Types of Wagers

Spread bets are bets with “a point spread”– a number of points you get to add to your team’s score at the end of the game (betting on an underdog) or need to subtract from it (betting on a favorite) to know if you won the bet.  For example, if you bet Denver -7, Denver must win the game by more than 7 for you to win the bet.  If you understand basic arithmetic, you understand spread betting. 

Covering the spread means that your team in a spread bet has performed well enough that you win the bet after factoring in the point spread.  If you bet Atlanta -6, and they won by 7.  You covered.  My buddy who lives in Vegas has a saying that “Good coaches win.  Great coaches cover.”  He’s like a gambling Confucius.

Moneyline bets are about which team will win the game.  Since it doesn’t have the points handicapping feature of a spread bet, to bet on a favorite, you’ll likely need to wager more than you’re seeking to win ($200 to win $100, for instance); to bet on an underdog, you can likely wager less than you’re seeking to win.

Money lines are either displayed in American or European odds.  In American odds, everything revolves around $100, and the odds either come with a “+” or a “–“ sign in front of them.  If the number has a “+” in front of it, like “+150”, then it means the team is less likely to win, and you can wager $100 to win $150.  If the number has a “-“ in front of it, like “-200,” it means the team is more likely to win the game, and you must wager $200 to win $100.

European odds use a decimal system (and are also called “decimal odds).  To use them, multiply your wager by the number listed next to your team to get your payout.  So, if North Carolina is listed at 1.75, and you’re betting $10, then your payout would be $17.50.  It’s important to note that your payout includes your wager (which will be returned to you).  So, to get your winnings, you’d need to subtract your wager from the payout (in this example, $17.50 – $10 = $7.50 winnings).  For European odds, you’ll usually see favorites with a number under 2.0 and underdogs with a number over 2.0.

Much like the metric system or universal healthcare, the European system makes more sense, but Americans seem married to the way we’ve been doing things for the past century or so. So, you’d better learn to calculate American odds if you want to bet money lines in the States.

Point Total or Over/Under bets are wagers on the total number of points that will be scored by a given team(s) in a given period of time.  Most commonly, you bet on the total number of points scored by both teams in a full game.  For example, you could bet Over 49 in the Oregon/UCLA football game, and you’d get paid out if they combined for more than 49 points.   But you could also bet just on how many points Oregon would score in the game or even in the half or a quarter, depending on the book you are using.  Point total bets are a lot like spread bets in that they are roughly set so that each side is expected to win 50% of the time.

Parlays are a type of bet that ties multiple bets into one.  The bettor must win each “leg” bet in the parlay for the parlay to payout, which is the obvious disadvantage of parlays.  The advantage is that they allow you to leverage a small risk into a much larger payout than you normally can on individual bets.   For instance, in a typical three-legged (three individual bets) spread bet parlay, the parlay pays 6 to 1.  You could wager $60 on something like Rams -8, Eagles +3 and Cowboys -4, and instead of betting $20 on each, bet the combined $60 on a parlay.  If all three teams cover, you’d win about $54 betting them individually (remember the juice), but you’d win $360 if you’d put them in a parlay.

The big issue with parlays is that they’re generally terrible value.  You don’t need a degree from Harvard to see that only getting paid 6 to 1 for hitting three separate 50% propositions seems a little low.  True odds would dictate that you get paid the inverse of ½ x ½ x ½, or 8 to 1.  So, while parlays allow you to leverage small risk into the chance at large payouts, they have a much higher vig and lower expected value than making their component bets individually.

Teasers are like parlays with an added wrinkle that allows the bettor to add a set number of points to each leg of the teaser bet.  For instance, in a 3 team 6 point teaser, you would move the line 6 points in all 3 legs ( Rams from -8 to -2, Eagles from +3 to +9, and Cowboys from -4 to +2).  Teasers have a much higher probability of covering than their parlay counterparts, but they also pay out far less (for instance, most books pay 1.6 to 1 on the 3 team 6 point teaser; not nearly the 6 to one you’d get on the straight parlay.

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