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Everyone is Doing It—NFL Gambling 101

A Beginners Guide to NFL Gambling

Credit: NFL.com

The country is changing and with it comes more opportunity. Things that were once taboo are now becoming part of the American Landscape. Marijuana has now become legal in over 30 states and while people are celebrating the end of Pot Prohibition by enjoying some Bob Marley and killer fudge brownies, there is a new player in town when it comes to things that were once thought of as only for sinners: legalized gambling.  

As the country begins to realize the benefits of legalized gambling to both increase the tax roll and to improve entertainment options for Americans, there will be many people wondering, ‘how do I get in on this action’? In the end, that is really what gambling is: action. Either you know it or you don’t. There is nothing greater than the feeling of action. Gambling is a roller coaster of emotions that serves one great purpose—making us feel alive. Gambling is a serious addiction and I don’t make light of it but for those of us that can enjoy in moderation, gambling brings so much excitement. I’ve been gambling on football, basketball, and baseball since the early 2000’s. I’ve even ventured a bit into NHL. While all these game are fun in their own right, I’ve mainly stuck to football the last decade or so. I’ll venture some hard-earned cash on the NCAA basketball tournament or the World Series, but when it comes to gambling, football is my jam. 

I want the world to understand gambling and understand there are ways to play that are fun and will not cause you to bet the mortgage.So, before you jump head first into the world of gambling, I will cover the basics.Call it action 101 or gambling 101.I will focus on football and give you a breakdown of all you need to know to understand gambling terms, plus I will give you tips on how you can dominate and take home a little cash.

With the Super Bowl coming up on Sunday February 7th, there is no better time than now to jump in and place a little sumpin, sumpin on the game. I will use the Super Bowl as a great example to explain all of the different ways to bet, how much to bet, explain what is vig, and give some great resources to start your journey.  So without further ado, shall we begin?  

The Point Spread

The NFL is what we call a one-score league. Meaning the majority of games are determined by one score. Anything over 8 points is generally considered a blowout because the majority of NFL games come within 8 points of each other. In 2020 there were 256 games total and 127 games were within one score (49%). This is actually a low number. Generally 55-60% of all NFL games are within one score.  

The point spread is the great equalizer. So what is the point spread? The point spread is a number determined by major sports books throughout the country that they believe a certain team will win by. Right now, the point spread for the Super Bowl is the Chiefs -3.5.  Whenever looking at a sports book they will show lines. The lines are simply what they believe will happen during the game. So in this case, the line setters are saying they believe the Chiefs will win the game by more than 3.5 points. So 4 points or more. The line is the great equalizer. Often those of us that don’t study all of the teams will think ‘hey, this team has Patrick Mahomes, they will destroy team x. They are better, they will beat them’. But when it comes to betting, the teams don’t mean as much as the lines.  

Let me show you what I mean. Let’s take our two Super Bowl teams, the Chiefs and the Bucs. You would think teams that have Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady in them would win the majority of their games and you would be right. The Bucs have gone 14-5 this year, if you include the playoffs and the Chiefs have gone 16-2. So if you were just betting these teams would win, your record would be 30-7 and you would be rich right? Well, not if you take the line into consideration. When looking at these two teams against the spread (ATS), the Chiefs were only 8-10 (44%) and the Bucs were 11-8 (58%). So their combined record against the spread is 19-18, just over 50 percent. If you would have to bet on just Chiefs and Bucs games this year, you would have essentially broken even. This is why the line is the great equalizer.  

One rule of thumb: bet the number, not the team. Let’s say for instance the Chiefs were 10 point favorites against the Chargers in week 2. A casual fan would say, ‘the Chiefs are great, they have Patrick Mahomes, they just won the super bowl. The Chargers aren’t very good, they never beat the Chiefs, the Chiefs will definitely win.’ But as we discussed, winning and covering are two different games. In this scenario, the Chiefs did win the game but they won with a final score of 23-20. The Chargers gave the Chiefs all they could handle and the Chiefs did not cover. The Chargers covered the ten points. In this scenario, the right bet was the Chargers, even though the Chiefs won the game. That is why you bet the number, not the teams.  

The important thing to understand about line makers is they don’t care who wins the game. Fans care who wins the game; line makers just care about people betting on the game. A line maker’s ideal situation is if a game has money on both sides. So, they want to set a line where people would bet both the Chiefs and the Chargers and that is where the line comes in. If line makers were to say ‘make the Chiefs Chargers game a 3 point spread’, I would imagine the majority of the people gambling would bet the Chiefs; in this situation, the game would be a push, the line was set at 3, the Chiefs won by 3, no one makes any money. The line makers want a true 50/50 split so no matter which side comes in, they make money for the house.  

By putting a line at -10 Chiefs, they know a lot of people will say, ‘I think the Chiefs will win, but I don’t think they will win by 10 or more points so I’m going to bet the Chargers and hope for a close game.’ That is what happened; the Chiefs won, but they didn’t cover the 10 and those that bet the Chargers won money, those that bet the Chiefs lost.’  

That is the point spread, how it is used, and why it is so important when considering who to bet on.  

Over/Under

Over/under is a fun bet. An over/under bet is a bet on how many total points will be scored in the game. Let’s use the Super Bowl again. The current over/under is set at 56.5. The line makers believe the game will be high scoring and they want money on both sides. This is a high number.  With the Chiefs as current 3.5 point favorites, they are implying the Chiefs will score 30 points and the Bucs would score 26. That brings that implied total to 56 points.  

Whenever you see a .5 on either a spread or an over under, this is called “the hook”. The hook is generally where you make or break your money. No one wants the ‘kissing your cousin’ scenario of a push, so lines will often have “hooks” or an attached .5 so there is no chance of a push. Either the score will go over the 56.5 points or it will go under the 56.5. If the line were, say, 56 and the score was KC 30 and Bucs 26, this would be 56 points, or what is called a push.  

Moneyline—Current Super Bowl Moneyline -174 Chiefs and +146 Bucs

Moneyline is a determination of who will win the game. A money line means a gambler would have to bet that Kansas City will win the game but in order to make S100 on the bet, the gambler would have to put up $174 in this scenario.  

If a better wishes to bet on the underdog, in this case the Bucs, they would bet a $100 and if the Bucs win straight up, they would win $146 dollars. It’s a line that offers betters the chance to just pick favorites but you don’t get as much bang for your bet if you bet the favorite. If you choose the underdogs you can win more while betting less money but it is riskier. I love the money line when I like an underdog and the point spread is close. For the Super Bowl, I like the Bucs and it’s worth it to me to bet the money line as opposed to the point spread because I not only believe the Bucs will cover (not lose by more than 3), I think they will win the game.  

Moneylines are also great for the heavy gambler. Let’s say those of you reading this article were earlier investors in bitcoin, you cashed out a few bitcoins and you have play money. With enough money, smart bettors bet the money line and take the bloated up front bet but are able to win money easier. Let’s look at the earlier example. Remember how I said the point spread is the great equalizer? For a professional gambler, the smart money is one the favorite’s money line. Now, many money lines are not only -174 like the money line in the super bowl; many in-season money lines can be -400 or -500 even. Meaning if you put up $100, you would only win $50.

I love the money line to hedge against some of my riskier bets. Look at the Bucs and the Chiefs. If a smart gambler were to have placed 37 bets on the Bucs and the Chiefs, they would have won 30 times and lost 7 times. Now, they wouldn’t make as much money on the wins, but if they have enough bankroll, the money line would be the smart play.

Parlay

A parlay is when a gambler bets more than one line. For the Super Bowl, you would be able to parlay the point spread AND the over/under. There are multiple ways you can parlay, and most NFL betters will take a 2 or 3 team parlay during the regular season. In a parlay, all of the lines you take must hit. So if you do a two line parlay for the Bucs Moneyline and the Over, you could win $256 on a $100 bet.  

A Parlay is a riskier bet because the action is tied together. Both must hit. But the payouts are juicier. Sometimes betters, like myself, will get carried away and test our ego and place 5 or 6 team parlays. Some of these (especially if they included underdogs) can pay you $1,000 on a $10 bet. This is what the pros often consider a “sucker bet”. Meaning they sucker you in with the payout but you are all but guaranteed to lose the bet.  

I like to stick to 2-3 team parlays most weeks, but there have been times I’ve bet 5 and 6 teams parlays. The biggest hit I’ve ever had was 5 game parlay I hit back in 2011. I hit 5 teams in week 12 of the NFL season and I won $1400 on a $20 bet. There was a few underdogs that pushed the odds extremely high and it hit. So like any good gambler, that is the story I will always tell you when discussing gambling and I will always leave out that I am not about 1 for 40 on 5 plus team parlays in my life. That was the only hit I’ve had. It is extremely difficult/lucky to hit.  

Vig

The Vig or the Juice is the house’s cut. There are very few point spreads or over/under bets that will be listed at +100 or -100. When there is a cut and dry line, say the Chiefs -3.5, the line makers will make the better put up $105 in order to win $100. This is the most common line and it looks like Kansas City -3.5 and next to that it says -105. Just know the house always wins. The assumption is most folks will put up $100 or $50 or some clean number and the house takes a cut of that number.  This is why if you really like an underdog and the points are close say 4 or less, then just bet the moneyline and forget the points.  

Buying Points

Often books will allow you to buy points. Say you like the Bucs at +3.5 but you love them at +4.5.  This would mean the Chiefs would have to win by 5 or more. Most books allow you to buy points for that extra point; instead of the vig being 5%, it can pay up the vig to say 10%. This means that extra point in the spread is worth the extra $5 to hit on the game.  

This can be a savvy move, especially when the line is teetering. Meaning it is at 3 or 7. That extra point may cost you a little on the back end but can make a world of difference with the score.  

Come Back For More

This gives just a glimpse into the world of gambling. Now you have a basic understanding of how NFL Gambling works. Go on and jump in there. Check back here as i’m going to be taking a deep dive into the world of gambling. I will give you strategies, tips, where to place your money, bankroll management (my personal way to play), and much more.  

Until then, understand this. It’s just entertainment if its done within limits. It’s a cheap thrill but I guarantee you, if you are in a place to bet an amount you’re only slightly scared of losing, there will be no better ride in your life.

In the end though, the numbers. It’s just math. It’s odds. Trend analysis. There are common misconceptions when it comes to football gambling but as the world evolves, more and more people will be able to legally gamble. In the United States, that means gambling on football. Football is the easiest sport to gamble on; the action is condensed, every game is urgent, and it’s popularity will only skyrocket. 

Check out bovada.net , mgmbet.com , fanduel.com, and draftkings.com.  Be sure to also check what is legal and what is not in your state in the US. There are a few states where gambling has not been legalized but those times are changing and I am predicting within 5 years the United States will legalize gambling on a national scale.  That’s the direction this thing is moving in so make sure you get in on the action. The time is now.  

Written by Keith James

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