Betting on sports explained – for people that don’t gamble 2

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I wanna gamble and drink whiskey tonight. I better call Brent.

I’ve become somewhat of a resource for all my buddies getting ready to indulge in something that would be considered a vice for many people. For example, I collect rare whiskey. Naturally, any time my dad or friends roll down the liquor aisle, they send me pictures asking for a recommendation or if I see anything unusually valuable. Shamefully, I can scan the image, that includes up to 100 different products, and know exactly what I’m looking at.


The same goes for gambling. I fell in love with poker during the Texas Hold ‘Em boom set in motion by Chris Moneymaker and still keep tabs on the happenings of the poker world. I almost never gamble on sports, but when I stumbled upon Bill Simmons’s recurring podcast with a writer from the Jimmy Kimmel show, Cousin Sal, in 2009, that’s when I started storing gambling information I am exploited for every time someone I know goes to Vegas and is scared of the big sports book board with all the numbers and lights.


This article falls into a category of many topics I’ve shied away from writing on. As a military Christian family man, what good’s a personal brand if everyone thinks your an alcoholic that’s addicted to gambling? Not much, unless I’m trying to get a line of credit at The Venetian.1)Which I am not.


Note: I rarely drink and rarely gamble, but I enjoy both in moderation. So you may see some posts on poker, whiskey, and/or beer in the future. Don’t blame me. Blame Don Draper. The reason I enjoy the topic are below.


Disclaimer aside, whether you place money on the game(s) or not, understanding gambling vernacular can help you see aspects of the game you didn’t know existed. Personally, I think it falls into the category something like changing the oil in your car or drinking whiskey neat, men should know how to do it. 

1. Discover a game within game

Although every sports seems to have received a hefty popularity bump from gambling and fantasy, no league has benefitted more than the NFL. As a result, a ton of commentary is dedicated to breaking down Vegas lines, and it’s done for a lot more than gambling purposes. The bookies in Vegas are REALLY good at what they do. Gambling lines can help us understand implications not immediately apparent. For example, implications of weather, the first string outside linebacker being out, or a team traveling across three time zones. So, when we see a 10-point line for a Sunday Night Football game, it opens up a lot of discussion about what an underdog will need to do to win. It also helps understand articles like this.

2. Who doesn’t like inside jokes

No one understanding the gambling implications of a game he is calling better than Al Michaels. The game could be a Thursday night blowout and Al will slip in as many gambling puns as he can while a team creeps closer to hitting the over on the game. Thinking about the thousands or even millions of dollars on the line as Jared Goff drives down the field against the Falcons with his team losing 42-7 adds a fun aspect to on otherwise unwatchable game. When you know the lines and over/under, “garbage time” touchdowns take on a whole new meaning.2)This particular TD bounced me out of the fantasy playoffs by .71 points.

3. Just in case

Look, we all make our single digit-handicap buddy give us 5 strokes a side when we have a Nassau bet going out on the golf course. Same thing is true in pro sports. If you want to place a little wager with your buddy who loves Cardinals, then you have to be ready to give him a couple points, cause the Cardinals were trash this year.3)Still stings. Same thing on the other side, don’t let the fact you’re a homer cost you a Hamilton when you know your squad is a clear underdog. Swallow your pride. Take the points.

Not to mention, Vegas sports books are a pretty fun place to watch games, although I’ve ever done it. My dad goes to Vegas for conferences all the time. He’s not much of a gambler, but likes to bet a couple bones on the ponies. On more than one occasion I have had to walk him through, step by step, placing a bet on the evenings games.4)Hi dad. I’ve never been during March Madness, but can you imagine 10 games going with screens as far as you can see while sipping a free Manhattan after getting a drink ticket from your $5 parlay bet you just placed? Point is, you might end up in Vegas for a conference or a “bro-trip.” Be prepared, just in case.

Now, here’s the barebones plus a couple bonus terms that will help you talk confidently about lines on the games. The examples are NFL-centric, but can be easily applied to just about any sport.5)No idea what tennis lines look like With an understanding of these terms, you can confidently walk up to the bookie counter and wipe that sheepish grin off your face. 


Money Line

This bet seems simple and for the most part it’s straight forward with a couple things to pay attention to. Basically, pick the team you believe will win, and you win, but it’s a loaded bet. As with anything that has to do with gambling and Vegas, the house always wins…always.


First things first, if you see a plus sign “+” that is the underdog. If you see a minus sign “-“ that is the favorite. This is an important details on a couple betting lines. The other piece of helpful info, no matter how much you bet, always think in terms of betting $100 or how much you would have to bet to win $100, especially with the money line.


Here’s an example from this weekend: if you bet $100 on New England, would you REALLY expect to get $100 if you won the bet? On the other side, you better be getting more than even money to bet the Texans, the biggest playoff underdog in 40 years, to win, right? With that in mind, here is what a money line might look like:


New England (-1500)

Houston (+850)6)Note: This money line is unusually gigantic. More even games see something like +220 and -115


The New England side of the line means, you have to bet $1,500 in order to win $100. So, if you walk up to the window at the sportbook and you place 8 benjis down on the Pats money line, when you go to cash it in after the victory, the bookie is going to give you $1,600.


On the flipside, Houston’s line says, if you place a $100 bet then you when $850.7)which also amounts to 8.5 to 1 odds Give the bookie a hundie, Texans win, give him the ticket, and he slides over 950 beans.


Easy right? “Plus” is the underdog and you when more money then you bet. “Minus” is the favorite and you gotta put forth more dough to get paid.


Let’s try and get through these next few a little quicker…


The Point Spread (aka Plus or Minus)

This is the betting line most of us are familiar with. When you hear Mike and Mike say a team is a 7-point favorite, this is the line they are talking about. Again, an example from this weekend:


Dallas (-5)

Green Bay (+5)


This means the Cowboys are 5-point faves and the Pack are 5-point dogs.8)Note: The plus and minus are always the same in the point spread. In short, if you bet Cowboys, you need them to when by more than five points. If you go with the Pack, you can win the bet if they lose, but it has to be by less than 5 points. Obviously, you win if they win outright as well.


Of course, it would make sense if you got even money on this type of bet,9)Even money meaning, if you bet $100 you win $100 but Vegas has to get their cut. So, you might see something like this to accompany the point spread:


Dallas (-5) (-115)

Green Bay (+5) (-105)


Back to the idea of $100, both those lines represent how much you need to bet in order to win $100, hence the minus symbol.10)Yes, both can be negative. Doesn’t seem fair right. No need to wonder how casinos stay in business. If it was a plus symbol, it would represent how much you would when if you bet $100


So, if someone says, “The spread on tonight’s game is the Pats minus 16,” then you know New England is a 16-point favorite and their opponent is a 16-point underdog. It is also helpful to know the spread can change throughout the week. As money loads up on either side of the bet, Vegas will change the line to even things out.11)Confused yet?


Practice saying these things in the mirror before you head to the water cooler:

“I’ll take New England and give the points.”

“Gimme the points, I’ll take Houston.”





This one is a sneaky little line that can be useful outside of gambling. If you are ever in a debate about who to start on your fantasy squad, an over/under line can provide some hints on how much scoring might go on in the game. Here’s an example of one:


Steelers at Chiefs (43.5)12)Yes, thats a half point. All this really means, is there can never be a “push,” aka tie.


This means the over/under is set at 43.5. The 43.5 is the projected amount of total points for the game, both teams combined. You can bet the over,13)Which is what everyone does cause he doesn’t love high scoring affairs? which requires the combined score to be 44 points or more, or you can bet the under, where you win if the combined score is 43 points or less.


Once again, like the spread, it’s not even money, but it’s close.




I’d argue this is the most fun you can have when placing a few clams on a slate of games. Definitely the most bang for your buck, but if you know anything about gambling, you know there are countless “sucker bets.” With few exceptions, this qualifies.


This bet is fun because of the odds and flexibility. In short, a parlay is a bet on multiple games or situations, all on a single bet. In its simplest form, a parlay ticket would have three games where you pick all three winners. Here’s the thing though, all three have to win. No ties and no points for when only part of your bet wins. All or nothing.


You can bet across sports14)For example, pick the winner of the Cavs game and the Cubs game on a single ticket or place multiple bets within a single game. You can combine money lines, props, the spread, or over/unders. There usually isn’t a limit to the amount of bets you can put on a ticket and the more bets you have on a ticket, the more the odds increase.


This means, you can place a $5 bet with a potential payout of $100,000 if you guess the winners against the spread of every NFL game on a given Sunday, but remember every single bet has to be correct…no ties! Check out this heartbreaking tale from December.


The Pats won, but by exactly 7 points.



I’m not going to explain a teaser because it’s silly. Mega-sucker bet. Let’s just say it’s a variation of a parlay with worse odds.


Prop Bet

A proposition bet, or prop bet, is a bet on whether or not something will occur. Once again, a sucker bet, but who cares cause these ones can be a ton of fun to pay attention to. You can bet on things as simple as the coin toss before a game or as specific as something like, “the first score of the game will be safety.” Receiving yards for a specific player or total turnovers for a game. You can bet on a specific person to score the first touchdown or what color the Gatorade is dumped on the coach. You can bet on whether or not Bill Belichek’s sleeves will be cutoff or how many times Joe Buck says “Deflategate.”

The odds vary and are almost never in your favor. My opinion, the zanier the better.



Finally, the future bets. These are bets that you place on events that occur in the future. Like the NBA Conference champions or the bet you wish you would have taken when Donald Trump was 2,500 to 1 odds to win the presidency. You can bet MVP


Hopefully, this was helpful in understanding something you should almost never do. I would spend some time explaining how to bet or what to look for but it would just be another 1,500 words regurgitating what I’ve learned from Bill Simmons, Cousin Sal, and Darren Rovell tweets. The good news is, you now have enough information to confidently walk up to the intimidating bookie and place a qualifying bet for a free drink certificate.


Better yet, grab a couple buddies and put together a bet like this (click the image):

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Which I am not.
2. This particular TD bounced me out of the fantasy playoffs by .71 points.
3. Still stings.
4. Hi dad.
5. No idea what tennis lines look like
6. Note: This money line is unusually gigantic. More even games see something like +220 and -115
7. which also amounts to 8.5 to 1 odds
8. Note: The plus and minus are always the same in the point spread.
9. Even money meaning, if you bet $100 you win $100
10. Yes, both can be negative. Doesn’t seem fair right. No need to wonder how casinos stay in business.
11. Confused yet?
12. Yes, thats a half point. All this really means, is there can never be a “push,” aka tie.
13. Which is what everyone does cause he doesn’t love high scoring affairs?
14. For example, pick the winner of the Cavs game and the Cubs game on a single ticket

About Brent Nichols

My blogging is, no doubt, all over the map, but hope you'll find something just right for you. Currently living in the D.C.-metro area in Northern Virginia. You know what? I think I kinda like it out here.

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2 thoughts on “Betting on sports explained – for people that don’t gamble

  • Dad

    Son, another entertaining blog. One major comment – I think it’s ok to bet and ok to have a whiskey or two (expensive only)…one should never get too drunk where you can’t share words of wisdom, and one shouldn’t bet money intended for other priorities in life, like giving. However, this isn’t a conviction shared by all and I respect this position. Moderation is the key…keeping your testimony in high order is of the utmost importance. Sharing a couple of Whiskey’s in the evening with your son is priceless…beating my buddies out of a couple of bucks on the golf course is awesome too.