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Deal Me In: Let the games begin

2 September 2011

Dear Mark: Now that the NFL football season is finally under way, please explain the differences between making a point-spread wager and betting the money line. Also, any thoughts regarding a Super Bowl futures bet? David D.

With one billion plus on the line, sportsbook operators are very pleased that the NFL lockout of 2011 is resolved, especially since wagering on college and pro football accounts for approximately 43 percent of their sports action. The casino doesn’t pocket a cool billion; it’s more like 5.5 percent of the total amount wagered, but below are two, every-Sunday-ways the house reaches in your wallet.

With a straight, point-spread bet, you simply pick one side or the other to win the game, plus or minus the point spread on the board. When placing a point-spread type wager, you lay 11 to win 10. That means if you want to win $100, you have to wager $110 no matter which team you are betting on. If you win, you will collect $210, which is your $110 wager plus the $100 winnings. The 11 for 10 commission, also called a vigorish (aka vig), is the compensation taken by the house on every straight, point spread bet wagered.

Perhaps, David, you were interested in assuming more risk for a greater reward. You can do this by betting the underdog without points by making a money line bet. A money line bet, simply called "the line," is a wager on the straight-up total of an event where a favorite involves laying odds, or putting up more money than will be won, and a bet on the underdog involves taking odds. By examining the board closely, you will notice that there are two totals given for each team on a money line bet, a negative and a plus side.

For example, the board could read something like this on Week Four: Green Bay Packers -170, Denver Broncos +150. This means that for every $17 you bet on Green Bay, you will win $10. For every $10 you bet on Denver, the underdog, you pocket $15 if the Broncos win.

The casino penalizes you for betting on a strong team like the Super Bowl Champion Packers by making you wager a lot to win a little. However, by betting one of the worst teams in the NFL, like Denver, at Lambeau Field no less, the potential profit of $17 for every $10 wagered might be worth the risk to a Bronco fan.

From the linemaker's perspective, the money line is an estimate of the probability of a particular team's winning, plus or minus a small portion taken by the house as vigorish, or commission for each sport bet wagered.

As for a "futures" bet, it is a wager on the outcome of a future event, like the Super Bowl. Almost all sports books offer futures bets for most major sporting events.

Though the house edge on a futures bet varies from one sports book to another, payoff odds are set to give the sports book a substantial edge when the betting action is proportional to the odds.

As for a futures bet on the Super Bowl this year, at Vegsinsider.com, both Green Bay and the Patriots are currently at 7/1 to win Super Bowl XLVI, followed by the Pittsburgh Steelers and the N.Y. Jets at 8/1. For myself, I am predicting a repeat of last years Super Bowl with Green Bay and Pittsburgh, so I’m all over the Packers to repeat, with some long-shot action on the Detroit Lions at 60/1.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Sports bettors beg God more in one hour than Muslims pray to Allah in one day.” --Chad Millman, Editor in Chief of ESPN, The Magazine
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Best of Mark Pilarski
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.
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.