The Beginner’s Guide to Sports Gambling
So you’re fed up with just looking at sports lines on your phone and talking to your buddies about who should be the favorite. You’ve listened to Bill Simmons podcast, you’ve suffered through untold hours of AFC South NFL action, and now you finally feel ready to start putting some money down. Hell, you’re smarter than the average guy, and you’ve read Bill Barnwell a few times here and there. Making money from betting on sports is your destiny.
But where to start? The sports books in Vegas are so intimidating that you didn’t want to walk up to place a bet on the Knicks and end up taking the under in a women’s soccer match. And the internet seems like a lawless sprawl of web 1.0 sites trolling for your hard-earned venmo dollars. Perhaps you’ve heard rumors of bad bets gone awry, forcing people into so much debt that they have to coach a hardscrabble team of 5th graders from the Chicago projects and turn them into champions (while learning a little about themselves along the way), or maybe getting so desperate that they bet that the Eagles will beat the Cowboys and that their son and Jennifer Lawrence will dance well in the local ballroom dance competition just to try and cover their losses.
Like the men’s locker room at the Y, sports betting can be an intimidating arena of machismo, insider knowledge, and dicks, but with a little bit of guidance you can soon be on your way to earning money off of professional athletes faster than you can say “NCAA compliance.” Have no fear, for the hardened degenerates at National Ave are here to help as your gateway into the wide, wonderful world of sports betting.
Get an online sports book
You’ll need one to place your bets, unless you want to keep calling your Uncle Jerry up every Sunday morning to have him put your bets down with his teamster buddy Alphonse. But where to find one is the trick.
Try asking around some of your more illicit-oriented friends to see if they have an in to a good book. Keep an ear out for names like “Slick Jimmy,” “Two-Time Rick,” “Smiley,” “Sal The Bookie,” or “Jonathan Franzen,” as these are most definitely the aliases of popular online bookies.
Stay consistent, stay small, and stay recreational
Betting on sports is supposed to be a fun diversion, a way to get some extra skin in the game to make games more exciting. To make sure you keep everything under control and retain possession of most of your fingers, toes, wives, and firstborns, make sure to only risk what you can afford to lose, and to only bet in small, consistent sums. Don’t try and chase the feeling of calling a big upset by betting even more, or try to double your way out of a bad bet. Pacing out small bets (most books will let you do $5 or $10 increments) is a good way to keep interest while still playing it safe.
That said, you’re due man, you’re freaking due for a win, and the Patriots have covered every week they’ve played at home this season, so you know that streak’s gotta end sometime soon, and you’re just one big bet away from clawing your way back to even, so fuck it, let’s go big on the Bills right here, right now.
Stick to what you know
Don’t bet on women’s basketball if you don’t know anything about the WNBA. Like a degree in English, if it’s something you know nothing about and have no interest in learning about, it’s not worth throwing your money away for.
Develop a niche
That said, developing in-depth knowledge on a unique realm of sports is a great way to both keep yourself entertained and up your odds. Bookmakers can only devote so much research time to setting the proper lines, which means that the odds can be off in lesser-known sports or leagues. So if you have a keen interest in Ivy League softball or drag racing, then by all means, bet your cable-watching heart out. Few things are more exhilarating than screaming at one UFC fighter you know nothing about to mangle another UFC fighter you know nothing about because you stand to gain $10 from his victory.
And then branch out a little
Have some fun. Try out some futures bets.1 Lay down on some prop bets.2 Bet a Tuesday night MAC game and berate Northern Illinois for three hours. If you don’t win, you hopefully didn’t lose much, and if you do win, not only are you now a little bit richer, you also look a hell of a lot smarter.
Do it with friends
Your coworkers and friend group are tired of hearing you talk about fantasy football all day. Know what they’d love to hear all day long? You and your fellow degenerates bickering over how many points the Cavs should be getting at home against the Warriors. Nothing is better than gloating over a great bet to your friends, or more consoling than to lick your wounds after a bet goes awry by reminding them all how great it initially looked. And honestly, nothing brings friends together quite like spotting somebody a thousand bucks to cover their gambling losses.
Stay away from hockey
It’s way too unpredictable. If the goddamn L.A. Kings can win two Stanley Cups in one generation, then you have no business playing the odds here, especially on a game-to-game basis.
Not only are individual games unpredictable, they’re confusing to bet on too. Especially when you consider that even the best teams lose over almost 40% of their games, ensuring you can never be too confident with the outcome.3 Sure, this makes the down period between the end of basketball season and the start of football season seem interminable, but that’s probably why there are things like the outdoors and the ESPY awards to take our mind off gambling for a little while.
And probably parlays or teasers too
Start with the point spread
Point spreads are easier to understand, and should (hypothetically, at least) give you a 50-50 chance of winning each bet. Unlike money lines, where you risk different amounts of cash depending on how big of a favorite or underdog the team you’re picking is, point spreads are built to even out the betting on either side of an outcome. So if, for example, the Steelers are -4.5 point favorites over the Dolphins, then that means that Vegas thinks that there’s a 50% chance the Steelers win by 5 or more points and a 50% chance that the Steelers win by 4 or fewer points (or lose the game). This style of betting is often easier for beginners to understand, and should maximize your chance of winning over several bets.
Keep in mind that, for football, home teams usually get 3 points tacked to the spread for home field advantage, Notre Dame is always overrated by 5 points or so in major games, and that any team that’s starting Blaine Gabbert should be automatic 21 point underdogs.
Watch movement on lines to maximize value
Let’s say that the Steelers-Dolphins game from above initially opened with the Steelers as -4.5 point favorites. Let’s also say that a lot of the public thought those were uneven odds, and that the Dolphins were going to play much better than Vegas expected, or that an injury report surfaces that Big Ben is day-to-day after getting his foot amputated a week before. So a lot of money starts flowing in on the Dolphins, because people think that it’s way more likely that the Dolphins “cover” (win or lose by less than 4.5 points).
Vegas doesn’t like an uneven flow of money on a game, and would rather even that out by giving people better odds to support the Steelers. So perhaps they shift the line down to only favor the Steelers by -1.5 points. If you initially liked the Steelers to win by 5 points or more, and now Vegas is saying that they only have to win by 2 points or more, then you should consider hopping on this bet, since you’re getting a better deal on the Steelers.6
Pay attention to the juice
The book always wins,7 and the juice (also known as the “vig”) is the amount the bookie skims off of every bet to maximize their profits whether you win or lose. Think of it like a transaction fee, or the parasitic socialized underbelly of sports gambling — it’s the commision you pay for the esteemed privilege of placing a bet. Say that the money line on the New York Yankees is -110 against the Cleveland Indians. That means you have to bet $110 dollars on the Yankees in order to win $100. If the Yankees win, the extra $10 you bet goes to the bookie. If you lose, the bookie keeps all $110.8
It’s important to keep the juice in mind, because even if you think you came out even or ahead with your bets, you could have lost money because of the juice. Say that you bet on 4 games, putting down $110 on four different -110 money lines. Two games win (paying you $200), and two games lost (costing you $220). Even though you were 50-50 on the day, you lost $20 in juice to the book. Assuming that most gamblers even out to a 50-50 win record, you’re bound to lose money on sports gambling because of that juice.
Consider betting the moneyline
But a good strategy to avoid the juice penalty is to consider betting on money lines, especially when you want to bet on an underdog, doubly-so if they’re at home, especially so if it’s an NFL game, and absolutely so if it means betting against Ryan Fitzpatrick. As explained here, it’s a great way to maximize the expected return you can get, rather than messing around with a spread. Also because Ryan Fitzpatrick cannot be trusted.
Learn to hedge
Say that at the start of the playoffs you bet on a team to win the championship at +1000 odds. That team makes the championship, and is -150 favorites to win the title game. Consider putting some money down on the other team in the game (ideally an amount optimized to maximize your earnings), so that no matter what you come out on top. It’s like asking multiple girls out and waiting to see who the hottest one that responds yes is, except instead of spending money on pho and a movie, you’re gambling it instead.
Never bet on your team
Why would you do this? If your team wins, you’ll be happy anyways. If they lose, at least you won’t have lost money too. And if they lose it was almost definitely your bet that jinxed them.
Never bet against your team
What the hell is wrong with you?? Are you even a fan? Because you clearly don’t give a shit. You definitely jinxed your team, and I hope that somehow they lose and you lose all of your money. Fuck you man.
If you absolutely have to bet on something involving your team, hedge your emotions.
Listen dude, you might have a problem. But if you insist, then hedge your emotions — bet against your team so that if they win you’re happy, but if they lose at least you still got some cash out the deal, you cold-hearted despicable bastard.
Fuck it, let’s put $500 on the Wizards to win the East.
This is their year. The east is weak, and that Wall-Beal backcourt is flying. We can feel it. Let’s do this fucking thing.