BET: This is confusing to a lot of people, because most of us think of a side bet like if you’re playing golf with a buddy and bet him or her that you’ll sink a long putt or something. You know, a little side action. But in sports gambling a side bet is when you’re PICKING A SIDE. So if the Steelers play the Ravens and you put 20 bucks on the Steelers, you’re making a side bet.
SPORTSBOOK: Also known as “books” for short. A sportsbook is pretty much any institution that accepts wagers on sporting events. This can include anything from a dedicated area of a casino to a simple website.
SQUARE: An inexperienced gambler who places largely uninformed wagers. Squares are usually strongly influenced by media trends and recent results, and will often wager on well-known popular teams.
THE VIG: Also known as “juice”. Casinos like to make money, and this is how they do it in sports gambling. The Vig (short for vigorish) is like a small “tax” applied to your winnings that goes to the casino. It assures that even if a bet is a 50-50 proposition, the sportsbook has an advantage. Typically the Vig is 10 cents on every dollar, which is why most bets pay -110. Consider a game between two teams in which The Doctor bets 100 dollars on one side and The Dude bets 100 dollars on the other side. If the Dude wins, the Doctor loses 100 bucks, but the Dude only gets paid about 91 dollars. The book keeps the other 9 dollars as their take. Note that this illustrates how advantageous it is for the books to take in a similar amount of money on each side of a contest, as it guarantees that they will make money.
TOTAL BET: A “total” is a prediction of the total number of points or goals that will be scored in the contest. Usually you can find these offered for individual teams or for both combined. When you place a bet on either the “over” (more points will be scored than predicted) or the “under” (less points than predicted), then you are making a total bet.
How to Read a Betting Line
Next to a craps table, the sportsbook can be one of the most confusing places to put down a bet in a casino. It seems like it should be pretty straightforward – you just need to go in and say, “I want to put 50 bucks on Dallas!” and they hand you a ticket, right? But that approach isn’t going to get you very far. What sport? Money line or against the spread? Did you want to buy points or just go with whatever the board is offering?
And even more difficult to comprehend is that board displaying available wagers. What the heck do all those numbers mean? Well, worry not because this page is meant to help you decode the mystery and understand the basics of placing a wager on a sporting event.
Here’s what a typical entry for an NFL game would look like:
First thing’s first: this is a game between the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons. Since Atlanta is the second team listed, they are the home team for this contest. The first number on the board identifies which team you want to bet. That way instead of asking the teller for New Orleans and forcing them to clarify who you want, you can just say that you want your money on #205.
Now, in this game, the Falcons are favored by three points (see Point Spread in the Glossary). This is indicated by the -3 next to Falcons. If the Saints were favored, the -3 would be next to them instead. So if you say to the teller, “I want 206 against the spread,” then you mean that you’re picking Atlanta to win the game by more than three points. Remember that ten cent lines (-110) are pretty standard in sportsbooks, so you will win ten dollars for every eleven dollars you bet if Atlanta is successful.
OK, that’s the spread, but what about the rest of the numbers? Well, “45.5” is the Total Bet, meaning the combined score of the two teams at the end of the game is predicted to be 45.5. You can bet over or under that total and, like bets against the spread, get paid -110.
The last two numbers (+140 and -160) are the Money Lines for the game. If you want to bet on one team winning the game without messing around with the point spread, you can bet the money line instead. From the previous example, you could instead say, “I want 206 on the money line.” In that case, you’d be a winner if Atlanta wins the game by any score. The advantage is that you don’t need to worry that you’ll push or lose your bet if the Falcons win a close game. The disadvantage is that you’d only be paid at -160…that’s $6.25 for every $10 you wagered. On the other hand, if you correctly picked the Saints to win at +140, you would be paid $14.00 for every $10 bet.
One item to note is that if the spread is really high, there may not be a money line available. Most sports books would rather avoid putting up bets with ridiculously high payouts (+5000, for example) because bettors could invest small amounts and win a lot of money on an upset.
So there you go…everything on the board explained. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask us on doctoranddude.com!