With the recent news having broken that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has discussed the legalization of sports betting with other professional sports commissioners, we appear to be inching closer to a reality in which sports betting is legalized and regulated. In most other countries, this is already the case; teams like Liverpool FC in England will use their official Twitter account to offer odds through a gambling entity affiliated with the team. The United States has resisted it for the most part, save for Las Vegas and numerous offshore gambling sites (which exist with dubious legality).
One of the most baffling things about the US’s resistance to sports betting is that the parlance is everywhere. Commentators, websites, and everyday people often talk about how well a team might be doing against the spread, what the money line for a given game is, and how well a team outperformed the over-under at the start of the season. You might be reading this piece and that last sentence might have seemed like it was in a different language. Never fear! Since you will no doubt be hearing this jargon more and more often as the conversation about sports betting increases (especially if you dive into the wide world of sports), here’s a little primer.
For ease of understanding, I will be using two teams as examples throughout this glossary of sorts. One team is the Harlem Globetrotters and the other team is the Washington Generals. You probably know the former as the team full of people who can do absurd tricks with a basketball. You might not know the latter; they’re the team the Globetrotters often play and they are destined to lose every game. A great gag from an episode of The Simpsons features the line, “You bet against the Harlem Globetrotters!?” 1)“Homie the Clown.” Anyway, let’s start with the basics.
Point spread: Commonly referred to as just the “spread,” it’s the predicted margin of victory/defeat for two teams in a game. A game between the Globetrotters and Generals may have the Globetrotters favored by 20 points. In gambling shorthand this may be represented by HGT -20. 2)I’m not sure what the official abbreviation for the Harlem Globetrotters is. The “minus 20” can be thought of this way: if you bet the Globetrotters minus 20, that means they have to win by 21 or more for the bet to be fulfilled. If the spread was even because the teams were so evenly matched, we can also call that a pick’em.
Say the final score is 100-81 and the Globetrotters win. They did not cover the spread, though—they only won by 19. In this case, the underdog Washington Generals are winning bet. If you had WSH +20, you cash out, because you took the points. If this were the first game of the season, the Generals would be 0-1 but 1-0 against the spread, or ATS. Though they lost 100-81, they win 100-101 when the spread is factored in. But what if the score had been exactly the spread? What if it had finished 100-80?
Push: If you’ve ever dabbled in blackjack, you may be familiar with this term. A push is when an outcome that is bet against is fulfilled on the dot. In this case you neither win money nor lose money, instead you simply are returned the money you used to make the bet in the first place. For this reason, many times you may see a spread like -4.5, or an over-under like 45.5. Half-points are used to lessen the likelihood of pushes.
Over-under: There are two main types of over-under bets. The total for a game might be 45.5, as stated above. Or a team may be projected to win 45.5 games in a season. That’s a futures bet. Either way, you are betting on one of two outcomes. The first outcome is that the end result is over the over-under. In a football game tied at 20, the total is 40. One team scores a touchdown with no time left on the clock to go up 27-20, putting the final total at 47. It went over.
Likewise, say you bet the under in that futures bet for, say, the Washington Generals. I’m not sure what gambling site would project them at 45.5 games, but hell, they overperform. Going into the last game of the season, they have won precisely 45 games. However, they lose in humiliating fashion, and their final total for the season is indeed 45. You cash out, but just barely.
Futures bets: These can be pretty nervewracking. They are bets on a team or player’s performance made before the season begins. As a real-world example, the Seattle Seahawks are currently the favorites to win next year’s Super Bowl, at 5-to-1 odds. That’s not necessarily saying there’s a twenty percent chance they win the Super Bowl. Anything can happen between now and then. But if you’re willing to bet one hundred dollars on them, and they do win, you will win $600. 3)The $100 you bet plus the $500 you won.
Hedging: But what if you get nervous the day before the big game? The Seahawks make their third straight Super Bowl but one of their star players got injured and it doesn’t look like they will win. You might hedge your bet here. Your profit should the Seahawks win would be $500. Your loss should they lose would be $100. The night before the game, you bet on the money line and get the other team -150, which is essentially 1-to-1.5 odds. You bet $150 on the other team, and it will pay out $250, thus you will make a profit of $100.
You have now put $250 total into these two bets, which now cover all possible outcomes. One outcome pays out $600, and the other pays out $250. You are now guaranteed not to lose money. If the Seahawks win, you will make a total profit of $350. If the other team wins, you break even. Many hedging scenarios allow a bettor to make money no matter what. The trade-off is that you guarantee yourself less money.
Money line: Betting on a team to win a given game isn’t a 50-50 proposition. That’s what the money line is for. The Harlem Globetrotters might be favorites at -140 whereas the Generals would be heavy underdogs at +200. The minus signifies that the money line is how much money you need to bet to win $100. The plus signifies that the money line is how much money you win if you bet $100. The respective profits are $100 and $200. Significantly, however, if you lose the amount of money you lose is $140 and $100 respectively. In odds these percentages are 1-to-1.4 and 2-to-1. If you like an underdog ATS to win outright, betting on the money line is a profitable endeavor.
Parlay: If you’re very confident in your ability to predict outcomes, try a parlay. A parlay is a combination of more than one bet. For instance, you might take the Generals +21 in one game and the Seahawks -7 in another. The benefit of doing this is that the payout is greater should you correctly predict both outcomes. You won’t often find anything more than a five-team parlay, but just know that if you do that, zero out of five is just as good as four out of five.
Teaser: Similar to a parlay is the teaser. In theory it is the same but you are “teasing” the outcomes to be more favorable to you. A two-team teaser might have spreads of -4 and -5 pushed up to -11 and -12. The trade-off here is that because the outcomes are more likely, the amount of money you will win by correctly teasing a setup is much lower.
So there you go! By now you are no doubt ready to go to Vegas and become the subject of the next great gambling movie based on a true story. Good luck!
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||“Homie the Clown.”|
|2.||↑||I’m not sure what the official abbreviation for the Harlem Globetrotters is.|
|3.||↑||The $100 you bet plus the $500 you won.|