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The Different Ways to Bet a Sporting Event

There are several different types of common sports bets, which we describe and analyze below.

1. Against the Spread

In every game, there is a favorite and an underdog. In order to make the game even for betting purposes, oddsmakers come up with a point spread, or line. The spread is a handicap, the amount of points you have to part with if you bet on the favorite, and the amount you will receive as an underdog. For example, if the Titans are favored by 15 over the Cowboys, (Tennessee -15 vs. Dallas ), and Tennessee wins 31 - 20, then those who bet on Dallas win, and those who backed Tennessee lose. Essentially, the game is looked at as a 35-31 Dallas win because of the spread. If Tennessee won 31 - 16, the game would be a push, and both parties would get their money back.

Every game that has a point spread is considered an even proposition, a 50/50 bet. In fact, that is the purpose of the spread, to make the teams even, so that there is no obvious advantage to picking one side or the other. In order to make money on wagers against the spread, sports books charge a commission (or a vig), typically 10%, that you pay on losing bets, i.e., you have to risk $55 to win $50.

In order to overcome the vig, you have to win roughly 52.5% of the time. To illustrate this, imagine if you made 100 $1 bets and won 53 of them. You would win $53 and lose $47. So you're up $6. But on top of the $47, you lose another $4.70 (the 10% vig) and net $1.30.

Another option you have when betting against the spread is buying an extra half point in your favor. If Tennessee is favored by 2.5 over Jacksonville, and you want to bet Jacksonville, it may be worth your while to purchase another half point and make the spread three. That way if Tennessee wins by a field goal, the most common margin of victory in the NFL, you would tie instead of losing.

The cost of the half point is an extra ten percent on losses, i.e., instead of just betting $55 to win $50, you would bet $60 to win 50. So if Tennessee won by six, you would lose $60 on a $50 bet.

The only time it's worthwhile to buy a half point is to move the spread from 2.5 to 3 if you're betting the underdog and 3.5 to 3 if you're betting the favorite. Moving the spread from 6.5 to 7 if you're backing the dog or 7.5 to 7 if you like the favorite won't hurt you over time, but it won't help you, either. Never move a line from 5.5. to 6 or 5.5. to 5, for example, because those are rarer margins of victory, and the double vig is too heavy a price to pay for the off chance that the half point helps you.

2. Over/Under

Also called the total, this is a bet on the sum of points scored by both teams in a given game. For example, the over/under line for the Titans-Cowboys' game might be 40. If the Titans win 30 - 13, the total is 43, and the over wins. If the Cowboys, win 20 -13, the total is 33 and the under wins. It doesn't matter which team scores what, (unless you bet that specifically).

The over/under is also a 50/50 bet, and as such, there is typically a 10% vig attached, just as with games against the spread.

3. Money Line

The money line is as odds bet. Instead of parting with points or receiving points to make the game even, you part with or receive extra money. For example, if the oddsmakers believe that it's twice as likely that Dallas will beat Arizona than the other way around, then the odds will look something like this: Dallas (-220) vs. Arizona (+180). Dallas -220 means that if you want to bet on Dallas, you have to risk $220 in order to win $100. Arizona +180 means that if you bet on Arizona, you risk $100 to win $180.

The reason why you lose $220 if you bet Dallas win just $180 if you bet Arizona, is that this disparity takes the place of the vig, i.e., the big is built into the odds here.

4. Parlays

Basically, parlays are bad bets. They are essentially the combining of two or more standard against the spread bets for a better payout. For example, if you feel strongly about Tennessee -15 against Dallas and Philadelphia -10 against Arizona, then you may want to parlay the two games. In that case, if you lose either you lose your entire bet. If both win, you get paid 13-5 or 5-2, depending on the house.

In other words, if you parlay $50 on those two games, you'll win $125-$130 if and only if both teams cover. So why is this a bad bet? Because you have a 50% chance to win each game, and thus a 25% chance to win both. If you were getting true or fair odds, a 25% chance would pay 3:1. In that case, you would risk $50 to win $150. But you only get $125 to $130. Assuming that you get $130, you are receving $20 less (or 13.33%) less than an even bet would pay. But remember: on normal bets against the spread, you only kick in an extra 10% on losses.

Since whether you pay extra when losing or get less when winning amounts to the same thing, the 13.33% built in vig is even worse than the 10% added vig you'd ordinarly pay.

5. Teases

There are two basic kinds of teases: a two and a three team tease. With the two team variety, you can take six points and do what you want with it on two different games. For example, if you like Tennessee-15 against Dallas and Philadelphia -10 against Arizona, then you can tease both spreads down by six points, to Tennessee-9 and Philly -4. Assuming you bet $50, if the Titans win 30-20 and the Eagles win 16-10, you will win $50. If either team fails to cover the teased spread, you lose $50. Moreover, if you tie on either leg of the tease, you lose the entire bet.

There's no need for the house to take a vig because the tease is a bad bet. Six points, as attractive as it seems, doesn't quite make up for having to win both games.

You can also tease over/under bets. For example, you may tease the Titans down to Titans-9, and if the over/under is 40, you may tease that down to 34 and bet the over. So you have the Titans-9 and over 34. In order for you to win, the Titans must win by 10 (ties lose) and the teams have to score 35 points or more combined. A 33 - 10 Titans win puts you in the money; a 33 - 0 costs you.

Of course, you can take the Cowboys +21 and over 46 if you like as well. You can do whatever you want with six points per game, but you must win both.

Three team teases are the same thing but you get 10 points to play with, but you must win all three games. As tempting as is to bet the on Arizona +20, Dallas plus 25, and over 30 combined on the Dallas Tennessee game, the fact that you must win all three makes it a bad risk. There's a reason they call it a tease.

These are the five most common types of football bets. In general, you should avoid parlays and teases and stick to picking against the spread, betting totals and playing the money line. Good luck this season.

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