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Wagering 101


There are several different types and variations of wagers that can be placed when betting on an NFL football game, but basically, when you place a bet on the outcome of a game, you are either wagering on the 'totals' or the 'sides'. When wagering on the totals, you are betting that the total combined score of the football game will either be over or under a specific number set by the oddsmakers (commonly referred to as the over/under). Which NFL team wins the game is of no consequence - it's the total combined score of the football game that matters. When betting on a side, however, you are laying your money on a specific team (or side); wagering that they will either win the game outright or will beat the point spread. Wagering on sides can be done by either using the NFL point spread or the NFL money line.

Wagering using the Pro Football Point Spread

People are generally more familiar with the NFL point spread and often use it to refer to how much one NFL team is 'favored' to win over another. Many people believe that this number represents in points how much better the oddsmakers think Team A is than Team B. This, however, is a common misperception. In its simplest terms, the NFL point spread you see listed in your local paper is actually the "dividing line" of public opinion. In theory, this is the point where 50% of the NFL betting public (or money wagered) believes each team will cover the point spread. For example, if the 49ers are favored by 8 points over the Cardinals, this indicates that 50% of the money is wagered believing the 49ers will cover the 8 point spread (defeat the Cardinals by more than 8 points) while the remaining 50% of the football betting action believes the Cardinals will cover the 8 point spread (win the game outright or lose by less than 8 points).

The true function of the sportsbooks is the reason the pro football point spread is a "dividing line" and not a prediction on the outcome of an NFL game. Many people tend to think that when they wager, they are placing a bet against the sportsbook - trying to outwit or outsmart the bookmaker. In some instances, this may be true - after all, it's the bookmaker who sets the NFL line and can adjust it afterwards as he sees fit. However, the sportsbook's main function is to act as the "middleman," collecting bets placed on both sides of the football game and adjusting the NFL odds as best it can in order to keep the amount bet on each team relatively even. Oftentimes, the pro football betting action will be unbalanced for a variety of reasons and as a result, the sportsbook will be forced to take the other side in order to provide balance.

At the end of the game, the sportsbook will pay the winners, collect from the losers, and pocket a "commission," commonly referred to as the "juice," or "vigorish". The vigorish is the sportsbook's payment for handling all the bets and although occasionally you will find a sportsbook that charges less, the vigorish is generally equal to a little less than 10% of the amount of the winning bet. Most people are under the impression that it's the loser that pays the vigorish, but it's really the winners who pay the vigorish by having it withheld from their winnings.

You can see how this works by looking at the results of the same wager with and without the bookmaker involved. Let's assume you bet $11 (generally with a bookmaker, you must wager $11 in order to win $10) on the outcome of a game with your friend and with a bookmaker. If you lose, your friend collects your $11, same as the bookmaker does - you would have lost 100% of your wager in either scenario. If you win, however, you would collect $11 in winnings from your friend but only $10 in winnings from the bookmaker. The remaining $1 is the vigorish. Instead of paying you the full $11 in winnings, the sportsbook has deducted $1 as its fee for being the middleman. So as you can see, it's really the winners who pay the vigorish as it is deducted from their winnings.

Understanding these distinctions are important if you engage in football gambling because it's not really the sportsbook that you're trying to outsmart, it's your fellow bettor. To be more specific, it's your fellow bettors AT LARGE. Outwit them with your knowledge of the caliber of the two teams involved, and you'll walk away with their money. Get outsmarted by them, or outsmart yourself, and they will take yours. It's just a matter of knowing which 'side' to be on.

Gambling using the Money Line

The money line, on the other hand, is different than the pro football point spread in two main respects. First, the biggest difference is that when you bet using the money line, you're betting on which team will win the game outright, not whether Team A will beat Team B by a specific number of points. In that sense, winning a wager using the money line is easier - you only have to decide which team will win the game - not which team will win the game and by how much. The second major distinction is that the payout for money line wagers differs from wagers using the point spread. A bet using the point spread will win dollar for dollar the amount wagered less the vigorish. However, money line wager payouts vary depending upon the perceived difference in quality between the two teams. As a result, gambling using the money line can be much more risky, especially when betting on favorites which requires you to put more money at risk in order to win less. On the other hand, you can make a very nice return on your money if you bet on an underdog that comes through with the upset. Here's an example:

These are the actual NFL odds from 2002's Week 8 matchup between the Cardinals and 49ers.

Arizona +8 +280
San Francisco -8 -360

The point spread shows San Francisco to be favored by 8 points over Arizona. Let's assume you like San Francisco's chances of beating Arizona by more than 8 points in this game and decide to bet $110 on them using the point spread. If you are right, you'll win $100 on your $110 wager. However, if the 49ers fail to 'cover' the spread, you will lose your $110.

Now, taking a look at the money line, you'll notice that the Cardinals are +280 while the 49ers are -360. These amounts represent what must either be risked by the bettor in order to win $100 (if betting on the favorite, denoted by the negative number), or what the bettor can win for risking $100 (if betting on the underdog, denoted by the positive number), depending on which team he bets. The net difference between the two numbers (280 vs. 360) represents the sportsbook's commission for handling the bets.

Going back to betting on the 49ers - if you like their chances of winning this game and wish to wager on them using the money line, you could win $100 if the 49ers simply win the game. However, in order to win $100, you would have to risk $360. So basically, you're getting less than 30 cents on the dollar for every dollar you risk. Is it worth the gamble? On the other hand, if you felt that Arizona would win the game outright, you could wager $100 for the chance to win $280, or 2.8 dollars for every one risked - a much better return. However, the risk you take here is whether the out-classed Cardinals can actually win the football game.

So, the bottom line is that when betting using the money line, you must take into consideration whether the risk you're taking is worth the reward.

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Successful Wagering Using the NFL Money Line

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