The leaves are changing colors, the air is getting colder, and Halloween is right around the corner. That can only mean one thing: We are right in the middle of the best time of year to bet on football.
Between college football and the NFL, there’s at least one game to watch and gamble on almost every night, and with the advent of sports betting sites on the internet, it’s never been easier to place a bet.
But if you’ve never placed a bet on football before, you might be wondering what all this jargon means: What’s the difference between a point spread and a money line? How exactly does an over/under bet work? We’ll start with the basics and then break down each type of bet so you can make educated wagers this season, and hopefully earn some money while you enjoy the games.
The most common format for sports betting and the one most commonly referred to amongst casual fans is when you bet “against the spread.” In each football game, there’s a Favorite (the team that’s supposed to win), and an Underdog (the team that’s supposed to lose). The point spread, sometimes called a betting “line”, is a way to balance the odds. For example, let’s say the Cowboys are favorites in a game against the Eagles, and the point spread is 4. If the Cowboys win by more than 4 points, those who wagered on the Cowboys win their bets. If the Cowboys lose, or if they win by fewer than 4 points, those who wagered on the Eagles win their bets. If the Cowboy win by exactly 4 points, all bets would result in a “push,” in which case the bet is refunded. To avoid push scenarios, the spread may often include a half point, such as 4.5, so there is guaranteed to be a winner and a loser.
The point spread is set by the sportsbook that is accepting bets, colloquially referred to as “Vegas,” and the line is determined by a confluence of factors: past performance, the teams’ current records, which team has home field advantage, public perception, and so on. When looking at betting odds, the favorite will be denoted by a negative number. Using the previous Cowboys-Eagles example, the Cowboys would be -4, and the Eagles +4. Another way to think of a bet on the Cowboys would be the Cowboys score “minus 4” points.
Betting against the spread is difficult because the odds makers are very skilled at setting the spread. However, there are other ways to bet without using the point spread. A money line wager is one that is placed on a team to win regardless of the score, with the odds affecting the potential payout. Let’s look at another example:
Seattle Seahawks -500
Arizona Cardinals +350
To win $100 dollars wagering on the favorite Seattle Seahawks (again denoted by the negative number -500), one must wager $500 upfront—a big risk because the Seahawks are a heavy favorite. On the other hand, a $100 bet on the Arizona Cardinals would yield a profit of $350 if successful. Placing a money line wager on a favorite is high-risk, low-reward, whereas placing a money line wager on an underdog can be the opposite, and thus more rewarding.
If picking a winner isn’t your thing, you might want to consider betting on total points, or “totals.” In an Over/Under wager, the bettor is gambling on whether the total points scored in a game by both teams will be greater than or less than a pre-determined number. Again, Vegas typically uses half-points in these totals to avoid wagers being “pushes.” If the O/U line of a game is 44.5 points, and the final score is 24-14, any “Under” wagers will be winners, as the points total will be just 38 points—fewer than 44.5.
Like point spreads, over/under totals can be swayed by public opinion. Vegas’ intent is to encourage as much betting as possible, regardless of who the odds-setters believe will win the game. Thus, you may be able to “shop around” for more favorable lines or odds in different sports books as they adjust their lines throughout the week.