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Deal Me In: Don't buy the points

14 September 2012

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: With football season upon us, I would like to know when, if ever, it is beneficial to buy the 1/2-point in a game. When the spread is 2.5 or 3.5, should I buy the 1/2-point to make it a field goal, and ditto with a 6.5 or 7.5 spread? Also, I love your columns on blackjack and want to know if I can find previous columns anywhere? John M.

Betting against the point spread isn’t for the faint of heart. While every additional point that you procure just might make the difference between a winning and losing season, John, supplementary points come with a price.

First, as a refresher, let’s break down a typical point spread wager. For those who try their hand at individual games, the sportsbook, is going to make you risk $11 to win $10. When you win, you get in return your $11 wager and $10 in winnings. Your cost – the house edge – on any sporting bet where you wager $11 to win $10 is 4.55%. That extra $1 is NOT a percentage edge, but a commission, or “vigorish,” taken by the house as compensation for allowing you to have action on the game.

Then there is the “betting line,” that minus figure that typically appears next to one of the teams. It is a calculated number that Las Vegas puts out to induce 50-50 betting on each side. For instance, the board reads the Lions -7.5 against the Vikings. The goal of any bookmaker is not to state that Detroit is a 7.5 points superior team to Minnesota; instead, it is set at -7.5 to get equal amounts of action on both Detroit and Minnesota by the betting public.

As per your question, John, nearly every sportsbook gives bettors the opportunity to buy up to a point and a half on any game. When betting the favorite, buying points allows a bettor to take off a half point, or more; when betting the underdog, a player can buy points at a half point at a time. The downside is that, in exchange for moving the point spread by just a half a point, bettors are forced to risk $12 to win $10, instead of the usual $11 to win $10.

My position on buying the hook is a qualified "NO!" It's hard enough to win when laying 11 to 10, but by laying 12 to 10, you must win 54.55% of your games just to break even – tougher than the 52.38% when laying 11 to 10. Besides, if it were so advantageous for bettors, the casino wouldn’t be so permissive about it. Shopping the line and getting the best price is far more valuable than buying half points.

True, I could go into considerable detail on the concept of "key numbers," or discuss at length the most common final result of an NFL game being a three-point margin, but I am also noting that some sportsbooks are now charging more when the move alters the number three, as well as seven. So, John, I still think you are better off shopping price and line over buying on or off the hook.

As for past columns, they can be found at the web site of whichever newspaper where you are reading this column, or at markpilarski.com. Use my search feature for any specific topic.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered.” -- William Shakespeare
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.